The pioneer settlers of Nebraska left behind them the advantages and comforts of an older civilization, but they could not escape the ills that afflict humanity. The "State Lunatic Asylum" near the city of Lincoln was completed in 1870. In 1885 the Norfolk hospital for the insane was established.
With the population of the state increasing, the need for another hospital became evident, and in 1887, the legislature appropriated $75,000 for a "state asylum for the incurably insane" to be located at Hastings if the city would donate 160 acres of land for the purpose. The citizens of Hastings purchased 160 acres one mile west of the city limits. The land area was eventually increased to 630 acres.
Charles C Rittenhouse, Hastings architect, drew the plans for the building which was a three story brick with a tall central tower. In 1891 the north and south wings were added to the original building and in 1902 the North Annex was erected. In 1904 an amusement hall was built where dances and entertainments were held for patients. During this period the farm cottage and two greenhouses were built. In 1914 a large dairy barn was built and a herd of Holstein cows milked each day. A medical surgical building was erected in 1926, and in 1938 a psychiatric hospital was built. In 1957 the All Faiths Chapel was built with funds from thousands of donors.
Patients were first received at the hospital on August 1, 1889 when forty four were transferred from Lincoln. Melvin Meals was assigned Number One and remained a patient until his death in 1895. Through 1916, 4,115 patients had been received. In December, 1916 there were 1,152 inmates, 405 women and 747 men.
Politics were the essential requisite for the job of superintendent in the early days of the institution. Dr. M. W. Stone, the first superintendent, came from Wahoo in May, 1889.
Originally the institution received inmates from the hospitals at Lincoln and Norfolk who were believed to be incurable, and the name of the Hastings hospital was "Hospital for the Incurably Insane." The legislature changed the name to "Asylum for the Chronic Insane" in 1895. In 1905 the name was changed to "Nebraska State Hospital" and in 1915 to "Ingleside Hospital for the Insane" , later to "Hastings State Hospital" and in 1971 to its current name, "Hastings Regional Center."
In the 1800s patients were admitted for reasons that today would seem outrageous. The list included domestic trouble, disappointment in love, financial trouble, hepatic dullness, heredity, masterbation, intemperance, overwork, overstudy, religious excitement, sun stroke, and others.
Early care of the patients was primarily custodial. Patients were trained to make beds, sweep floors, wash and polish furniture and to care for their own clothes. Winter and summer, patients retired at 8:00 p.m. The inmates were primarily cared for by ward attendants who lived on the wards. They were on duty 22 hours a day with only one half day off per week. Room and board were part of their salary and they had to be single. There were four supervisors, two male and two female. There were no graduate nurses, no technicians, and no physicians other than the assistant superintendent. There was an official steward and bookkeeper, a farmer, a gardener, and an engineer and his assistant.
Patients did most of the work on the farm and in the dairy. Hastings newspapers listed the amount of fall harvest and in 1929 reported the animal population as 125 turkeys, 3000 chickens, 400 ducks, 400 hogs, 300 pigs, and a dairy herd. The main objective of the farm was that the hospital be able to feed itself.
In 1905 a post office named Ingleside was established on the grounds. The hospital superintendents were postmasters until 1913 when Percy Jones became the first civil service postmaster. The post office closed in 1972. From 1905 until 1972 the institution was commonly called Ingleside, the name of the post office.
During the 1920s and 1930s, a tuberculosis ward was located at the hospital. The early 1920s saw the first attempt at treatment of the mentally ill. Electro-shock treatment, which produced convulsions in the patient was begun. In the 1930s and 1940s, fever therapy, hydro-therapy and insulin shock therapy were begun. In the 1920s a dentist was hired. Prior to that inmates dental problems were simply ignored. Early in the 1950s the biggest beak-through in treatment came with the discovery of psychiatric drugs, which included tranquilizers. From that time on it was possible to unlock wards and start a program of rehabilitation of the inmate. Such services as occupational therapy, industrial therapy, recreational therapy, religious therapy, vocational therapy, psycho-therapy, reality therapy, transactional analysis and behavior modification were added.
In July, 1963 the Hastings State Hospital was re-organized into two Unit Hospitals, psychiatric and alcoholic. The south end of the campus was converted into a minimum security prison in 1987.
Information and b/w photo above courtesy of the Adams County Historical Society.