County Asylum for the Insane

In 1911, the board of trustees for the county asylum for the insane in submitting its report to the board of supervisors inserted in the report the following historical sketch of that institution.

Sheboygan County Insane Asylum

The keeping of the chronic insane outside of the state hospital in the county jail at an expense of from $6 to $7 per week not only proving unsatisfactory, but the ever increasing number also making the providing of other and more suitable quarters for them an absolute necessity, the county board in 1875 entered into contract with G. S. Jewett, residing at Winooski to keep and care for the chronic insane belonging to this county, in a suitable building to be erected by him, for a term of three years, beginning June 1, 1876, at $4 per week each, the expense of clothing to be paid by the county.

June 1, 1876, the building erected by Mr. Jewett being completed, the eight insane then in the county jail were transferred to Winooski. In the course of a year this number gradually increased to twenty, the state hospital being cramped for room, requiring the county to care for a number of cases pronounced incurable. On the night of February 19, 1878, the building was burned to the ground and of the twenty-one unfortunate inmates, four perished in the flames, namely: Lucretia Toothacre, Ellen McDonald, August Athorp and one other, called Billy Doe, an idiot, whose proper name was unknown. The building was immediately reconstructed, the seventeen inmates in the meantime finding shelter at neighboring houses.

The contract with Mr. Jewett expiring June 1, 1879, and the latter having died in the meantime, a new contract was entered into with C. W. Prescott, the administrator of the Jewett estate, for another term of three years, the price to be paid for keeping the inmates being reduced to $2.75 per week and $4 for a few aggravated cases.

At the sessions of the county board in 1880 and 1881 various plans for better and less expensive ways of caring for the chronic insane belonging to this county were suggested and considered, but without accomplishing the desired result. The state legislature at the session of 1881 having passed an act authorizing counties to erect asylums for the care of the chronic insane, plans for same to be approved by the state board of charities and reform, counties erecting such building to receive from the state the sum of $1.50 per week for the maintenance of its own insane, the county board at a special session, held in July, 1881, concluded to proceed under this act. A committee consisting of Chairman Zillier and Supervisors White, Oliver, Mclntyre and Sharpe, were directed to select a site for building of not less than ten nor more than twenty acres and to obtain plans and specifications for such building, adapted to the care of not less than forty persons, the committee to report at an adjourned meeting to be held July 28.

This committee, having advertised for proposals for a site, submitted a number of such proposals received at the adjourned session and recommended the selection of a plat of ground containing nineteen acres, the same on which the asylum is now located, the city of Sheboygan having offered to furnish this land free of expense to the county. The committee also submitted plans and specifications for the building prepared by Architect H. C. Koch, of Milwaukee, which had the approval of the state board. The county board adopted the recommendations of the committee and directed the latter to proceed without delay to erect the buildings and furnish same ready for occupancy, appropriating the sum of $20,000 to cover cost of same.

Sheboygan County Insane Asylum

The contract for the erection of the building was awarded to Luecke & Roeder, and Mueller & Ackermann, for the sum of $13,325. Hot air furnaces were provided at a cost of $1,465.

The following is a summary of all expenses incurred by the committee in the erection of buildings and furnishing same ready for occupancy:

Assessed Valuation of all Property

Leaving an unexpended balance of the amount appropriated of $1,456.54.

Of the asylum building, one of the first erected under the act of 1881, A. O. Wright, secretary of the State Board of Charities and Reform, wrote the building committee under date of June 5, 1882:

The board were very much pleased with the building when they visited it in April. If it is as well managed at it is constructed, it will be a credit to Sheboygan county and to the state.

The building being completed and furnished throughout by the first day of June, it was turned over to the standing committee on insane, consisting of Supervisors E. Mclntyre, William Elwell and John Kaestner, who were to supervise the management of the asylum. The committee employed A. J. Whiffen and wife as superintendent and matron, respectively, at a salary of $700 per year, and B. M. Evans as assistant, at $30 per month. Dr. Almon Clarke was employed as attending physician at a salary of $100 per year. Only two other persons were employed the first year, two servant girls at $2.50 per week each.

