Spotlight: Bartonville’s Insane Asylum

It has had many names over the past 115 years….Peoria State Hospital, Bartonville State Hospital, Illinois General Asylum for the Insane, and Illinois Asylum for the Incurably Insane .  It was first built in 1895 in Bartonville, IL but was never used until 1902 when it was taken over by Dr. George Zeller who operated it as a hospital facility for the mentally ill.  Patients from all over who were deemed “incurably insane” were tranferred to the Bartonville Hospital under the care of Dr. Zeller whose new approach to treatment was unheard of in those times.  He focused on a patient’s strength and worked toward their improvement and eventual discharge from the hospital.  He wanted to change the public’s skewed and negative perception of “mentally ill.”  At its peak, the hospital housed 2800 patients and had over 30 buildings .  It operated until 1972 when it closed and never reopened.  It is currently owned by the non-profit group “Save the Bowen, Inc.” who are trying to restore it.

The Peoria State Hospital in operation
A postcard from the Peoria State Hospital

The Peoria State Hospital isn’t without its ghost stories, since many patients ended up spending their life and dying in the hospital and many died during the influenza outbreak.  The hospital’s most famous ghost was documented by Dr. Zeller himself.  A patient who never uttered a word was tranferred to Bartonville.  The only information the doctors had was that he used to be a bookbinder, so he was known throughout the hospital as “Old Book.”  He was beloved by the hospital and staff due to his gentle nature and hard work.  He had the job of digging graves for the deceased patients and was known to sit by a particular elm tree after every memorial service and cry.  When “Old Book” died, the whole hospital came to his memorial service.  When they heard sobbing, over 200 witnesses saw the ghost of “Old Book” crying under his elm tree.  Dr. Zeller wrote in his journal that so many saw the apparation that they had to open the casket to be assured that “Old Book” was in there.  Since then, numerous reports of apparitions of patients and people in old nurse’s uniforms have been seen.

For a short time, tours were offered to the public to raise money for its restoration (a surprising opportunity as the property had been strictly off limits since it closed).  I received this news and immediately went down for a tour, which I loved!  Much of the building was in ruin but I loved it because it was more real, untouched by modern devices….a lot of the building didn’t even have electricity.  You brought your flashlight, your camera, and your courage.  Unfortunately, the building had fallen victim to vandalism and is littered with graffitti and broken windows (a word of warning to the would-be trepassers….the area is heavily monitored by area police).  When I last checked the “Save the Bowen” website (, they had suspended all tours and are currently battling the local government administration.  I hope they can resolve their issues and continue tours to save and restore this vital piece of Illinois history.  Below I posted some pictures from the tour I took in 2008 with my friend Emily.

Me and Emily on the 3rd floor. It was November and with so many windows broken, it was cold!

This is what the building looks like today

The autospy room in the basement of the building

The old morgue in the basement

Some of the hallways were so damaged we couldn't access them

A demolished bathroom on the 3rd floor


3 Responses to “Spotlight: Bartonville’s Insane Asylum”

  1. Did you have any ghostly sightings at the asylum??

    • hauntedgirl13 Says:

      In my friend Emily’s one picture, there looks like a face in one of the doorways (I don’t have the picture available to post), but nothing major happened. However, the 3rd floor just gave me chills.

  2. Places like this would be great for a horror film. I’d hate to go in there at night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: