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New History of Medicine Display about Central State Hospital on the 3rd floor, please stop by and check it out.

HOM Display 1

photo by Jason Lilly 9/21/18

Central State Hospital (1927-1994)

(formerly known as the Indiana Hospital for the Insane 1848-1926)


A Display from the Ruth Lilly Medical Library

Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN

September – October 2018

Central State Hospital (formerly named the Indiana Hospital for the Insane) operated in Indianapolis from 1848 until it closed in 1994 (amid long-standing rumors of patient abuse), in a move toward community-based care for the mentally ill. A few log cabins housing the insane of Indiana preceded Central State. From its original five patients to the maximum of almost 3000 in the 1920s, Central State was originally a collection of Victorian buildings, including the women’s dormitory, known as Seven Steeples, which was built according to the Kirkbride plan ( In this plan, patient exposure to natural light and fresh air were considered key factors in “curing” mental illness. By the 1970s, most of the historic buildings had been declared unsafe and were demolished, replaced by smaller cottage style plain brick buildings.  Central State had its own cemetery between approximately 1855 and 1947. According to a 2014 Indianapolis Star article, an estimated five hundred seventy-five patients were buried there. Graves were not systematically given markers or other identification. An estimated 2000 patients died at Central State, based on autopsy records, although most remains were returned to their families. Records related the cemetery are incomplete, so the actual number of deaths and burials may be higher. A brief overview of Central State’s history can be found in the Encyclopedia Of Indianapolis. The Indiana Medical History Museum (IMHM) is currently located in what was the Pathology Building on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital.

Books and Journals

 (These items are currently located in the physical display case in the third-floor hallway across from the Leo J. McCarthy, MD History of Medicine Room (307) at the Ruth Lilly Medical Library, Indianapolis, IN through October 2018.)


These items, from our History of Medicine collection, relate to Central State Hospital (previously named the Indiana Hospital for the Insane) in Indianapolis:


(Available on campus and off campus with authorized logon)


  • Central State Hospital announces its centennial anniversary. In: Bahr MA, ed. Indianapolis: The Hospital; 1948.

Ruth Lilly Medical Library History of Medicine Annex WM11AI6 C397c 1948


(Available on campus and off campus with authorized logon).


  • Bahr MA. My fifty years of psychiatry. The Journal of the Indiana State Medical Association. 1952;45(6):510-513.

Ruth Lilly Medical Library – Serials Storage – Storage R.58, Sec.515


  • Bruetsch WL. The cerebrospinal fluid total protein in the psychoses: Studies from the Central State Hospital, Indianapolis, Indiana Vol.10. In. [Indianapolis, Ind.?]: [Central State Hospital?]; 1942.

Ruth Lilly Medical Library – History of Medicine WL203 B889c 1942


  • King LJ. From under the cloud at Seven Steeples, 1878-1885: The peculiarly saddened life of Anna Agnew at the Indiana Hospital for the Insane. In. Zionsville, IN: Guild Press/Emmis Publishing; 2002.

Ruth Lilly Medical Library – Stacks WM40 K53f 2002


Links to Other Online Resources


Indiana Archives and Records Administration: Central State Hospital Collection


Asylum Projects – Central State Hospital


Indiana Historical Bureau – Central State Hospital Historical Markers



Video and Audio Files


Central State has captured the public’s attention in many ways. There are a number of videos freely available concerning Central State; however, most were produced by non-professional filmmakers and tend toward supposed paranormal occurrences in the now abandoned buildings that remain.


If you are interested in learning more, there is one professionally produced video. The focus is primarily about paranormal events.



Available from the Indianapolis/Marion County Public Library system

DVD 133.10977252 CEN


These audio and video files from the WFIU NPR radio and WTIU PBS television stations at Indiana University (Bloomington, IN) include an interview with the Indiana Medical History Museum’s executive associate director:


  • Museum A ‘Tangible Reminder’ of Indiana’s Mental Health History 

This audio file and accompanying web page come from Jeremy Bradley’s Top of the Charts and the Open Road syndicated radio show:


  • A Local Medical Science Lesson


Pictures of Central State and Associated Doctors

(from the Digital Collections of the IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis, IN)


* Amphitheater at Central State Hospital, 1916-1928. This is where Indiana physicians and medical students studied neuroanatomy and the pathology of mental illness.


* Dr. George F. Edenharter, 1912. Former Superintendent of Central State (1893-1923).


* Retro Indy: Central State Hospital and Medical History Museum


* Asylum Projects – Central Indiana State Hospital Image Gallery Hospital_Image_Gallery


Indiana Medical History Museum/Central State Hospital in the News


* Daily Mail (UK): How Century-Old Brains in Jars Could Help Researchers Treat Mental illness


* Huffington Post: DNA Biomarkers: Scientist Probes Pickled Brains for Mental Illness Clues


* Indianapolis Recorder: Inside Indy’s ‘Insane Asylum’


Significant Doctors at Central State

(quick facts from the Indiana Archives and Records Administration Central State Hospital Collection


* Superintendent Dr. George F. Edenharter (1893-1923) – added the Pathology Building in 1886


* Superintendent Dr. Max A. Bahr (1924-1952) – researched the link between crime and mental illness


* Superintendent Dr. William Fletcher (1883-1887) – was a proponent of female

physicians in the area of mental health (hired Dr. Sarah Stockton) and an opponent of physical restraints for mentally ill patients (burned all the restraints in the hospital)


* Dr. Walter E. Bruetsch (1923-1967)– Chief pathologist; forerunner in using malaria infection to effectively treat syphilis, prior to the discovery of penicillin (advanced syphilis infection was at that time, the largest cause of mental illness); noted researcher in other areas of mental illness, including increased protein levels in cerebrospinal fluid as a possible indicator of schizophrenia


* Dr. Sarah Stockton (1883-1888, 1899-1923), one of only 22 female physicians in the entire United States at the time, was hired as a general practitioner for the women’s wards. Her actual duties, however, included treatment of reproductive conditions that were then believed to exacerbate mental illness

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Jason Lilly