Reliving Central State Hospital’s past
The pecan grove at Central State Hospital sits empty and quiet. But 50 years ago, it looked different.
“You’d see hundreds of people going about the business of mental health care,” Baldwin County Commissioner Henry Craig said.
The buildings on campus are a mere shadow of what was once the largest mental health institution in the world. In 1837, the legislature spent $20,000 to build a dormitory near Milledgeville so the state’s mentally ill could receive treatment.
“Mental health was no longer being beaten out of them, as in the witchcraft and restraints,” amateur CSH historian Edwin Atkins said. “People were seeing it as something that could be treated.”
Historical documents say the first patient was Tillman Barnett.
“December of 1842. He didn’t live long. He died in 1843, age 30. He came chained to an ox cart from Macon,” Atkins said.
Thousands after him came to Milledgeville for treatment.
“At the time, electric shock treatment, that is what they thought worked best, so they did it, or insulin shock or lobotomies,” Atkins said. “Nobody did any of those at the time for any other reason but to try to help.”
Atkins’ great-grandmother Bettie Stubbs was a patient from 1900 to 1931. He says her husband institutionalized her.
“He wanted her to have a son and after two more dead children and never a son that lived, she came over to Milledgeville,” he said.
At the time, Atkins says Milledgeville was the place to get rid of people.
“You know the little kids who bounce balls on the playgrounds? They used to say, ‘Edwin’s sick, Edwin’s ill. They’re going to send him to Milledgeville.’ Milledgeville was synonymous with a state prison, a boys reformed school, a state insane asylum, and a military school,” Atkins said.
Twenty-five thousand people were buried in cemeteries on the campus. There are markers placed on the grounds to remember those who call Central State Hospital their final resting place.
“There were people who needed to be here because there was no alternative for them and there were people that were also warehoused here by their family,” Craig said.
Baldwin County Commissioner Henry Craig remembers growing up on campus when is father, James Craig, was the superintendent during the 1960s. He was in charge of 13,000 patients.
“He was also the mayor, he was also the police chief, he was also the sheriff, he was also the warden,” Craig said. “In those days, all of those things happened here.”
A city within a city with its own schools, chapels, police department, and the largest kitchen in the world. Craig lived, worked, and even married his wife on the grounds.
“I can tell you a story about every building,” Craig recalled. “I walked with the patients, I walked with the children, I walked with my parents’ friends, and everybody knew each other. This was it’s own community.”
A community the residents depended on to survive.
“For all those years, it became the institution that Milledgeville and Baldwin County lived on. It paid wages for 3,000 people. It was careers for 3,000 people,” Craig said.
In October 2012, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities started moving patients from the Craig Nursing Center at CSH to community-based settings. The last patient left in April.
Atkins says the hospital will never be the large mental health institution that it was. He’s hoping everyone with a connection to the campus can share their memories on the Facebook group “Friends With Central State Hospital.”
“We’re trying to get all of that brought in, cause yet to be told, the real history,” Atkins said.
He’s hoping to get some closure on his personal story, as well as preserve a prominent part of Milledgeville.
“It’s still going to have it’s glory and legacy and if we have anything to do with it, that legacy will always be there for the public to find,” Atkins said.
Wednesday night on the 41NBC News at 6, we’ll take a look at the future of Central State Hospital. Find out what local leaders are doing to redevelop it and bring more jobs and businesses to the community.