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Architectural Analysis: Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center
Thomas Story Kirkbride
Born into a Quaker family in Morrisville, Pennsylvania July 31, 1909, Thomas Story Kirkbride was to become one of the most prominent American psychologists of the 19th century. He began his study of medicine in Under Dr. Nicholas Belleville in Trenton, New Jersey in 1828. After this he received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1832. He then moved on to a private practice until he was awarded the superintendent position of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane.
It was at the Pennsylvania Hospital that he helped found the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII). This organization was the precurser to the modern American Psychiatric Association. It was also here that he developed the Kirkbride Plan. A plan to improve medical care for the insane by standardizing the buildings they were housed in. His book, On the construction, organization, and general arrangements of hospitals for the insane with general remarks on insanity and it's treatments, was first published in 1854.
In this publication he detailed his ideas on designing buildings specifically for the treatment and curing of patients with mental illness. This method, called the Moral Method, highlights use of a the building to promote a healthy environment that was also aesthetically pleasing.
The central tower of the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center was built in the chateauesque style in 1895, It along with the rest of the building was built due to overcrowding in other Minnesota state institutions for the insane. After it's construction was finished, it became the largest in the state of Minnesota.
It's tower is among the easiest landmarks to spot in the small Minnesota town of Fergus falls. It's tall central tower and steep pitched roof are examples of it's style of architecture and stand high above the trees.
On either side of the central spire are two smaller towers rising from the edge of the main roof line. These Octagon shaped turrets rise just one story above the main roof line and are topped with a steeple style roof. The octagon shape of these towers continue 3 stories to the ground level, highlighting the corners of this distinct building.
The 38 large windows on the front of the building alternate between rectangular and arched single pain windows. There is also a large half-moon window on the second floor and a half-moon shaped transom window above the main doors.
East and West Wing
The east and west wings are nearly mirrored designs of each other. They extend in a semi-circle out from the central building and are four stories tall. The design is meant to maximize the amount of sunlight entering the individual rooms. The idea was to allow direct sunlight into patient rooms as part of their treatment.
Along the peak of it's roof line are two square Cupolas, small tower like structures, placed in the far sides of the wings directly above the east/west towers. Each cupola consists of 8 archways, 2 side by side in each cardinal direction. Above them is a carved stone cornice, which leads to a steeple style roof.
The east/west towers are large semi-circular structures sticking out from the sides of the wings. The top floor of the tower rises above the main roof line. Each window is separated by two semi-columns built into the wall rising from a ridge line dividing the 3rd and 4th floors to the eave. The roof is a gabled roof with a conical hip line.
The rest of the towers consist of semi-columns separating glass block windows from the ridge line to the foundation. The foundation rises to above the partially subterranean 1st floor.
Moving away from the towers the rest of the building consists of a gabled roof with gabled dormers. These dormers are in groups of 3, seperated by sections of the building that jut out approximately 12 feet from the rest of the building. These sections have a large gabled dormer sided by stonework.
The result of the amount of stonework and grand design of this building, coupled with the white paint, makes this section of the building reminisce of many state and federal government buildings.
The Fergus Falls Regional Treatment center was closed in 2005 as patients were moved to smaller facilities. Since then the state of Minnesota has sold the property to the City of Fergus Falls.
In the city it's a debated topic on whether the city should restore the building and re-purpose it or demolish it and utilize the land it's sitting on.
Finally in 2013 the city decided to restore the land and received bids from developers who had experience in restoring older buildings. The building is to be re-purposed as residential and commercial property. In it will be offices, restaurants, a spa, and a hotel. With the possibility of apartments and rental units in the outbuildings.
Things were getting underway until the developer approached the city asking for $700,000 from non-appropriated funds to invest toward the project. The developer and city have been unable to come to an agreement and the project has ultimately stopped.
Several citizens in Fergus Falls have banded together to try and raise the $700k needed for the project to continue. Their worry is that without the developers project, the building will fall further into disrepair and eventually be demolished.
The Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center is a monument of an age where even the most infamous buildings were designed to look like a palace. The details of this structure leave you thinking of the words grandeur, authority, and opulence. There are very few of the Kirkbride hospitals left standing in the United states. Some are long gone, others lay in ruins, but there are some that have held on to this age. Quietly reminding us of a different time.
Haunted Regional Treatment Center- Fergus Falls
There have been several vague reports of hauntings within the old Regional Treatment Center. None of the accounts I've read are very convincing, nor do they provide a lot of details. The only thing that can be confirmed is that patients did die in the building, whether it was from disease, maltreatment, or suicide.
Many other Kirkbride Plan institutions have their own ghost stories associated with them. Most stories seem to rely on the treatment of the patients and the shear grandness of the buildings, and their subsequent fall to disrepair. There are those that believe in ghosts and those that don't but a building like this, with it's history, is sure to give all visitors goosebumps at some point.
Other buildings associated with the hospital
On the grounds are several other buildings that were used by staff members at the Regional Treatment Center before it was closed down. One of these buildings is a large Tudor style boarding house that was designed and built to house the nurses that lived and worked at the treatment center when it was still the Fergus Falls State Hospital.
The building pictured to the right is sitting abandoned with an older sign placed beside it stating it is for sale. It is such a great piece of Tudor design, which there is very few examples of in rural Minnesota. It's my hope that someone will restore this property along with the main building one day and restore it to it's former greatness so that future generations can see the amount of detail put into buildings in the past. They may realize the true aesthetic of this architecture does not exist within cookie cutter neighborhoods of today.