Chattahoochee

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OUT OF MIND, OUT OF SIGHT
THE REVEALING HISTORY OF THE FLORIDA STATE HOSPITAL AT CHATTAHOOCHEE AND  MENTAL HEALTH CARE IN FLORIDA

I have been researching the remarkable history of the Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee for several years.  Originally called the Florida Asylum for the Indigent Insane, but more commonly called “Chattahoochee” by long-time Floridians, I came to know of the hospital’s existence back in the 1960s when I first moved to Florida. Its reputation at that time was . . . well. . . pretty bad, but in reality not so different than most asylums around the country.  But what Chattahoochee had that most other asylums didn’t was its amazing history.

From a federal arsenal during the Second Seminole and Civil Wars, to Freedman’s Bureau, to Florida’s first state penitentiary (there are stories here that will curl your hair), and finally to the asylum, the Florida State Hospital has a remarkable past–some that produced scenes one could only find in a horror movie. And, when you move into the 1900s, the story really gets interesting with political scandals, patient abuse, use of treatments such as ECT and lobotomies, and the incarceration of thousands of men, women and children who weren’t really insane at all.

“Colored” ward at the Florida State Hospital

     Out of Mind, Out of Sight will reveal for the first time, the entire history of the facility set against the backdrop of the evolution of the country’s mental health care system, from institutional care to community-based treatment centers. And, it will bring you up to date with those who currently occupy the facility–forensic patients, those who have been convicted of a crime but who are considered mentally ill and not competent to stand trial.

I’d love to hear from anyone with connections to the facility.

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About Sally J. Ling

Fascinating but little known history is all around us. I write historical fiction and nonfiction about remarkable events in Florida's history. Please join me for a fascinating ride.
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32 Responses to Chattahoochee

  1. Irene says:

    Hi, I’m an amateur geneologist and just found out I had a great aunt who was in Chattahoochee from around 1920 until she died there in 1982. I had no idea she was there all those years. I’m interested in finding her grave there.

    • Hi Irene,
      Many of the graves from earlier times were unmarked, or were marked with a simple wood plaque with a number, not a name. Over time, these rotted and unless the family installed a gravestone it would be difficult to identify the grave. Also, record keeping was very poor. It wasn’t until 1932 that genealogists tried to identify the graves. You might try the following website – Find a Grave: Florida State Hospital at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2225761. Hope your search is successful. Sally

  2. Mary Neely says:

    Sally, my Grandmother, Ruth Saxon, was sent there in 1919 by her Husband. He was Tax Asser in Brooksville and wanted to rid himself of her to be with his secretary. My Mother and her siblings grew up without a Mother because of this. She supposedly died there in 1948 in a fire. No one even has a picture of her. Can you help me find out something about my Grandmotherr? Thank you. You can reach me at maryandgw@yahoo.com

    • Hi Mary,
      The story of your grand mother is very sad; unfortunately, there were many stories like hers throughout the country. Many of the records of those who were admitted in the early years burned in a fire, so I don’t know if information on her survived. There are a couple of ways to find what information is still available. Try the census reports from 1920 and later; ancestry.com should have these. You should find her name listed, even if she was at the FSH at that time. You may also want to contact the bureau of vital statistics (Tallahassee, Florida) to obtain her death certificate. It will list the cause, date and location of her death. Findagrave.com may have a listing of her gravesite at the FSH cemetery. All other existing records of the FSH are housed in the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee. I found some (very few) case histories there from the early 1900s, but you’d have to look through piles of records and documents to see if any information is available. Hope that helps. Sally

  3. My wife has discovered that her great aunt was committed to Chattahoochee the early 1940s. She appeared in the 1945 census and died there in 1962. We would be able to travel to the area. Is it possible to see the graveyard and/or any records if you visit in person?

