Also known as: Fergus Falls State Hospital, Third Minnesota Hospital for the Insane
1885 - Minnesota Legislature establishes commission to locate a third state hospital
1887 - Minnesota Legislature formally locates third state hospital in Fergus Falls
1888 - Construction starts on the West Detached Ward. Well-known Minneapolis architect, Warren B. Dunnell, designed the main hospital based upon architectural concepts for the treatment of the mentally ill developed by Dr. Thomas S. Kirkbride, Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. O. R. Mather of Mankato was the contractor. When Mather died, John Lauritzen, a Danish-born carpenter, secured the building contract.
1890 - First patients are admitted under the administration of the first superintendent, Dr. Alonzo Potter Williamson. 1890-1892 - Williamson Administration
1892-1927 - Second superintendent, Dr. George Oakes Welch. During his administration the hospital grew from one building, housing 200 patients, to a mulit building institution with an average daily patient population of 1,683.
1895 - Center administration area built
1894 - Typhoid fever outbreak 72 patients and employees striken
1899 - East Detached building completed
1910 - Contagious hospital opens
1920 - Law providing an eight-hour day for employees of state institutions was put into effect in every department of the hosptial
1927-1968 - Third superintendent, Dr. William Leslie Patterson. His career covered almost six decades and spanned such treatment techniques as hydro-therapy, insulin coma treatment, psycho-surgery and electro-convulsive therapy and saw physical restraints be replaced by tranquilizing drugs.
1933 - 266 employees, 1,881 patients
1939 - First patient to receive shock treatment with insulin, later replaced by metrazol
1943-44 - Metrazol replaced by electro-stock treatment and insulin shock treatment
1950 - 2,005 patients
1951 - Life magazine features the treatment program at the Fergus Falls State Hospital
1962 - Dr. Patterson named first medical director, Robert F. Hoffmann named administrator
1962-1984 - Robert F. Hoffmann, Administator
1969 - Farm operations cease
1969-1976 - Dr. Jeannette Lieber Baker, second medical director
1970 - Admitted a total of 1,137
1971 - Became the first regional center in Minnesota which meant that the hospital was now authorized to admit and program for all mentally challenged from the sixteen counties of the Lakeland and Northwest areas in addition to Roseau County. Also admitted and programed for all mentally ill and all drug dependent persons from those 17 counties.
1973 - Employed 422 people
1978 - Fergus Falls State Hospital's main building and tower was placed on the National Register of Historic Places
1978 - Admissions reached an all-time high, due primarily to the increase in the chemical dependency admissions
1981 - Detoxification Unit opens
1983-1990 - Dr. Richard Baker appointed medical director
1985 - Name changed from Fergus Falls State Hospital to Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center
1988 - Minnesota Department of Human Services begins to look at the future role of the eight state-operated regional treatment centers and the two state-operated nursing homes.
How did Minnesota's Third State Hospital Come to be Located in Fergus Falls?
As printed in: Otter Tail County RECORD Vol. 20, No. 1. Fergus Falls Filled the Bill: Locating Minnesota's Third State Hospital, by Benjamin Leonard. Published by the Otter Tail County Historical Society, 2003.
"During the sweltering summer of 1885 a Minnesota legislative commission visited Fergus Falls as a possible site for a new state project. Appointed by the Governor, group members included C. K. Bartlett, H. H. Hart, R. B. Langdon, T. S. Christenson, and H. G. Stordock. Charged with selecting the site for a new state hospital for the insane, the committee had narrowed the search to Alexandria, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Sauk Centre, Little Falls, Lake Park, and Detroit Lakes. All within the west-central portion of the state, these cities were chosen as possible sites for an insane asylum in the region. Minnesota's two state hospitals, currently antiquated, required a third, more modern facility to ease overcrowding. Need for a third institution can be traced to problems first becoming evident in a legislative inquiry a decade before. What they found was a shocking reality for Minnesota public mental health care and the realities of failing national trends.
Charles Hewitt, an important figure in Minnesota health issues, and Dr. A. W. Daniels arrived at the St. Peter state facility during the fall of 1872, serving on behalf of the state health board. St. Peter State Hospital, incorporated by legislative act in 1866 as Minnesota's first mental health facility of its kind, opened December 12, 1886. Hewitt and Daniels were sent to report on conditions and recommended improvements.
Conditions in St. Peter appalled Hewitt, who wrote a castigating report declaring he was "compelled to declare the temporary hospital of the insane a disgrace to the state." Livestock roamed openly, resided in ramshackle barns, and rooted in their own filth. Permanent construction remained unfinished, and a mass jumble of hastily erected temporary structures existed. These buildings lacked proper space, ventilation, plumbing, and drainage. Additionally, upon finding 303 patients in a hospital planned for only 150, Hewitt remarked, "Nowhere else, except the crowded tenement houses of our great cities, are the same number of people crowded into so limited space."
Bolstered by Hewitt's criticisms, legislative support gained steam by 1876, and plans for a new hospital emerged. Possible sites included Rochester, High Forest, and Worthington. By January 4, 1877, Governor John Pillsbury selected Rochester, purchasing a 160-acre farm for $9,000 and laying foundation for two buildings. The deficiencies found in St. Peter were to be corrected in building the new facility at Rochester.
