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Toledo Asylum for the Insane: The plans expand     (1884-1887) 

In early months of 1884 progress and planning were well underway for the new Toledo Asylum for the Insane. By January 10, 1884, thirty bids for the erection of the Asylum buildings were received and under review.  The Governor-appointed Board of Trustees elected a Board President, George L. Johnson and Secretary J.W. Nelson on February 11, 1884.[1] The initial construction timeline projected a completion date of October 1886, however the job would face a number of setbacks that would eventually delay the opening of the Asylum until January of 1888.

The first of many delays occurred early on when the validity of the initial building contract awarded to Miles, Cramer, and Horn was questioned. Consequently, the Board was required to re-file all appropriate paperwork with the Auditor and once again accept bids for construction. By June of 1884 the second round of bids collected totaled to forty-four.[2] Within the next month, a contract was signed with Michael J. and William Malone for a sum of $441,163.92 and the architects E.O. Fallis of Toledo and JW Yost of Columbus were selected for the job.[3]

Initially, section four of House Bill 909 required that any new facility should accommodate a “… capacity of not less than six hundred and fifty inmates”[4] However, the 1882 Board of State Charities report confirmed  that over 1100 people entitled to State care were currently housed in county infirmaries and jails. The report classified 166 as violent and dangerous, 217 as filthy and requiring constant care, 147 were locked in cells, 10 hand-cuffed, 9 hobbled, and 84 restrained by straight-jackets or other similar means.[5] In particular, the report drew attention to the inhumane treatment of the insane residents at these institutions. The investigating commission described the conditions for those living in seclusion as so appalling “where, but for the insensibility of the inmates, the condition would be absolutely insufferable.” By the late nineteenth century, both the concepts of humane treatment and the medical treatment of mental health were at the forefront and as a result, the planning commission determined that it was necessary to providefor not less than one thousand patients. [6]

The building contract with Michael J. and William Malone would involve the construction of thirty-four structures with amenities including water main pipes, gas lines, steam heating, sewer and drainage.[7] Of the thirty-four buildings planned for construction, twenty-six were intended for patient accommodations with the capacity to house a total of 1060 patients.

A second setback occurred in late July of 1884, during the early days of excavation when “a vein of ‘quicksand’ varying in depth and thickness, underlaid [sic] the whole site.”[8]For two full months, the construction was halted while the plans were modified to accommodate this unforeseen landscape characteristic. Soon afterwards, work was again delayed, this time by the cold winters of Northwest Ohio.  By late November in 1884, the architects suspended all masonry work until the temperatures were steadily above freezing.[9] Construction would not resume for nearly six months.

Despite the major delays occurring in 1884, by publication of The Second Annual Report in November of 1885, the masonry related work was complete on thirty four of the thirty six buildings and twenty-five of these structures were roofed.[10]Contained within the report of 1885 were multiple recommendations from both the Board of Trustees and architects. These involved additional structures as well as overall improvements to the plans such as a bath house to be used for treatment purposes, an amusement hall for residents, supplementary employee quarters and fire department quarters, physicians residences, a mortuary, electric lighting and a clock and bell for the administration building . These recommendations, although increasing the overall cost of the asylum, were proposed with the intention to “make it one of the best, for the care of the insane, in this country.”[11] Many of these improvements would come to fruition in 1886, causing delays in the original projected completion date of October 1886.

In 1886, members of the Board of Trustees as well as the Architect and Superintendent of Construction visited Willard Asylum in Seneca County, New York, the State Hospital for the Insane in Norristown, Pennsylvania and the Asylum for the Insane in Buffalo, New York. These trips were conducted with the intention of gathering ideas on how to best furnish and decorate the various structures of the asylum. Additionally, the group was accumulating details on the optimal use of electric lighting for both the buildings and grounds.  Although the construction of the originally proposed structures was mostly complete by the end of 1886, delays in making decisions and appropriates for the suggested improvements caused setbacks during the year. The Board of Trustees could not decide on the preeminent way to include electric lighting and therefore delayed offering contracts.[12] The State Legislature did not make appropriations for furnishings during their January session and as a result further delayed the opening of the institution by six months.[13]Furthermore, various contracts were made throughout the year for “changes, improvements, and additions.”[14]The revised opening date was changed to February 1887, but this date too would come and go before the asylum doors were opened to patients.[15]