  4. Sandra Moore says:

    I was born in the Chattahoochee Mental Hospital on 6/19/1958. I was adopted at the age of 2 1/2 through the Florida Orphans Society in Jacksonville, FL through the Lakeland, Florida agency. I always wondered if my egg donor was mentally ill or just an unmarried female. Did she suffer any mental illness that I might inherit. I would love to see a picture of her, to see if she looks anything like me. My daughter looks kind of like me in the face, but I don’t know where she got her shape from. I tried to find her once, in 1985 but she didn’t want anything to do with me. That’s O.K., that is her right, but I would like to see pictures of her, her brothers, her mother and father, etc. Is there anywhere I could go to find out this kind of information?

    • I’m a bit confused by your writing, is it your biological mother you’re trying to find? If so, you can receive birth certificates from the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics. It should have the name of the mother on it and, perhaps, the father. I would start there. DCF oversees Chattahoochee, so I’d contact them to see if you can find additional information regarding the mother–patient or employee? Also, I’d go back to the agency and see what kind of records they are willing to share. If you can find the name, there are other sources, such as ancestry.com, where you can look up information. Hopefully one of these suggestions can successfully lead you where you want to go.
      Sally

    • Dawn C says:

      Hi Sandra,
      My mother was also born at this hospital in 1960 and was adopted out of the same agency as you. I am also looking for her birth family.

  5. Samantha says:

    I just recently found out my great-grandmother Frances Marie Walden Gillman was here from the 1940s until her death in 1954, for what we know today is post-partum depression. I am so interested in finding out everything I can about the history of this place, and what it was like for her in there. I’m truly terrified about what I may find! Do you know if medical records will give me her records, and if there is a fee for them?

    • Contact DCF for the records. Some of them were lost in a fire so I don’t know what they still have. The forties and fifties were a time of great transition with the introduction of thorazine that helped many patients. Hopefully your great-grandmother was one of them. You can also contact the bureau of vital statistics for her death certificate. When you request the certificate, let them know you want the record with her cause of death. That should be helpful to understand what happened to her. Hope this helps.

  6. K. Hill says:

    Just found a great (X3) grandfather of my husband in the 1900 census at this hospital. He died in 1906 and is buried there. I would love to see any documentation available.

    Thank you for researching an important part of the past.

    • My book, Out of Mind, Out of Sight, is a great look at the history of this institution. For further information on specific individuals, you’d need to contact DCF in Tallahassee. You can also contact findagrave.com to see if they have further information on his burial. The Bureau of Vital Statistics might be able to supply you with a death certificate, although these were not organized by the State into one department until around the mid-1910s. Hope that helps.

  7. Dianna Rogers says:

    Have known for some time that my GGgrandfather was committed here, died within a few days and is buried here. I recently acquired his input records from FSH, but no medical records. I learned from the input papers, just 4 pages long, from where and when he was picked up by the Deputy Sheriff and taken to Chattahoochee. Went to that county to try to see the court records from that date, either lunacy records or court records, but their records are in disarray because the courthouse is being rebuilt. Would love to know WHY he was committed and died so quickly. He was admitted 1902, 21 Jan and died 25 Jan.

    • Hi Dianna,
      I would suggest you contact the Bureau of Vital Statistics to see if they have a record of his death. While the State didn’t require notification to the capital until 1917 of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc., they may have something there. Otherwise, your best bet is the county courthouse where he was committed. I’d also try Gadsden County ME’s office or courthouse to see if they have any records there of his death. If he died at the hospital, he died in Gadsden County so there should be something there. You also might try DCF in Tallahassee or the State Archives in Tallahassee. A lot of the hospital records are there, but they are not catalogued and the fact that your greatgrandfather died in the early 1900s leads be to believe that perhaps his records went up in smoke like many others in the fire. Perhaps this info can help you. Wish I could do more. Sally

  8. sandysea says:

    My mother was in Chattahoochee when I was sux months old and sent again when I was a few years old. She was placed in the black wing because of being part native American she had dark skin. I was taken as a child to visit my dear mother once a year until her release in the late 1960’s. We would picnic on the grounds and even visited a local burger place Chattahoochee chattaburgers. It’s so painful thinking about my mother and her suffering indignities and sick treatments. Inhumane is all I can say. I can’t read your boo as much as I would like to but the pain my mother suffered traumatized me.

    • Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry your mother’s mental illness was such a painful experience. Back then, Chatahoochee was the only answer for those with mental illness. The institution helped many, but not all, and used treatments they thought were state-of-the-art and beneficial. Thankfully, treatment has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go.

  9. Jaclyn LePire says:

    I was institutionalized at Chattahoochee from May/June 1982 – I’m not sure when, later in the summer or early fall of ’82. I escaped and after 30 days, when they couldn’t locate me, they released me from the State’s care.

    I got 2 big, black, female guards transferred from the female ward I was on over to one of the men’s ward for abusing me. I was/am 4’11”, 110 lbs and turned 20 years old in there.

    They had guards/orderlies and 1 nurse on staff. We slept in 1 room with like 30 beds in it. Like an army barracks.

    At meal time, each ward went in turn, the mess hall was in a different building and we lined up like prisoners and went to chow. We were allowed, like an hour after lunch, to walk the grounds.

    Thorazine was the magic cure at the time and I soon began doing the Thorazine Shuffle, just like everyone else.

    I had gone manic after the birth of my son, I was in a facility in Tampa before I was moved to Chattahoochee. I was committed under the Baker Act. When they moved me to Chattahoochee, they told my mother I would never be normal again and may have to spend my life in there.

    I’m not sure what, other than thorazine, my treatment was, but at some point I came out of my manic state. Seeing the other patients there, I knew I didn’t belong there and had to figure out how to get out. I called my mom, crying, begging her to get me out and she said she couldn’t because the state committed me.

    One day after lunch, I was wandering around and found a path, so I scoped it out for a few days to see if there were any guards that watched that area. Then one day I took the chance. I ran for miles through the woods. I don’t remember ever running into a fence. When I finally reached a road, I had no idea which way to go, where I was…all I knew is I had to get back to Tampa.

    The hospital notified my mom that I had escaped and told her, if they didn’t find me within 30 days, they would have to release me from state care. My son’s father hid me out at his mother’s for 30 days. When the state called my mom to let her know I had been released from state care, I came home.

    • Your situation was most unfortunate. Thankfully, you were able to get away. I hope you are doing well after all these years. I tried to find firsthand stories like yours for my book, but was unable to locate former patients until after I wrote the book. Then lots of folks posted their experiences. When I update the book, I will include some. Thank you for sharing your story.

      • dee says:

        My late GGGrandfather was institutionalized there from 21 Jan 1902 until his death 25 Jan. Just 4 days. He is buried in the Hospital Cemetery. I acquired a copy of his admission record but Florida Archives can find none of his medical records. The admission copy documents that he was picked up by a deputy sheriff and taken to the hospital because of a court order. I have yet to find a copy of that court order and the case that caused it to be issued.

      • I know how frustrating all this can be. Old documents many times were disposed of, or in the case of the FSH, were burned in an unintentional fire. I’m sure you’ve done this, but if not, look for the court order in the courthouse of the county where the order came from. Lots of these old records no longer exist, but it’s worth a try. Medical records are also hard to come by as the hospital gave all their old documents to the Florida State Archives but they are limited. Sorry I couldn’t help you more.

      • Dianna Rogers says:

        I did just that. Unfortunately, the documents are in storage while a new courthouse is being built! Since it is in older records, the huge ledgers are stacked 4 feet high in some places. Was not exactly sure which one to look in, but did look for the name of the judge that signed the pickup order. Mental competency records over 100 years old should be available, but not sure about that. Will have to go back when hopefully the record books will be reorganized.

