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Willamsburg, Virginia: America's First Mental Hospital (Closed)

See how mental patients were warehoused in early America. Cells, strait jackets, and the unsoothing Tranquilizer Chair.

The Public Hospital

Directions:
At the southwest corner of Colonial Willamsburg, bordered by S. Henry, W. Francis, S. Nassau, and W. Court Sts. Parking lot across from entrance, on the north side of W. Francis St.
Hours:
Summer daily 10-7, fewer hours and days off-season. (Call to verify)
Phone:
888-965-7254
Admission:
$13 (for just the museum)
Status:
Closed

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Treatment seat.

America's First Mental Hospital

The "Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds" is the first public building in North America dedicated to treatment of the mentally ill. On June 4, 1770, the legislators adopted an act to "Make Provision for the Support and Maintenance of Ideots, Lunaticks, and other Persons of unsound Minds." The hospital admitted its first patient in 1773. Thomas Jefferson wasn't very impressed with the building, saying that it resembled a "rude misshapen pile." The hospital burned down in 1885, and a reconstruction was built on the original location in 1985.

There are exhibits on how a typical patient's room looked, the torturous-looking "tranquilizer chair," and, of course, a strait jacket. The hospital is the entrance to a couple of other museums, so don't miss the exhibit of archaeological artifacts (spoons, corn cobs, a cow joint bone, etc.) found in a 200 year old rat's nest from Wetherburn's Tavern.

[John Takao Collier, 06/21/2016]

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