Athens Asylum

From Ohio History Central

The Ridges was formally an asylum for the mentally ill in Athens, Ohio.

In 1868, construction began on the Athens Asylum. Levi T. Scofield, a Cleveland, Ohio architect designed the building. The asylum formally opened on January 9, 1874. Within two years of opening, administrators renamed the Athens Asylum as the Athens Hospital for the Insane. Over its history, the hospital underwent several name changes, including being known as the Athens Asylum for the Insane, the Athens State Hospital, the Southeastern Ohio Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center, and the Athens Mental Health and Developmental Center. The Athens Asylum was one of several hospitals for the mentally ill operated by the State of Ohio.

Originally, the hospital's grounds consisted of a park-like setting, with ponds, gardens, and fountains. Doctors hoped that the beautiful surroundings would assist patients in recovering their mental health. Patients worked in the gardens, the greenhouse, the orchards, or the dairy, helped to tend livestock, or found employment in the asylum's carriage shop. The asylum also boasted a physical plant that heated the various buildings with steam heat. Many of the patients were never released from the hospital. Most of these people were buried in the asylum's cemetery.

Many early patients consisted of veterans from the American Civil war suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Others consisted of women, especially farmwomen, having difficulties raising large families. Early records from the asylum claim that many of the patients became insane from masturbation. The belief that masturbation led to insanity was commonplace during the nineteenth century. Between 1874 and 1877, eighty-one men and one woman were placed in the hospital due to masturbation-induced insanity. Over time, medical experts discounted masturbation as a cause of insanity.

The asylum closed as a mental hospital in 1993. Ohio University eventually purchased the grounds and renamed the site the Ridges. The hospital still spawns much interest, with many people believing that the grounds are haunted. Most believers point to a fifty-four year-old woman who died in one of the hospital's abandoned wards in 1979. The woman, a patient, had been missing for six weeks before staffers found her body. Immense decay had occurred to her remains, leaving a permanent stain in the floor that visitors purportedly can still see today. The hospital is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

See Also


  1. Beatty, Elizabeth, and Marjorie Stone. Getting to Know Athens County. Athens, Ohio: The Stone House, 1984.
  2. Ziff, Katherine. "Asylum and Community: Connections Between the Athens Lunatic Asylum and the Village of Athens, 1867-1893." Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 2004.