Anoka County History: Asylums, sanitariums and hospitals

An asylum, as it related to mental health, was a place of refuge, rather than treatment. Up until 1870 when the first state hospital was established in St. Peter to care for the insane, mentally ill people were the derelicts of society, shut up in homes, cast out on the streets or rotting in jails. Regarded as a moral defect, forms of insanity were listed in an 1897 report as melancholia, dementia and senility, and peresis generalis, a brain disorder caused by syphilis, along with four different kinds of mania including puerperal mania (postpartum depression).

After the hospital at St. Peter was built, two more state hospitals were established; one in Rochester in 1880 and a third in Fergus Falls in 1890. By the end of the century, there was an obvious need for another state hospital, more centrally located. This created fierce competition between Hastings and Anoka. The state Legislature favored Hastings and sent a bill to Gov. D.M Clough 1897 for approval. To the surprise of all and the delight of Anoka, he vetoed the bill and named Anoka as the location for the fourth state hospital for the insane. Thus the Anoka State Hospital was created by an act of the Legislature in 1899.

Anoka was to be a transfer hospital where incurable patients selected from the other three hospitals would be sent. Since they were hopeless, their care would be custodial — no treatment, no physician. An account of the first admissions on March 16, 1900, in the Anoka Herald reads: “100 patients were brought to Anoka from St. Peter on Wednesday morning. They are a very likely looking lot of individuals and will probably give little trouble. They left St. Peter at 4:00 a.m. and came through on special cars. They are incurables. All men. And were accompanied by 9 nurses and 1 doctor. The patients conducted themselves with decorum in the dining room at their first meal.”

Housing at the Anoka Asylum was based on the cottage or colony plan, smaller units that housed 50 people. By 1902 the population had reached 135 men with an average age of 45 years. By 1905 Cottage One was completed and 50 women were transferred from St. Peter. Apparently, an institution had been built at Hastings as well because in 1908 the Legislature decided to locate all but a handful of men at Hasting, the land there being of first-class quality was well adapted to diversified farming and gardening. Women could be cared for at Anoka just as well as at Hastings.

In 1920 the flu epidemic hit and 176 patients died.

In 1946 the asylum population had reached 1,340 patients with 71 on parole and two escaped. As the 20th century progressed the patients began to be actively treated for their illness. The hospital purchased machines to give shock treatments. Fifteen patients were given bilateral frontal lobotomies. Two died, two went home, the remainder showed various degrees of improvement. As of 1948, eight of the original 100 were still residents of the hospital.

Because it was believed that mental illness was hereditary, many families disavowed their mentally ill relatives. For the sake of anonymity and to protect the family from the stigma of mental illness, patients were given numbers in lieu of names. This is reflected in the graves of the 400 people who were buried in the state hospital cemetery from the time it opened in 1899 until 1965. None of the graves bore the names of those buried beneath. They were identified by small cement squares bearing the identification number that coincided with their hospital record. There has been a move to restore these deceased patients to their proper dignity.

July 7, 1949, marked the date of Minnesota’s New Mental Health Program started by Gov. Luther W. Youngdahl. To commemorate a new approach to mental health and with it more humane treatment, strait jackets and restraints were collected and burned on the hospital grounds in a tremendous bonfire on Halloween of that year.

On Aug. 12, 1988, the Anoka State Hospital was considered for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

The proclamation read: “Whereas, in the death of Dr. J.F. Kline, the City of Anoka has lost one of its most respected citizens, a man who always had the welfare of our city at heart and who was always zealous to advance the interest of Anoka and all its people; Therefore, I do hereby request that all places of business be closed from 2:00-2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21, 1932. (signed) A.J. Barth, Mayor.”

Who was that man for whom such an honor was given? Hint: His monument still stands on the corner of Ferry Street on the east bank of the Rum overlooking the Mississippi River. This impressive three-story, 54-room building with its red brick veneer, Queen Anne turrets and columned porches was built by Dr. James Franklin Kline in 1902 to house his medical practice. Now the Pierce Apartments, it was originally the Kline Sanatorium, a home for the sick that was actually an integrated medical center, drawing people from the five-state region to be treated by “one of the best known surgeons and physicians in this country.”

Born in Richville, Pennsylvania, in 1862, Kline began his medical career in 1892, moving to Anoka in 1893 when he bought out another doctor’s practice and operated a clinic on Branch Street. Kline worked tirelessly, keeping office hours from 1-4 p.m. and spending his remaining time making house calls, utilizing two teams and drivers, and sleeping en route.

Kline trained at the University of Minnesota College of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery. Homeopathy is a medical philosophy and practice based on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself. His medical practice emphasized good nutrition and preventive care and offered spa-like therapies such as solar bathing and massage. He was well-known for his tinctures and remedies, which were dispensed through the countryside via his medicine wagons. His staff treated 30 and more patients a day while the doctor performed hundreds of operations, never losing a patient. Kline took a personal interest in all of his patients and was known for his generosity and genuine concern for them. He was well-loved.

The stock market crash of 1929 put the Kline Sanatorium in grave decline. After Dr. Frank Kline’s death in 1932 his son, Dr. Harry Kline, struggled vainly for another three years to keep it open. By 1939 the vacant building temporarily housed 23 families that had lost their homes in the tornado of 1939. Later that year it was purchased by the Pierce family and converted it into a hotel. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1980 and functions today as an apartment building.

For a while there were two hospitals located on Ferry Street. In 1922 Dr. C.E Gates founded the Gates Hospital located at 1841 Ferry Street. It was a private institution devoted to the care of medical and surgical patients with special attention given to maternity cases. Dr. W. L. Wall was the resident physician and surgeon. Mrs. C.E. Gates was the superintendent and registered nurse in charge.

The hospital building was a house, a very big two-story house with porches and dormers. An article in the 1922 Anoka Herald described the first floor as including a kitchen, dining porch and office, besides the rooms reserved for use of the family. The hospital had 10 beds, new, neat, clean and sanitary, housed in sleeping porches for the comfort of the patients, with a competent core of nurses to look after them. The second floor boasted a completely equipped operating room. With the huge new X-ray machine just installed, Gates was ready for any emergency. The meals served at the Gates Hospital were said to be unusually good. Maybe that’s why the hospital was full nearly all of the time.

In 1939, Dr. Frank E. Mork purchased the former Gates Hospital and, after extensive alterations were made and the building completely redecorated, he established it as the Anoka Hospital. It was a refuge for the seriously ill who could not be moved and for many elderly persons. Over the years its doctors delivered hundreds of babies, attended to many accidents and treated much illness. It operated as an 18-bed hospital for 25 years before state officials ruled that the hospital had to close due to concerns about fire safety. It was replaced by Mercy Hospital in 1965 with Mork serving as chief of staff.

Sometimes I wonder if these six doctors — Giddings, Aldrich and Aldrich, Kline, Gates and Mork, whom I’ve written about in this and my last two columns  — ever got together for coffee.

June Anderson is a volunteer member of the Anoka County Historical Society. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact her thru ACHS or by e-mail: [email protected].

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