The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

A massive neo-gothic architectural landmark and a dark tourism destination

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, subsequently the Weston State Hospital, was a Kirkbride psychiatric hospital[1] that was operated from 1864 until 1994 by the government of the U.S. state of West Virginia, in the city of Weston. This site is claimed to be a venue for the demonic haunting and is now a site for themed horror shows.

The Asylum was shut down in 1994, for non-complying with the codes of modern treatment. Started in 1858, the massive 9-acre 242-square-foot facility was completed 23 years later and still stands as the second largest hand-cut blue sandstone facility in the world.

Originally the stone was being hauled from Mount Claire by oxen and horse and the West Fork river has the exact same hand cut blue sandstone, so we were able to mine the rest of that stone from right across the street.

Rebecca Jordan-Gleason – Operations Manager

The hospital was authorized by the Virginia General Assembly in the early 1850s following consultations with Thomas Story Kirkbride, then-superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. It was designed in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles by Richard Snowden Andrews[2]. Work was initially conducted by prison laborers, and later skilled stonemasons were later brought in from Germany and Ireland. The Civil War interrupted the work in 1861 and Virginia required the unused funds to be returned for its defense.

Before this could occur, the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry seized the money from a local bank, delivering it to Wheeling. Following the admission of West Virginia as a U.S. state in 1863, the hospital was renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. The first patients were admitted in October 1864, but construction continued into 1881.

The 200-foot central clock tower was completed in 1871. The grounds included a farm, dairy, waterworks, and cemetery. The first patients were admitted for asthma, laziness, egotism, domestic troubles, and even greediness. This led to an overwhelming number of patients being admitted, causing the asylum to face a shortage of staff and beds.

Weston grew to 4,000 people, and the Asylum housed 700 workers and 2,600 patients at its peak in the 1950s. Its name was again changed to Weston State Hospital in 1913. A 1938 report by a survey committee organized by a group of North American medical organizations found that the hospital housed “epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts, and non-educable mental defectives” among its population.

A series of reports by The Charleston Gazette in 1949 found poor sanitation and insufficient furniture, lighting, and heating in much of the complex, while one wing, which had been rebuilt using Works Progress Administration funds following a 1935 fire started by a patient, was comparatively luxurious.

Lack of proper care and sanitation led to an estimated 400-500 deaths in the hospital. Weston State Hospital found itself to be the home for the West Virginia Lobotomy Project in the early 1950s. This was an effort by the state of West Virginia and Walter Freeman[3] to use lobotomy to reduce the number of patients in asylums because there was severe overcrowding.

By the 1980s, the hospital had a reduced population due to changes in the treatment of mental illness. Uncontrollable patients were locked in cages. Ultimately the new facility, the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital, was built in Weston and the old Weston State Hospital was simply closed in May 1994.

The hospital has now been renamed Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and is a tourist attraction. There are paintings, poems, and drawings made by patients in the art therapy programs, a room dedicated to the different medical treatments and restraints used in the past, and artifacts such as a straitjacket and hydrotherapy tub.

The tour guides dress in clothes that resemble 19th-century nurse outfits; blue dress, white apron, white cap, and white shoes. The shorter historical tour offer allows visitors to see the first floor of the Kirkbride, while the longer historical tour allows visitors to see all four floors, the apartments of staff, the morgue, and the operating room.

Aside from the historical tours, there are also two paranormal tours. Both start as the sun set, the shorter tour lasting around two to three hours, the longer tour being overnight with the option of having a private tour.

  • The souls of the deceased often haunt the place, strange sounds are often heard
  • People have heard the crying and screaming sounds of humans, as it happens if a human is tortured brutally
  • There is the sudden appearance and disappearance of peculiar lights
  • Lily, the spirit of a girl who was once admitted to this asylum for treatment and dies inside, is often seen playing along the corridors. She is described to be a sweet, little girl who enjoys chatting with living humans
  • Sounds are heard as if the furniture is dragged along the floors
  • The silence in the building often gets shattered with loud and intense giggling sounds
  • People who have observed smoky or shadow figures moving about
  • Many have felt a cold rush over their bodies in many areas
  • Walking and running in the hallways are heard
  • The 4th floor is particularly active, some believe due to the fire in 1930
  • Some get the smell of decomposition believed to be from Brian Scott Lee, who committed suicide in the building
  • Some have reported straying cats with unusual appearances

Television has capitalized on the asylum with shows including Ghost Stories, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters, Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal Lockdown on Destination America/TLC as well as Portals To Hell and most recently Travel Channel’s Destination Fear and Conjuring Kesha.

  1. The Kirkbride Plan was a system of mental asylum design advocated by American psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809–1883) in the mid-19th century, constructed in the United States. The structural features of the hospitals as designated by Kirkbride were contingent on his theories regarding the healing of the mentally ill, in which environment and exposure to natural light and air circulation were crucial. The hospitals built according to the Kirkbride Plan would adopt various architectural styles, but had in common the “bat wing” style floor plan, housing numerous wings that sprawl outward from the center. [Back]
  2. Richard Snowden Andrews (October 29, 1830 – January 5, 1903) was an American architect and a Confederate artillery commander and diplomat during the American Civil War. He was an architect from Baltimore whose other commissions included the Maryland Governor’s residence in Annapolis and the south wing of the U.S. Treasury building in Washington. [Back]
  3. Walter Jackson Freeman II (November 14, 1895 – May 31, 1972) was an American physician who specialized in lobotomy. He was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by his parents. Freeman’s grandfather, William Williams Keen, was well-known as a surgeon in the Civil War. His father was also a very successful doctor. Freeman attended Yale University beginning in 1912 and graduated in 1916. He then moved on to study neurology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. While attending medical school, he studied the work of William Spiller and idolized his groundbreaking work in the new field of the neurological sciences. [Back]

Further Reading


Mysterious Monsters

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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