One Last, Rare Look inside Bartonville’s Historic Bowen Building

Local News

An iconic piece of history in Bartonville will soon be torn down. The Bowen Building is part of the old state hospital, which closed in the 70’s.


Several owners have tried to save it through the years, but it’s now is entering the final phase of demolition. But, first, WMBD is taking you inside for one last, rare look inside.


The grand limestone building truly is an icon when you drive up the hill on Phieffer road in Bartonville.It was built in the late 1800’s and changed the face of mental health treatment at the time. That has drawn the interest of the community and others travelling from all over the world to see it for themselves.


“You can’t get rid of history it’s always there.” Executive Director of Save the Bowen Incorporated, Richard Weiss, said.


The Bowen Building is certainly not short on history. Weiss became part of the story when he tried to save the building, getting involved back in 2007.


“This was built to house the nurses, and let them go to school here.” Weiss explained.


The 60,000 square foot building housed some of the hospital’s first patients and the nurses who cared for them.


“There’s lobotomies, there’s shock therapy, they were done at the hospital to try to help these people.” Weiss said.


Patients were sent to live at the state hospital for a number of reasons from hysteria, to leading an immoral life, to superstition, and vicious vices.


At its peak, the hospital housed nearly 3,000 patients and employed more people than Caterpillar.


“There was a lot more good in here than bad, I mean a lot of people think state hospitals and they think bad stuff, this was top of the line when it was first built.” Weiss said.


The state hospital revolutionized mental health treatment. Patients eventually lived in cottages spread out over more than 40 buildings connected by six miles of tunnels to promote a community feel, rather than that of a prison.


“You got to come to a place here where you got to actually work and eat 3 square meals a day and associate with other people. That was like heaven for these people, so this was home. So they never wanted to leave, that’s why they feel like a lot of spirits stay here.” Weiss explained.


Some say the state hospital grounds are haunted.


“I’m here 3:00 in the morning by myself, it will sound like people walking around constantly.” Weiss said.


On our tour we heard a door slam, although the only door still left on the building, the front door, was found open when we returned. Begging the question, if these walls could talk, what would they say about the building’s future?


“The spirits usually stay with the property unless they basically cross over.” Weiss said.


The Bowen Building is expected to be completely torn down by September. The story doesn’t end here, the walls are being taken down piece by piece to preserve the limestone, which will go on to save other buildings.

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