  10. Kim says:

    My Great Grandfather was admitted to FSH in 1896, he was there for a little over 37 years when he died there in July 1933. I cannot find him on “find a grave” in the cemetery listing they have for FSH. I did stumble across a few pages of his records (only a few pages for 37 years?) on a genealogy website that I have been building a tree on, but the pages didn’t contain any information except about the last year or so that he was there. The pages were user submitted, not from a data base on the site. I am going to the county courthouse in the county he lived in at that time tomorrow to try and find any information on why he was sent there. I would love to find his grave, the few pages that I found just said he passed there and said he had no relatives to contact. So I am guessing he was just buried as a unknown. Any information or suggestions you could give me would be greatly appreciated. I tried searching the Florida state archives, but for the life of me I cant figure out their search process.

    • Kim, I don’t know what else to suggest. Many of the older hospital records (mostly those from early patients) were burned in a fire, what was left was sent to the Florida State Archives. If you can’t find anything there, it’s quite possible the records don’t exist anymore. Regarding the graves, early ones were marked with wooden signs that rotted over time. If the geneological folks don’t have a record of his grave, it’s likely lost to time. Sally

  11. David says:

    I’ve recently found that both my Gr-Grandmother and Gr-Grandfather were committed to FSH; Euretta Vedder in 1915, and Charles Vedder in 1920. Charles died presumably on site a couple months later, and is buried at Cemetery 3. Euretta died in 1954, but no record of her burial. Florida Archives shows their commitment dates. Is there a method to get copies of the records electronically, or would I need to visit in person? Also, are there methods to get copies of any medical records from FSH or other sources? They lived in Jacksonville prior to being committed. Any help is greatly appreciated!

    • Try the court records of the county in which they were committed. There might be commitment papers on file and the reason for the commitment. Contact them directly first to see whether they still have records that go back that far. You can also try the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics for death certificates and cause of death. Other than that, the hospital doesn’t have medical records that go back that far. Only the State Archives have any records that were turned over to them as a fire wiped out many of the old records. That’s about all I can suggest unless you’ve tried Find a Grave and look for any info on their graves. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

      • David says:

        Thanks Sally. I’ll keep digging. I actually created the find-a-grave memorial page for Charles after I found he was buried there. I’m awaiting a volunteer to attempt to find it & take a picture. Not getting my hopes up, as Cem 3 is in an un-maintained area, and the forest has retaken the area. On that note – if you’re unaware, there was an investigation / proposal in 2011 to recover & provide maintenance for the cemeteries used by FSH. It’s very interesting. If you’d like to see it, Google search “Preservation Assessment of Cemeteries at The Florida State Hospital”. I don’t know if the proposal has been approved / put into action.

      • I hope you’ve read my book. If so, you’ll find that during the time of your Gr-grandparent’s commitments, people could be sent to FSH for all sorts of things–sunbathing in the nude, menopause, smoking, etc. All they needed was someone to sign the papers. It’s most curious that both your Gr-grandparents were committed at the same time. Haven’t seen that before.

      • David says:

        Yes, I look forward to reading it (ordering from Amazon). I also just looked at the superintendent’s reports for the this timeframe. It seems Duval county (Jacksonville) consistently provided the largest number of admissions, followed by Hillsborough county (Tampa).

  12. Carolyn Tasker says:

    Sally,
    My great great grandfather,William Franklin Carroll, born 1869 in Lynn, Alabama, spent 2 yrs. 7 mos.10 days in the Florida State Hospital. He passed away May 7th 1942. I know this ,because of Death Certificate from Florida.
    My question is; Why was he there? Where was he removed to.The certificate stated he was removed. The death certificate states his Father was David Carroll and his wife was Verendo. All the info I have on them is that they had no children. On 1930 US census (which I know is correct)
    my gggrandfather is listed as John C. Carroll living with his son Walter D. Carroll. This is factual. I am wondering, who his real parents are and where is he busied?
    Thank you in advance for all of your help. Carolyn

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