The main structure of the East Louisiana State Hospital stands tall after more than 150 years and has gained notoriety for its Greek revival architecture. It serves as the administration building today. (Credit: Lauren Duhon)
The ballroom, which was lined with detailed wood ceilings, was the center of social activity. The hospital hopes to restore the ballroom to its former grandeur in the future. (Credit: Lauren Duhon)
Rows of nameless graves of past patients line the side of a hill at the Rugged Cross Sanctuary on the grounds of the East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson, La. (Credit: Lauren Duhon)
By Lauren Duhon | LSU Student
Drivers passing through Jackson, La., on Highway 10 might think it's just another small, southern town between them and their destinations, but smack in the heart of it is a mental health facility more 150 years old and housed thousands of patients.
The East Louisiana State Hospital, once indelicately known as the state insane asylum, remains a focal point in this town of approximately 4,000 people. Today, the hospital serves about 574 patients for mental health evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation, as well as providing forensic services. Many of its facilities, however, have been abandoned.
The Louisiana legislature created the 600-acre, plantation-like facility in 1847. It took a decade to get a building constructed. Several buildings have been added over the years, but many of these structures that were once filled with patients are now empty, unused, or dilapidated.
The upper levels of the main building, which was completed in 1858, are a prime example. The stateliness of its exterior, with tall Greek columns and intricate details, isn't comparable to the disrepair inside. Additionally, empty rooms and abandoned corridors seem commonplace in the Parker Hospital that was once buzzing with activity.
Steve Lea, Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System chief executive officer, said there is no longer a need for some of the buildings that once served more than 5,000 clients at the hospital's peak, although the buildings potentially potentially be used in the event of a natural disaster.
"Buildings that are not currently in use for patient housing are maintained and serve as a shelter for behavioral health clients who may be evacuated from hurricane threatened areas of South Louisiana," he added.
Lea said parts of other units, such as the grand ballroom in the main building, where political ceremonies, patient dances and entertainment events, are likely to be renovated and returned to their former grandeur within the next year. The main impediment to renovating facilities is the cost and obtaining funding from the Legislature, he said.
Lea said the developing movie industry in Louisiana and shows like "American Horror Story" whose second season was "asylum" themed, have stirred up interest in the hospital, with scouts occasionally looking at the historic facility as a potential movie location. For the time being, though, he said the hospital plans to continue operations as usual, without Hollywood involved.