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The Famous The Ridges Athens Mental Health Center

Updated on December 21, 2010
The Ridges, AKA: Athens mental health center; Athens,Ohio
The Ridges, AKA: Athens mental health center; Athens,Ohio

The most famous talked about asylums is called The Ridges. Known better as Athens Mental Health, The Ridges is located in Athens, Ohio and still stands today as a University. Opened 135 years ago, in 1874, the Government back then had purchased the land which stands on today from a family by the name of Coates, whom had originally owned the land for over six years building the hospital. Back then, giant asylums in the Thomas Kirkbride's style were going around America because of the number of Civil War Veterans suffering from what we call today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thomas Kirkbride's designs centered the idea that it was therapeutic for patients to be housed in a facility that resembled a home, not the so humble human approach than bleeding, freezing and kicks to the "head" which were thought to be ways to "shock" the illness out of the brain.

The institution opened it's doors in 1874, which provided services for patients , Civil War Veterans, children, and violent criminals. It was also common for families to drop off elderly relatives off at the institution when they could no longer afford to care for them. Parents committed their teenagers for insignificant acts of rebellion, to the homeless would use the hospital for temporary shelter too. The first patient was believed to be Thomas Armstrong from Belmont County, followed by Daniel Fremau, whom thought he was was the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The Ridges building had 544 patient rooms and when it opened, it had housed 200 patients. To keep patients safe from the criminally insane, patients were separated based on their diagnosis. Dangerous patients were kept a safe distance away from the less violent ones, with the nurses and doctors placed in the middle. The sedated ones participated in activities such as boating, painting, dances, and picnics. They had been offered church services, plays and often free to roam the grounds. Some patients tended the farms and orchards as well. For many years the institution had livestock, farm fields, gardens, an orchard, greenhouse, a dairy, and a physical plant to generate steam heat, and even a carriage shop in the early years.

One of the local patients, Margaret Shilling, was a deaf and mute woman. In December 1978, Margaret had wondered off the ward, where workers sealed off each wing and were unaware that she was lost in the building when she had been accidentally sealed up. She had banged and made noises for hours and days, but she couldn't be heard with the construction noise. Marge realized her fate, and had taken her clothes off, folded them in a corner and had laid them down on the floor, crossed her arms across her chest and simply died. 42 days later, Margaret was found on January 1979, in the abandoned top floor of that Ward, by a maintenance man who discovered her unclothed,cold, and lifeless body that had been dead for several weeks. For some reason, a search had been done ,but apparently the only floor which wasn't checked was where Margaret disappeared from. Marge's body was removed, but the stain left by her body reappeared, a human figure that can be seen where Margaret died. It's said that her spirit can be seen peering from the window of the room in which she spent her final moments. People claim to hear female disembodied voices, lights, shadow people,and the sound of squeaking gurnies.

There is a story of five cemeteries that surround The Ridges. Two of these cemeteries are on the property of The Ridges. These cemeteries are around the old campus from the perfect shape of a pentagram with Wilson Hall, which was opened in 1964. Any new students arriving here, quickly discover that Wilson Hall has a reputation to be haunted. Room 428, of the Hall is closed and permanently sealed due to the number of unusual sightings reported here. it's reported that the room is the center of all paranormal activity in the hall. Students tell stories of objects flying off shelves and smashing into walls, doors mysteriously opening and closing, toilets flushing, and the appearance, of the ghost of the student who died in the room. The student, deeply involved in the occult, was said to be killed or had committed suicide in the 1970's. It's said this student practiced astro projection and dabbled in sorcery too.

What's more intriguing about Wilson Hall, is the fact that it was built on top of the original graveyard for the institute when patients died at the institute, they were buried here. By the early 1900's the asylum shot from two hundred patients to two thousand , overcrowding the institution and leading the sharing of patients rooms and a severe decline in the quality of treatment by the staff. The decrease in care and attention led to a renaissance of primitive treatment of colonial days to patients. This included water treatments, shock therapy, original lobotomy and trans-orbital lobotomy , which was knocking the patient unconscious with electric shocks. Then they would roll their eyelids back and insert a thin metal icepick like a instrument called a leucotome through a tear duct. A mallet was used to tap through the tear duct. A mallet was used then to tap the instrument a proper depth into the patients brain. I know, pretty gross.  What's more even more horrific , it was then sawed back and forth to sever  the neural receptors  and sometimes even done in both eyelids. There was evidence , which I think this is really crazy if you ask me, that this ridiculous method actually helped patients with severe conditions.  But in much more often times, the patient had horrible side effects, like we didn't know this was coming, and in many cases, it killed a bunch of patients in the end.

