Editor’s note: This article was submitted by the Southeast Ohio History Center.

“…that our poor unfortunates who are necessarily confined in the wards may look out upon a landscape with pleasure and delight.” – Board of Trustees of the Athens Asylum for the Insane, 1880 annual report). 

The Southeast Ohio History Center presents the next in the Athens Asylum Sesquicentennial Speaker Series today (Thursday, Aug. 23) at 6 p.m. Katherine Ziff, author of “Asylum on the Hill,” will speak about the extensive landscape around the asylum buildings and their intended role in the healing process.

The event will take place at the Southeast Ohio History Center, at 24 W. State St., in Athens.

The Athens Asylum rose from a landscape on which, 2,000 years earlier, Native Americans known as the Adena built burial mounds deeply imbued with religious, emotional, and psychological meaning.  Two millennia later, with bricks made on the site from its land, the Asylum was built with the hope and intention of creating a healthy therapeutic community dedicated to healing persons with mental illness. 

Built to American psychiatry’s 19th century gold standard for responding to mental illness, the Kirkbride Plan for moral treatment, the Athens Asylum began with 150 acres of steep hills and meadows high above the Hocking River and eventually encompassed over 1,000 acres. 

A beautiful and highly developed landscape was a central tenet to moral treatment philosophy: groves of trees, attractive and engaging scenery, and handsomely cultivated land functioned as attractive vistas on which patients could gaze, sites for patient occupation and exercise, a place for farming operations, and (in the case of Athens) a recreation destination for the community. 

Continuously altered to meet the needs of both the institution and its community, by mid-20th century the Asylum grounds were a regional showcase of parks, lakes, farmland, orchards and forests.

Ziff’s talk will take us through the transformations of the Asylum landscape, highlight its historical importance, note its role in community memories, and describe its ecological and educational value as a landscape treasure now in the midst of the OU campus.  

The new paperback edition of Ziff’s book, “Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape,”published by Ohio University Press will be available. 

For more information about this event contact Heather at the Southeast Ohio History Center at 740-592-2280 or visit the web at www.athenshistory.org.

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