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The largest building ever erected in Spencer, not to mention all of Roane County, no longer exists. By the 1880s, the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane at Weston ( LW1) had become hopelessly overcrowded. In 1887 the state legislature authorized construction of a second mental institution. The Spencer State Hospital opened in 1893, and, like the Weston institution, followed the well-known Kirkbride plan, in which series of “stations” for doctors and nurses separated wards that housed patients. According to notices in Manufacturers Record, the hospital was erected in several stages. Among the architects involved in various phases were Franzheim, Giesey and Faris of Wheeling and William Howe Patton of Parkersburg. By 1904 the complex, which eventually contained 358 rooms, stretched 940 feet, and its tallest steeple rose 110 feet. Although it was a remarkably ornate complex, the WPA guide may have waxed a bit too eloquent in describing it in 1941:

Towers and cupolas surmount the four-story main building, which is connected by glassenclosed bridges with two three-story ward buildings and a three-story dining annex. The solemn red brick buildings strung together in a straight line resemble battlements, pierced by iron-studded embrasures for arquebus and bow, defiantly rearing their bulk across the path of an invader.

The embrasures may have withstood some enemies, but they proved no match for the bulldozer. Although the hospital has been demolished, piles of overgrown rubble still mark its site on the eastern side of U.S. 199 south of the commercial district.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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