On June 7th the institution was opened to 40 inmates, being all those kept at Winooski and 20 others transferred from the Northern Hospital. Before November 1st the number increased to 42. This being more than the building was calculated to accommodate, it was found necessary to provide more room at once. The committee was therefore directed to cause an addition to be erected, which was completed in 1883 at a cost of $8,495.86. The capacity of the asylum was thus increased to 90 inmates, which was then thought ample for years to come.

In 1886 twenty acres of land lying adjacent to the asylum grounds were purchased at a cost of $3,800, thus giving more of the inmates an opportunity for healthful employment.

Chapter 138, Laws of 1887, providing for the government of county asylums by a board of three trustees to be elected by the county board, the latter, at the regular session in 1887, chose the first board of trustees as follows: William Elwell for three years, William Schwartz for two years, W. H. Foley for one year.

The number of inmates steadily increasing, the county board in 1888 appropriated the sum of $10,000 for a further addition, which was completed the following year at a cost of $8,386.97.

In 1890 a line of pipe connecting the buildings with the city waterworks was put in at the expense of the county and two fire hydrants were provided. But for this timely improvement the asylum would probably have been totally destroyed and many lives lost, when in the night of December 29, 1892, fire broke out in the drying room connected with the laundry. The fire was first detected by the faithful night watchman, Chester Carver, who at once awakened Superintendent Whiffen and then rushed back to the laundry, where he was suffocated by the dense smoke. Mr. Whiffen arriving a few minutes later, was also overcome by smoke, nearly losing his life before he was discovered by the firemen lying unconscious on the floor of the laundry.

It was a number of weeks and after skillful medical attendance and careful nursing before he recovered from the hot smoke inhaled. In this connection due credit must be accorded Mrs. Whiffen for the presence of mind manifested in at once calling the city fire department by telephone. In an almost incredibly short time the city hose company arrived on the ground and soon had the flames under subjection before they could spread to other parts of the building, few, if any, of the inmates, becoming aware of the danger threatening their comfortable home. The damage, amounting to $450, was paid by the insurance companies.

On the morning of July 14, 1893, the new barn erected in 1883 was struck by lightning and with all the contents, some eighty tons of hay, one hundred bushels of potatoes, etc., totally destroyed by fire. The loss was estimated at $1,600; no insurance.

In 1899, another tract of twenty acres, lying north of the Howard's road, was added to the farm, costing $1,300. In 1901 an entirely new heating plant was installed at a cost of $5,607.15.

As the number of inmates kept increasing from year to year it was found not only desirable to acquire more land for their employment and for raising the necessary food to keep them, but also to provide more room to house them. Consequently, in 1905 the county board purchased the so-called Taylor farm, consisting of two hundred and fifty acres, together with the buildings thereon, for the sum of $37,650, and further arranged for remodeling the asylum buildings and for the erection of the necessary additions to accommodate a greatly increased number of inmates. This work required an expenditure of $71,262.64, or, together with the cost of the land, a total of $108,912.64.

To provide the necessary funds the board authorized an issue of $90,000 four per cent bonds, the first $9,000 to fall due June 1, 1910, and the same amount each year thereafter, until the last installment is paid June 1, 1919. These bonds were sold at a premium of $1,584.

A new barn and silo were erected on the Taylor farm in 1908, at a cost of $3,089.76.

Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Whiffen, superintendent and matron of the asylum. respectively, resigning in 1910, they were succeeded by Dr. and Mrs. H. A. Arpke, who took charge on the 1st day of March, that year.

The present buildings have a capacity of 225 inmates; the land connected with same is 309 acres.

The current expenses for the twenty-nine years amounted to $342,692.97; deducting from this the various amounts received from the state, the amounts collected from property of inmates, and receipts from sale of farm produce, etc., leaves a balance of $49,816.66 as the total cost to the community for maintaining its chronic insane during these twenty-nine years. Add to this the cost of permanent improvements and it shows a total of all expenditures taken direct from the county treasury of $228,238.16, or an average of $7,870.28 a year. The number of inmates chargeable to this county, maintained during this period, averages 98 per year, which gives us the net amount of $80.31 as the cost of maintenance per year of each of our chronic insane up to the present time, including all expenditures of whatever nature. The sum of $90,000 raised by the issue of bonds and expended for the purchase of land and for permanent improvements is included in the foregoing figures.

The board of trustees at the present time is composed of Carl Zillier, R. B. Melvin and Eli R. Carpenter.


Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL

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