Madison Monday: At the Madison State Hospital

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house Madison State Hospital

My favorite house on the grounds

If you’re not from Madison and looking at the title to this post, you might be worried. Perhaps wondering if I haven’t finally gone off the deep end.

Fear not. I have not been committed or arrested or institutionalized in any way more serious than being employed by a small liberal arts college (which is its own kind of mental institution). I have merely added a walk on the tail-end of my morning visit to our community garden plot on the grounds of the Madison State Hospital.

I already knew the grounds around the State Hospital were beautiful; the best part of having a plot in the community garden up there is not really the vegetables so much as the opportunity to be somewhere beautiful early in the morning. If you get to the garden early enough, you’ll usually catch at least one of our resident groundhogs, as well as scaring away a collection of crows. I’ve seen fawns and rabbits. But mostly, there’s the open sky broken by the occasional bird and the silence.

As long as I’m up there, it occurred to me that I might as well add a walk. So lately, after I pick our vegetables I trade in my garden boots for walking shoes and hit the road.

stairs to nowhere

Stairs to nowhere

I’m not going to go into the history of the State Hospital in Madison because I don’t know really know it. I think it started as a mental hospital, and that part of it still is. I know that they also house women and juvenile prisoners up there. I know that at various points in its history, the State Hospital was its own, self-sufficient community. Doctors and staff lived in the houses still scattered around the grounds and inmates grew their own food in a garden.

Like Hatcher Hill, this walk around the State Hosptial grounds has the advantage of ghostliness and ruin. There are houses that no one has lived in for a long time. There are stairs that lead nowhere and gates that open into nothing. It is the kind of place that pushes you to wonder what was. There are a lot of stories suggested in the remnants.

Walking the roads around the State Hospital also has the advantage of a view. It provides yet another gorgeous view of Madison and the river valley below. Of course, you can also walk down into Madison and the valley from the State Hospital grounds along the Heritage Trail.

Don’t be fooled. There is also barbed wire. There are people incarcerated there, as hard as that is to remember when you’re walking past the beautiful old, buildings.

view of Ohio River Valley

View from the grounds.

Why, you might wonder, put a mental hospital on a scenic bluff overlooking a river valley? Why surround it with woods and lovely green fields? I can’t answer that question except to say the place was built during a time when we didn’t make ugly things–not even prisons or mental asylums. Kind of makes you wonder at what point we decided ugly was okay, doesn’t it?

For more pictures from the Madison State Hospital grounds, check out my Facebook page, here. You might also like You Think Too Much while you’re there.

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