No Asylum from War
When the Civil War began in 1861, the one-story wing on the far left of the building in front of you was all that stood here at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. The foundation of the main building had been completed; it was used to stable horses periodically during the war, as each side in the conflict occupied the grounds.
When Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, it demanded that funds provided for the asylum's construction be returned to the state treasury in Richmond to be used for the commonwealth's defense. Before the order could be carried out, however, the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry occupied Weston and removed $27,000 in gold from the Exchange Bank (located in a building that still stands at Bank and Court streets about 300 yards behind you). The gold was transferred to Wheeling, where it was later used to finance the Restored Government of Virginia.
Weston changed hands several times during the war as Federal and then Confederates troops occupied the town for brief periods. Although Confederate raiders confiscated funds and supplies intended for the asylum on two occasions, the hospital was opened to patients in the midst of the war. It became the first civic project of the new state of West Virginia.
The Virginia General Assembly authorized the construction of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum early in the 1850s. Thomas S. Kirkbride, superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, had devised the Kirkbride Plan for such institutions. Utilizing a philosophy called Moral Treatment, Kirkbride theorized that asylum buildings designed to admit abundant light and air could help cure patients. As forbidding as such structures appear to modern eyes, they were considered the epitome of humane treatment at the time. Richard Snowden Andrews, a Baltimore architect, designed this building in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles. Construction began in 1858, was interrupted by the war, and was not completed until 1881. It is alleged to be the largest building in the nation constructed of hand-cut blue sandstone. The asylum was intended to be largely self-sufficient; a farm, dairy, waterworks, and cemetery were located here. The first patients arrived in 1863. At its peak, in the 1950s, 2,400 patients lived here. The hospital, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990, closed in 1994.