A little more about the Southwestern Insane Asylum

First, another fun tidbit from Google Books, from a 1916 publication called
The Institutional Care of the Insane in the United States and Canada, Volume 3:

It does sound very well-intentioned. A “delightful resting place”! Terrazzo floors!  And notice Dr. MacGregor’s tenure in the list of superintendents.

I hope when I go back through the family files I can find out more about the MacGregors’ and Jamesons’ experiences living on the asylum grounds, especially from the standpoint of the children—if they indeed lived there: other than Amaryllis’s note, which only mentions the adults living there, I have no evidence either way. You’d think that if your earliest childhood memories were of living at an insane asylum, you’d mention it once in a while. Then again, if during its first ten years of operation the facility lived up to the pastoral nineteenth-century philosophies about asylums, maybe the overall experience was just pleasantly unremarkable.

Here’s an interesting Oliver Sacks piece about the early asylums:

These first state hospitals were often palatial buildings, with high ceilings, lofty windows, and spacious grounds, providing abundant light, space, and fresh air, along with exercise and a varied diet. Most asylums were largely self-supporting and grew or raised most of their own food. Patients would work in the fields and dairies, work being considered a central form of therapy for them, as well as supporting the hospital. Community and companionship, too, were central—indeed vital—for patients who would otherwise be isolated in their own mental worlds, driven by their obsessions or hallucinations. Also crucial was the recognition and acceptance of their insanity by the staff and other inmates around them.

There’s also a great photo and blog entry about Southwestern here, and an unusual 1909 photo here.

The asylum eventually became the San Antonio State Hospital, which still operates today at the same location, though the original hospital buildings have been replaced with newer structures. Don’t fall for the claims that it’s now a creepy haunted ruin. The decrepit buildings in those pictures (and on YouTube, and countless message boards) are from the Bexar County Home for the Aged, a poorhouse which opened in 1915 and later included a boys’ home and TB sanitarium. At some point after the property was abandoned there developed an urban myth that the place was the old Southwestern Insane Asylum, because who doesn’t love the idea of a deserted haunted loony bin?  Some write-ups of the site actually borrow facts from the state hospital’s history, but of course they’re bullshit. I will admit to getting just a little excited at the thought that my great-great grandparents’ old stomping ground was a PARANORMAL HOT SPOT BOOoooOOOOOooo but then I figured out the real story.

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