During a time in the late 1980's, President Regan closed many of these state hospitals in order to force budget savings. Inmates, as patients were called in the institutions, were released on the streets, and now account for much of Athens large homeless population.  Fires had destroyed the ballroom in the building, where Tuberculosis ward was built.  In 1993, The Ridges was fully closed and left empty while Ohio University reviewed plans to turn the buildings into what it is today.  The main building has been renamed Lin Hall and contains the Kennedy Museum of Art.  Buildings have been added around the main building as long as many that have been renovated to be used as offices for the music, biotechnology, and geology departments.  There is only one building among these buildings that remain which hasn't been used for anything, which is the Tuberculosis ward.

The most talked about and frequent sighting is that of an old man, wearing a hooded robe , who chases people out of the cemetery with his sickle.  Simms Cemetery is listed as one of the top haunted cemeteries, where you'll find the Hanging Tree.  The cemetery named after John Simms, a local official known for his many trials and hangings during the 1800's.  The tree still stands and the rope scars are still quite visible to anyone  brave enough to approach it.  West State cemetery which is an unused cemetery, contains many unmarked graves of fallen soldiers to even a few infamous killers.  The cemetery contains an odd piece of art called the Angel Statue. The statue, placed there to commemorate the fallen soldiers buried on the grounds, had been reported by many to flap it's wings and to weep real tears.  There are two cemeteries on the property of The Ridges.  One immediately behind the building, one that is accessed by a walk in nature.  Both cemeteries have numbered graves, in the cemetery that is behind The Ridges main building there is an oddity.  The first eight graves are not in lines like the rest of the cemetery but are set up in a circle.  Rumors are said that witches had set them up in a circle to hold occult rituals, while it's also said that it was a prank done by students.  Either way, the graves rest as they are and have not been touched or reset in line.  A television show called,  "Scariest Places on Earth" profiled The Ridges with five people exploring the halls of the buildings.

In 1977, a man by the name of Billy Milligan was admitted to the Ridges.  He had been arrested on charges for kidnapping and raping three females at Ohio University.  Milligan had stated he didn't recall or remember the events as he suffered from multiple personality disorder and became the first person in history to have prosecutors accept an insanity plea.  the judge agreed to the terms and sentenced Milligan to The Ridges, which later took a turn in a best selling book about his condition called, "The Minds of Billy Milligan".

Today The Ridges is used as a University, though new students will find out fast enough about portions of the buildings being haunted. For myself, I find that the horrific torture that the patients went through as "inmates" was just too much to deal with. It's amazing that this was even allowed back then, and how the Doctors were able to perform such surgeries on these patients, when thousands of them ended up dying in the end. A great history indeed, and great hauntings is just creepy enough for me to enjoy.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hey interesting read!! Just curious where the location of all three cemeteries are been to the big one behind TB ward building but nothing else is ever mentioned about the two other ones!!

    • Gypsy1witch profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine Marie 

      7 years ago from Milton, NY

      Thanks sarah! Some of the sources i've used is a great deal on the internet these days. Though Google is one, to Bing, I find that a lot of these asylums or haunted places & buildings now have their own websites and such where i can get an idea of the history. Sometimes finding ppl i know who been out there helps me as well for writing! my best friend from HS use to live in Nevada and had once visited the Goldfield Hotel out there, not realizing it was truly haunted when she was a little girl. so that helps in my researches!

    • profile image

      Sarah C 

      7 years ago

      What is the sources you used for this? I really REALLY like it (:

    • Gypsy1witch profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine Marie 

      7 years ago from Milton, NY

      Thanks, Denise!! I'm glad to know I'm NOT the ONLY one who is intrigued by ASYLUMS...I've been intrigued by the rich history they had back then and what they did to the patients and the cruelty it affected on so many souls. I have many more I am working on right now and hope to publish shortly!!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Oh this is such a COOL hub! Loved it. Asylums and such always intrigue me. Thanks for the great write. Nice to meet you.

    • Gypsy1witch profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine Marie 

      7 years ago from Milton, NY

      your welcome! I do alot of research on TRUE haunting stories these days....and this really intrigued me about the deaf woman of Margaret Schilling & Room 428. I hope you enjoyed it; though i'm sure many students who attend the University can relate to the horrific stories much better, its a great piece of history.

    • Luminaria profile image


      7 years ago from Durham, NC

      Thank you for this. I read a lot of books on the older institutions and am actually from Ohio (close to Athens) and has never heard of this, so thank you.


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