An institution of a different kind

Posted on May 9, 2012 with 0 comments

I visited Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee on Thursday May 3rd. I knew immediately upon driving onto the campus, that this hospital was different. It was like walking a bit into the past, but in a different way then the places I have been, where the past is a dilapidated reminder of what used to be. No, this hospital was still up and running and highly functional. I don’t know anything about the treatment they provide, so I make no claim on that end… from what I saw, the staff was wonderful! Regardless, when I say that this hospital was “functional” I mean that it still operates highly on its own capacity which was something quiet wonderful and new to see! It has a fully functioning fire station, water treatment system, still has use for many of its buildings, and many staff houses still lived in. It was neatly preserved – very cool! There were still old abandoned buildings. And this hospital, like every state funded hospital, nodded when I mentioned the issues of funding and budget cuts. But there was something quiet neat  to see in this hospital that was still running as if cuts or downsizing was a myth of the future… as if walking into time warp – like it was still 1950 or something.


I began the next week, Monday May 7th, at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, GA. This hospital was quiet different from Florida. The main building was still in use, but surrounding it was a “quad” of beautiful and old abandoned buildings. One after another these buildings sat boarded up with signs warning of their hidden hazards. One of these buildings, which used to be the train station, still opened up its doors and revealed a fantastic museum of artifacts. I always love seeing these collections and artifacts saved in these hospitals… many hospitals do not have the luxury, resources, and sometime even interest in preserving the history.


***A neat side story inside the museum: two paintings side by side (you’ll have to forgive the clutter in front of the pictures):

They are both done by the same artist who was hospitalized there. They are both of the same place. Yet, they are vastly different. See, the artist was diagnosed as schizophrenic and one painting was done while he was on his medication, the other while he was off of it. I think they are both fantastically beautiful! Yet, they also show the incredible difference in his perception, in what was going on in his mind. What do you think?


Now, back on track. This quad of abandoned buildings stood beautifully tragic. Plants have a way of reclaiming the land, the space, and these old buildings, holding them in a strange embrace. One building, I was told, was inhabited by a whole range of animals from birds, to foxes, to whatever else the mind might imagine. But there was hope amidst the decay and destruction. The hospital had a proposal going through to get funding to restore and re-purpose the buildings. The process would be slow and expensive but could also potentially provide a great new source of revenue and revitalize the beautiful campus.

The following day, Tuesday May 8th, I visited yet another hospital: South Carolina State Hospital. I can’t tell you much too about the hospital… when I arrived I went to the Mills building which was designed by Robert Mills the same architect who designed the Washington Monument. This building was the original Asylum, quiet a beautiful building which is still in use as offices. I got a tour of this building. The rest of the historic campus was abandoned. I was not escorted, just given free range to wander and photograph. It has been a while since I have had free range and no escorts. I was reminded of my “urban photographer” roots… With all the buildings carefully locked, I had to get creative to snap the shots I wanted. Pushing the lens against dirty windows, peering through cracks in fences and bars, reaching precariously on tiptoes with extended arms. It brought an old joy to the work that I am doing.


This abandoned institutions that fills 181 acres, sits in a time long ago and seems mostly forgotten. In some strange and humorous twist, the lawns were still manicured as multiple mowers were going as I wandered the sprawl, yet the buildings (many still filled with artifacts) were let go of long ago. The interesting piece of this hospital was that it was “for sale.” Well, technically “under contract.” The future of many of its buildings is unknown. Would they be revitalized and reused? Would they be demolished? Change was clearly in the works… a future unknown.

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