The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports today that the building once known as Weston State Hospital is being auctioned off, without an established minimum bid, in order to rid the state of the cost for it's limited upkeep.
I say tear it down.
Designed to treat 250 patients in the late 1850's, the hospital first named The Lunatic Asylum West of the Alleghenies was housed on beautiful grounds.
Lush grass, trees and pretty flowers decorated the landscape, but it was the beautiful masonry of the hand-cut stone that made the building special. One of the largest buildings in the United States made of hand-cut stone, it truly is a marvel.
And then you step inside.
The most unsettling sound I've heard in my life, I heard at Weston. I visited for the first time in the mid-1980s. After being led onto an adult male ward the guard, who was walking behind me, paused to lock the door behind us.
The echo up and down the cold, sterile hallways was deafening. The realization that during the past century each time that Click was heard, the lives of thousands of people were altered forever--and most for the worse--was overwhelming.
I walked forward on that adult male ward past children staring out windows. While the hospital was supposed to house less than 300 patients, in reality it housed several hundred (and in some decades, several thousands), causing patients of all ages and conditions to be intermixed. I passed patients walking around fully exposed because staff didn't care about or think about helping a person tie the sash on a bathrobe. And I walked by shower areas where dozens of people were being showered in herds.
I didn't go back to the institution often, but when I did I always left disturbed. Regardless of whether or not a patient here or a patient there was helped, the culture of the hospital was one of control and power, and of warehousing people. The building's history includes being a place where the most vulnerable among us died, were abused, exploited and experimented on. The building's pre-Civil War history and masterful craftsmanship aside, that sort of legacy doesn't deserve to be remembered.
It deserves to be destroyed.