|Source: Lost Landmarks of Mississippi - Page 118
The University of Mississippi
Medical Center is a labyrinthine complex of buildings occupying
a sloping hill in Jackson. Deep within the basement of its
original 1955 core are doorways which won't close and walls that
meet at odd angles. Legend has it that this part of the
med center was built atop the old tunnels which once connected
the wings of the State Insane Asylum. Legend or not, the
asylum's shadow hovers over the campus, most dramatically in the
wooded burial ground between the medical library and St. Dominic
The 1848 legislature authorized "that a lunatic asylum
shall be established in this State, to be located in or near the
city of Jackson." The initial appropriation was for ten
thousand dollars, which was partially used to purchase five
acres at the north city limits. That site was deemed
unsuitable, and 140 acres were bought two miles north of town
for seventeen hundred dollars. Under the direction of
architect William Gibbons, ground was broken and work
began, the bricks being supplied by State Penitentiary inmates.
Gibbons designed a building larger and grander
than that envisioned by the legislature, modeling it on the New
Jersey asylum, with a central block and two long wings.
Excavation, bricking, carpentry, and ironwork dragged on at a
snail's pace for two years, as Gibbons ran through money
and returned again and again to the legislature for more funds.
By 1850, the first-floor walls were partially completed, and
Gibbons was demanding another fifty-thousand-dollar
appropriation. The legislature had run out of patience.
A new board of commissioners was appointed; they fired
Gibbons, hiring Joseph Willis as his replacement.
Willis inherited a mess. He left a record
of his dismay with the quality of Gibbons's work:
About the first of July, 1850, I was informed that the
foundations had been laid, and the walls of the cellar ....
raised to the height of eight feet..... As the work had been
suspended for several months, the cellar was filled with water
to the depth of from two to three feet.
After having the cellar drained, I discovered that the
foundations under the walls were very soft, and as they began to
dry, that the walls cracked in many places, from top to
bottom.... Under these circumstances, I was unwilling to put up
the building, on the walls that had been erected, being
satisfied that the foundations would not support the
superincumbent weight of so massive a building; and that it
would not be long before serious injury to the building would be
caused by uneven settlements in the foundations.....
Willis was also plagued by Yazoo clay, and
provided an early description of the shifting soil which would
aggravate Jacksonians for generations: "After the walls
were removed.... I found that the walls had been built on a bed
of marl, that extends to the depth of from twenty to thirty
feet, and that when it is wet, expands and becomes soft and
slippery, and that when dry, it contracts and becomes hard, and
if exposed to the atmosphere, crumbles or slacks like lime;
consequently, it is a very poor material for foundations of
Willis's problems were just beginning. As
the massive three-story center block rose on the unsteady soil,
fires, water problems, and a yellow fever epidemic slowed the
work. Finally, in 1855, the hospital was ready for its
first patients, with Willis surprisingly not among those
admitted. The commissioners proudly reported to the
governor on the finished structure.
The main or centre building, together with both wings,
have been completed and the entire outside stuccoed, so that the
whole structure presents an attractive appearance, both in
finish and style of architecture, and will stand an enduring
monument of the wisdom and benevolence of our noble State.
Back buildings, substantially built of brick, have been
completed for engine room, kitchen, wash room and for generating
gas, and all the necessary apparatus for generating gas and
steam are in successful operation... Some fifty acres of ground
have been enclosed with a plain but substantial board fence, and
a sufficiency cleared for pleasure and promonade [sic] grounds
for the patients."
The asylum had been operating for only a year when fire
swept through it in 1856. The legislature appropriated
sixteen thousand dollars for repairs. Seven years later,
the hospital sat on the fringes of the fight for occupation of
Jackson. It was outside the circle of Confederate defenses
leaving it to Union occupation. The patients were removed,
and Federal soldiers climbed into the towering center cupola to
signal their forces. Confederate fire rained down on the
asylum. In exasperation, the hospital superintendent
requested that both sides honor the neutrality of the building,
and this request was honored, leaving the asylum with minimal
Following the war, serious structural problems
tormented those responsible for the asylum. A destructive
fire and tornado damage added to their worries. The
patient population was increasing and tow new wings were added,
raising the capacity to three hundred beds. The
overcrowding was alleviated somewhat in 1882, when East
Mississippi State Hospital opened in Meridian.
By the end of the century, almost twelve hundred
patients were crowded into the main building, numerous wings,
and accessory buildings of the State Insane Asylum. One
hundred ten employees scurried about the complex, and a training
school for psychiatric nurses was added. Dunbar Rowland
described the impressive campus: "This institution is situated
on rising ground two miles north of the capitol, the building
crowning a slope of beautiful lawn several acres in extent.
The main building consists of an imposing center, four stories
in height and handsome facade of columns. On each side are
wings three stories high, connected by smaller four story
divisions, two on one side and three on the other. Behind
the main building are the annexes for colored patients, two for
male, and two for female patients. These buildings are of
plain, architectural design, but very comfortable and
An insurance map of the era shows a huge circular pond,
burial grounds, coal sheds, bake shops, print shops, carriage
houses, and a variety of other outbuildings scattered around the
Structural problems and overcrowding worsened.
Mental health professionals were lobbying for an updated
facility of multiple "wards" in freestanding buildings.
The State Insane Asylum had outlived its usefulness in less than
a century. In 1926, funds were appropriated to build a new
complex in Rankin County, named after Governor Henry L.
Whitfield. The patients were moved in 1835, leaving the
eighty-year old North State Street complex empty. It was
demolished in the 1950s to make way for the University of
Mississippi Medical Center.
See reference to the fire
See several Newspaper Articles HERE