My first ruin


I was born in the Hilltop section of Columbus–the far western edge of that area, where the houses were modest but well-kept (still are, in fact). When I was in the third grade, we moved to Upper Arlington, a more upper-middle-class suburb. As a result, I never learned about the building on Broad St. that you could see from I-70, right where it curves and goes over Broad. It was a huge brick Victorian structure, and I just always assumed it was a college or university or somesuch (it resembled University Hall at OSU a little bit).

When I was at OSU, I found out what it was: a giant, abandoned insane asylum known as the Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital. The Columbus Dispatch used to have a Sunday magazine and they did an article on it, full of interior shots. At that point, the deteriorating north wing had been torn down, and the building was thus truncated. This building was a legend on the Hilltop (and one of the reasons why it was known as the part of town where the crazy people lived.)

This building was huge (the article I read claimed it was the largest under one roof until the Pentagon) and featured such interesting features as tracks in the basement to transport food to all the wings. But for me, this was my introduction to urban ruins. I was fascinated by the building. And one summer day in 1989, the guy I was dating and I drove there, parked in the park at the base of the hill, and scaled its slopes to capture a couple of photos. In the first one, I purposely framed it so that you could not tell the north wing was missing.

The building was torn down in 1991. I had left for Toronto in August, 1990, and was surprised to see it gone on one of my first trips home. I had had hopes that it could be repurposed, but it was too large, probably too decrepit, was missing its north wing, and was just downright creepy to most people.

While composing this post I found out a little more about it. It was a Kirkbride Building, part of an idealistic movement towards more humane treatment of the mentally ill in the late 19th centuries, although they eventually tended to become overcrowded, awful places. These buildings were immense, built to the same floor plan, and most of them are now either derelict or have been torn down. (I just found the website on these buildings, and will probably now have to spend a few days wandering through–I never knew there were so many!) Their page on this building has some excellent photos.

I also found an interesting story on the building.

COPH (or the Columbus State Hospital) retains a fond place in my memories. It was replaced by a huge office complex where Dave and I went to get abstracts of our driving records before moving back to Toronto. I had wondered whether I could still feel the ruins there (in some cases, I can) but unfortunately, they’re now too far gone.

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