St. Elizabeth's Hospital
Located in southeast Washington, St. Elizabeth’s hospital sits on a bluff with a beautiful view overlooking the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. Established in 1855 the hospital was originally named the “Government Hospital for the Insane” the hospital’s mission was to provide the “most humane care and enlightened curative treatment of the insane of the Army, Navy, and District of Columbia.” During the Civil War, wounded soldiers treated here were hesitant to admit that they were in an insane asylum, and said they were at St. Elizabeths, the colonial name of the land where the Hospital is located. Congress officially changed the Hospital’s name to St. Elizabeths in 1916. By the 1940s, the Hospital complex covering an area of over 300 acres housed 7,000 patients. It was the first and only federal mental facility with a national reach.
Also on the property is a Civil War cemetery where hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers who died here are buried. While only a few hundred graves are marked it is believed that thousands of patients are buried on the property.
Divided by Martin Luther King jr ave the campus is split into two sides, the west side which is older and now owned by the federal government and the east side which is newer and owned by the DC government. Along with the typical problems associated with old buildings, medicine and equipment shortages plagued the west campus and all patients were eventually transferred to the east campus. As it sat unused the west campus fell into a state of great despair. The main building was designated a National Historic Landmark which prevented it from being demolished but with rehabilitation/re-use costs estimated in the hundreds of millions private developers showed no interest. In 2007 the Federal Government stepped in and announced that it would be spending billions to rehabilitate the main building in an effort that would consolidate dozens of offices creating a new headquarters for both the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Coast Guard.
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