Unfortunately, even Rochester's State Hospital remained woefully inadequate. Treatment at both St. Peter and Rochester was criticized repeatedly. Expressing common sentiments, an article in the St. Peter Pioneer Press declared, "An institution for reclamation of inebriates is an impractical humbug, which has proved an expensive failure in every state where it has been tried." Patients administered by both Minnesota hospitals totaled nearly 730 patients by 1879.
Inmates often were neglected and mistreated. Living conditions were cramped and unsanitary. A devastating fire at Rochester on the early evening of November 15, 1880, spurred further legislative and public debate after decimating a wing and killing 24 patients.
The public saw hospitals for the insane as holding pens for societal dregs and outcasts, where little rehabilitation took place. At this stage, inebriates (drunks and addicts), imbeciles (mentally deficient(, and mentally ill were all housed together. An editorial in the Pioneer Press found this "revolting," declaring, "the separation of these classes should be provided for at once." According to Jordan in The People's Health, the proportion of inmates in Minnesota insane asylums in 1870 was one in every 2,136 state residents. By 1885 this had skyrocketed to one in 845.
Even considering negative press, public discontent, and logistical difficulties cities may have encountered providing infrastructure, state hospitals were highly coveted public entities. Huge undertakings, these asylums generated financial windfalls for their communities. In addition to providing hundreds of new jobs, institutions required other materials and services provided by the cities. Operation costs hovered around $180,000 a year for individual hospitals, with payrolls around $4,000. About $125,000 of total operating costs were spend annually in the host community.
The state wished to alleviate overcrowding but also to correct grievous errors made in planning, construction, and operation exhibited in the first two state institutions. The new institution, wherever it was to be constructed, would possess certain elements, including a specific design plan, modern treatments and medical facilities, improved living conditions, and increased patient capacity.
Excitement and anticipation abounded as the state legislative committee rolled into Fergus Falls on July 2, 1885, to inspect possible hospital sites and weigh the city's chances against other locations. Important community members such as Charles D. Wright, Omar C. Chase, Ebenezer E. Corliss, James Compton, and M. R. Tyler surely greeted them with open arms, trying to market Fergus Falls. A hospital would be financially beneficial to city residents, but these leaders of commerce knew an asylum would mean considerable influence for themselves.
Debate raged over the next year and a half. The choice narrowed to include Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Sauk Centre, and Alexandria. Brainerd fell form favor first because the commission felt it lacked sufficient land to undertake such a project. A second tour of remaining sites occurred but, due to some bureaucratic error, Mr. Christenson, committee member from Rush City, was not included in the journey. Reasons for striking him from the itinerary were unknown to the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, but it reported, "Whatever caused the oversight, it offended him..." Originally backing Fergus Falls the angered Christenson switched support to Alexandria.
Negotiations heated up as Christmas 1886 approached and the Alexandria delegation of Von Baumbach, Kellar, and Wilson withdrew Alexandria from consideration. Deliberations reached a head as the December 14 deadline arrived. Senator Kellar, of Alexandria, was Sauk Centre's biggest proponent. Arising precisely at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday the 14th he immediately progressed to the capitol, lobbying hard for Sauk Centre until early afternoon. According to the Daily Journal, "as soon as it was seen which way the wind blew, everybody left the capitol." Kellar did not win the day, and his bid for a hospital was over.
Others experienced Kellar's disappointment. The Daily Journal reported, "Senator Henry Kellar, Representative H. W. Wilson of Alexandria, and Secretary of State Fred Von Baumbach, whose residence is also at Alexandria, [regarded the disqualification of Alexandria] as a put up job." Outwardly, Kellar appeared cordial, stating, "I left the capitol at 1 o'clock knowing...the fight was a good one and I was fairly beaten." H. W. Wilson much less diplomatically commented, "If Sauk Centre had offered to build the asylum at its own expense of half a million dollars, to furnish all maintenance free, and float all refuse into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, Sauk Centre could not have got the location." Whether cards were unfairly stacked in favor of Fergus Falls remained unanswered, but Alexandria and Sauk Centre failed to win majority approval.
Through political jockeying and personal exasperation Fergus Falls emerged as the site for a third Minnesota hospital. State Representative E. E. Corliss traveled to the capitol for deliberations. His telegram bolted across the wires December 14, reaching anticipating Daily Journal reporters at 7:30 p.m. The message warranted jubilant celebration. "Asylum located at Fergus Falls by a vote of 4 to 1. All the competing towns represented here in force. Baumbach is mad and Kellar wild; Capt. Whitcomb still looks wise, and the Fergus Falls citizens serene."
News spread quickly, relieving citizens now that the commission finally had reached its conclusion, finding in favor of their city. Several features attracted legislators to Fergus Falls. High rolling hills outside town offered scenic views, adequate drainage, and room for expansion. The growing city surely would continue to prosper, supporting a hospital infinitely into the future. Located along the Otter Tail River, Fergus Falls certainly could provide plenty of water for hospital needs. Infrastructure like railroads and sewers were imperative and rich fertile ground necessary for self-sustaining hospital agriculture. The Weekly Journal boasted, "Fergus Falls was far ahead of any of the other competitors, and it 'filled the bill' in every particular."
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