Original Building (Female Department) (1859-1968)

The central two thirds of the front of the building, from "The Siggins Album," circa 1900. End to end, the front of the building spanned 700 feet.  (Courtesy of the Local History Room of The Kalamazoo Public Library.)


The same view today. The building is the Western Michigan University College of Health and Human Services. 


Looking northeast from the water tower, toward downtown Kalamazoo. The asylum was located on a (then) moderately remote hilltop. From "The Siggins Album," circa 1900. (Courtesy of the Local History Room of The Kalamazoo Public Library.)


Artist's conception.

Building plan. The Female Department and Male Department buildings were examples of the Kirkbride Plan.

Construction began in 1854, and the structure was built in stages until totally complete in September of 1869. Patients were admitted to the completed portions beginning in 1859. Work was slowed by multiple factors: A State legislature that pieced out funding a year at a time; an arsonist's fire that significantly damaged the central section while under construction; and the Civil War.

The floor plan above (and its handwritten notes) suggest that it represents a moment in the middle of the 15 year construction process. The north section (righthand) was built after the south section – but it was built according to plan. On the other hand, I can find no evidence that the infirmary section on the south end (in the back, labelled "not completed" on the floor plan above) was ever built. It does not appear in any photographs.


Footprint photographed in 1950. The 3-section zig-zag building in the upper left still stands. At the upper right is the Service Building and Central Kitchen. The one asymmetrical feature is the infirmary section at the end of the first transverse section on the north end (photo right). (Courtesy Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections)


Circa-1930 aerial view.

The photographs below are sequenced to take you on a trip around the building. We start at the main entrance, briefly examine the north end of the front, then head south, circling the building until we've looked at the south, west (back), and north sides of the building.

In 1933 the large cupolas were removed because they were deemed a fire hazard. The front entrance section of the building was also revised, perhaps at the same time. Both versions below.

The original front.


Three views of the revised front.


The entrance, seen from the north.


The north end of the front, looking south. The leftmost section in the photo is the main entrance again. The large cupolas have been removed by this time. 


Back to the entrance, looking south.


A view of the south end of the front of the building. The bit of roofline to the right of the scalloped cupola is the main entrance section again.


The corner of the south end in 1939, looking back up the front of the building, showing the tiering of the sections. The center of this photograph is the same area depicted in the previous photograph.

The rightmost section in the photograph is the main entrance. At the left, we turn the corner from the front (east) side to the south end. (Courtesy Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections)


The same corner of the south end circa 1900 (pre-balconies, large cupolas still in place), now turned to see the entire south end of the building stretching toward the rear. (From "The Siggins Album," courtesy of the Local History Room of The Kalamazoo Public Library.)


The rear-most corner of the south end as it turns to the back (west side) of the building in 1939.  (Courtesy Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections)


The south end circa 1900, looking north from the water tower, chapel in lower right. Compare the back corner (left) to the previous 1939 photo of the same corner. An entire floor appears to have been added.  (From "Images of America: Kalamazoo, Michigan" (Arcadia Pub., 2002))


The south end, looking north from the water tower, power plant in lower left. Also a detail of the back section. (From "The Siggins Album," courtesy of the Local History Room of The Kalamazoo Public Library.)


The north side of the back of the building, 1957. (Courtesy Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections)


A somewhat earlier view of the north side of the back of building. In this one, the trees are bare, so the house-like end of the cross-section is visible. This was an infirmary for critical cases, set apart from the rest of the building, so that its operations and patients would not disturb or require traffic through the rest of the building. (Courtesy Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections)


And finally, coming full circle: The north side of the building and the north end of the front of the building in 1959. This is an almost exact reversal of the perspective in the previous photograph. (Courtesy Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections)


Postcard gallery.

Here is a comparison of the footprints of the Female Department (1950s) and WMU's College of Health and Human Services building (2012). To orient yourself: In both photos, the same neighboring buildings are visible on the left edge and in the top left corner (the three section, zig-zag building). Also look for Oakland Drive at the bottom and the gate house (cottage) in the lower right corner of each.

3 responses
I am a former employee of KSH with an in depth interest in the buildings and history of mental health. I was hired as an aid in 1959 and retired in 1995 as a nurse. During my years there met many wonderful people, both patients and staff. It was a gratifying job which I enjoyed very much.
Pat, My aunt was a patient at KSH from about 1945 til it closed. The story of her being there makes me pretty emotional but I have to say that her later years of life after the unit she was in was closed were good ones - and she returned to the family. I so very much wish that there was a way that I could obtain some records of her care. It would help so much to care for our family members as there is a strong family history of mental health issues. My aunt's father died at Eloise. My own mother struggled as well with similar diagnoses. I think it could help our family so much if we could access as much medical information of the family as possible. I can imagine that your work was very gratifying and I'm so grateful for those who have cared for our family members. I would love to hear more from you and any suggestions you might have as to how I, her niece, could obtain medical records. Thanks in advance. Sandi
Both my 1st cousin, 4x removed and his wife ended up as patients of this hospital. She died there on December 31, 1907 at the age of 53 years old and he died there on December 18, 1914 at the age of 69 years old. He had been a patient for at least 4 years (found on the 1900 census as being at the hospital). Thank you for your research and posting pictures. It adds more to the story of their lives to see where they lived.