In the year proceeding the institution’s opening, much progress was made, both in the general construction of the facility and the overall preparation to receive patients. In December of 1886, Dr. Henry Archibald Tobey was appointed Superintendent of the Toledo Asylum. Dr. Tobey came highly recommended to the Board by many fellow physicians and “other persons of high stating in civil life.”[16] Dr. Tobey was an Ohio native with prior experience in the treatment of insanity. His previous appointments as assistant physician at the Columbus Asylum for the Insane from 1877 – 1880 and then as Superintendent at the Dayton Asylum for the Insane from 1880-1884 provided him with ample experience in asylum care and management.[17]Further employment selections were made throughout 1887 including the appointment of Mrs. Minnie Conklin Tobey, Dr. Tobey’s wife, as Matron of the complex, as well as Dr. Henry C. Eyman and S.W. Skinner as Assistant Physicians, and Mr. Alfred Wilkin as Steward.[18]

The thirty-four originally contracted buildings were completed, tested, and officially turned over to the care of the State in 1887. By the end of this reporting period, many projects had made much progress and were near completion. Over 60,000 square feet of stone walkways were laid, with more to be installed, multiple buildings were fitted with telephone exchanges, as well as electricity that would illuminate over 1700 fixtures among the buildings and grounds. Additionally, the decision to use natural gas in heating, rather than coal, called for the fitting of pipes and fixtures to transport the gas throughout the campus.[19] Once appointed, Dr. Tobey was highly involved in the multitude of decisions, oversaw many of the projects and managed the many purchases that needed to be made before the facility was open to patients, such as the purchase of furniture and furnishings, laundry machinery, kitchen appliances and tools, and the on-site production of nearly 700 hair mattresses and over 400 hair pillows. In his report to the board, Dr. Tobey commented on each of these successful bits of process made throughout the year, but also suggested many improvements he wished to make. His considerations were generally practical, but always patient centered. For example, he recommended sheltered walks to connect the cottages to the dining halls and protect the patients from unfavorable weather conditions, an amusement hall which he considered an absolute necessity, a greenhouse, industrial and shop buildings where patients could be employed, more land that could be farmed, as well as an iron fence to surround the property with the purpose of providing protection to “the inmates against the intrusion of curious, malicious or designing persons.”[20]

The summer of 1887 would bring another setback in the institution’s progress. In August, “a violent tornado” would make its way across Northwest Ohio and through the asylum grounds.[21] Initial reports printed in the New York Times indicated that several buildings were torn down by the tornado and the Assistant Superintendent and his wife were thrown from their carriage, but miraculously escaped with their lives. Further, the article estimated damages as severe as $10,000, however actual damages were slightly less and repairs were able to be made for $1,200.[22]

Although the project faced a multitude of obstacles, the Toledo Asylum for the Insane opened to patients on January 6, 1888, less than five years after House Bill 909 called for the expansion of the State’s care of the insane. By the end of 1888, over 1000 patients would be admitted to the care of the asylum.

Next Installment: A Busy First Year (1888-1889)


[1]First Annual Report of the Board of Trustees and Officers of the Toledo Asylum for the Insane (1884): 6, Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, The University of Toledo Libraries.
[2] Ibid., 7.
[3] Ibid., 11.
[5]The Seventh Annual Report of The State Board of Charities to the Ohio State General Assembly (1882): 37,
[6] First Annual Report, 12.
[7] ibid., 9-10
[8] Ibid., 26-27.
[9]Second Annual Report of the Board of Trustees and Officers of the Toledo Asylum for the Insane (1885): 12, Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, The University of Toledo Libraries.
[10] Ibid., 24, 28.
[11] Ibid., 31.
[12]Third Annual Report of the Board of Trustees and Officers of the Toledo Asylum for the Insane (1886): 6-7, Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, The University of Toledo Libraries.
[13] Ibid., 10.
[14] Ibid., 23.
[15] Ibid., 5.
[16]Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Trustees and Officers of the Toledo Asylum for the Insane (1887): 5, Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, The University of Toledo Libraries.
[18]Fourth Annual Report, 5.
[19] Ibid., 8-11.
[20] Ibid., 20-23.
[21] Ibid., 12.
[22] NYT article “Struck By A Cyclone” September 7, 1887, page 2; Fourth Annual Report, 12.

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