Mt Pleasant News
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 17, 2014

Mt. Pleasant’s MHI facility turns 150

By LYDIA BAKER-CRAWLEY, Mt. Pleasant News | Mar 03, 2011
Mt. Pleasant’s Mental Health Institute is celebrating a milestone this year. The institute, the first of its kind in Iowa, was established in 1861, making this its sesquicentennial year. MHI shares space on the east side of Mt. Pleasant with the MP correctional facility. – MPN Photo by Brooks Taylor

Residents of Henry County have been hearing a lot about Sesquicentennials lately.

Various local organizations have been making plans to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War – the Henry County, Iowa Civil War 150th Commemoration Task Force, the Henry County Historic Preservation Commission and the Winfield Historical Society to name just a few.

But the Civil War isn’t the only sesquicentennial Henry County has to celebrate.

The Mental Health Institute turns 150 years old on Sunday.

While construction began on the building after the purchase of 123 acres of land at $25 an acre in March of 1855 and the first patient was admitted on Feb. 27, 1861, the hospital wasn’t formally opened until March 6, 1861.

The grounds of the hospital grew until it encompassed 178 acres in 1869, according to a Jan. 1, 1869 article in the Mt. Pleasant Journal.

Initially named the “Iowa Lunatic Asylum,” the original building was an Elizabethan-styled Kirkbride building. Within the basement, food was carried on handcarts from the central kitchen to dumb waiters beneath the dining rooms along 1/8 of a mile of rail, also the building was heated and all machinery was driven by steam. The hospital even had hot and cold water carried throughout the entire building by galvanized pipe.

Farms located on the grounds and along Winfield Ave., supplied food for the entire complex, according to Joy Lynn Conwell, special collections associate at Chadwich Library at Iowa Wesleyan College.

At one time, the grounds even contained farmers’ cottages. The cottages, according to Conwell, were home to patients who had been farmers prior to admittance to the hospital.

“They believed that people of similar occupations housed together could help each other because they would understand each other,” Conwell said.

Two fires, however, were destined to ravish the hospital in its lifetime. The first fire occurred on April 18, 1876, when a spark from an ironing-stove chimney, over the ironing and drying rooms, burnt the engine-house and according to a hospital trustees report to the Iowa Governor Joshua G. Newbold dated Oct. 18, 1877, “The boilers, engines and machinery, were either destroyed or left without an enclosure or covering.”

As a matter of necessity, the trustees opted to rebuild and while Mt. Pleasant’s MHI holds the distinction of being the first built in Iowa, it was also closed during the $32,046.43 reconstruction.

For more on this story, see the March 4 issue of the Mt. Pleasant News.

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