The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, run by the WV state government, began serving patients in 1864. It was designed on the Kirkbride plan http://www.kirkbridebuildings.com/ (you can get lost in the history and photos on this website) to be completely self-sufficient and hold 250 people. Overcrowding, to the tune of 2,500 patients in the 1950s, as well as several name changes (Weston State Hospital being one of the most memorable and PC) took place over the ensuing decades. As treatment of mental illnesses changed, the facility was closed in 1994 and sat empty until 2007 when the state sold the building at auction
The new owners have since been restoring the building with a very small group of workers and likely minimal funding. To support this endeavor they have opened the building for paranormal and history tours http://www.trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com/.
Magellan and I visited in 2012 on a hot summer day to take part in an hour long tour of the first floor of the main building. It was a fascinating visit and, though I didn’t think we would revisit so soon, this past Sunday we headed back with some friends (who had previously been on a longer, in-depth history tour) to check out a daytime paranormal tour. I’m not into experiencing the paranormal (I make it a point not to go around poking ghosts or messing up my sleep pattern by staying awake from 11 pm – 6 am) and was hoping for more exposure to the history and architecture. I got what I came for … and nothing more. (I don’t not believe in ghosts but in all the purportedly haunted spots Magellan and I have visited I haven’t sensed anything unusual. That’s fine with me.)
This building is worth a visit. It’s said to be the largest hand-cut stone building in the US, and aside from some broken windows remains in decent shape on the outside.
Guests enter in the center of the building under the clocktower. Arrive at least 15 minutes before your tour begins to read and sign the waiver and pay for your tour.
Most tours take place in the main building which consists of two long wings on either side of the center section. Some recently added tours take place on the grounds and include the history of the farming and cemeteries (many of the patients were wards of the state and died while at TALA) and the Civil War activity.
Naturally, there is also a haunted house during October which seems to be located in one of the other many buildings on the property.
When I reviewed the photos I took, most of them were looking out. As much as Kirkbride prided his plan on providing lots of natural light for patients I didn’t really get that feeling even on this sunny afternoon.
Our tour began on the fourth floor (there is much climbing of stairs involved; fortunately, it’s all down after the initial up) and our guide described the use of the wards and the alleged paranormal activity encountered by recent staff and visitors.
The tour took us through a great deal of the main building, some of which looks like it could use some TLC such as the nurses and doctors quarters.
Other areas have been lovingly restored, like the original administration offices and one of the first floor corridors which looks totally different since Magellan and I visited last year.
Our guide provided a good mix of the hospital’s history and architecture in the context of paranormal observances.
At the end of tours, visitors have an opportunity to view the hospital’s museum and artwork by former patients. There is a lot of information and reading and those interested in the building and its history will want to allow time to experience this.
This is a fascinating slice of WV’s history and your tour supports the restoration of this magnificent facility.
Make a day out of your visit to Weston with a trip to the nearby Museum of American Glass http://www.magwv.com/ (we easily spent an hour in here after our first visit to TALA); along the way to the Museum, admire the architecture of the Citizens Bank (you can’t miss it). Plan on making a stop (or two) for some great food at Thyme Bistro or the Hickory House in nearby Jane Lew.