Tour Central State Hospital: Milledgeville’s Abandoned Insane Asylum

Once a month Milledgeville, Georgia offers a tour of the Georgia Lunatic, Idiot and Epileptic Asylum. No, I’m not being ugly…that was the original name of Central State Hospital, established in 1837.

We believe this tour offers the perfect reason to day trip to the area…and here’s why!

The Walker Building at Central State Hospital, courtesy of Milledgeville CVB.

7 “Insane” Facts About the Georgia Lunatic Asylum

We learned a lot about the history of the hospital and grounds, and these stories really stood out to me. I’m going to give you the teasers, but you’ll have to take the tour yourself in order to hear the juicy deets.

Largest Insane Asylum

Many times online you’ll read that there were once as many as 13,000 patients here, but our tour guide (who once worked at the hospital) confirmed the actual number is close to 17,000 patients!

With 17,000 patients and 200 buildings, spread over 20,000 acres it is by far the largest mental hospital in the US (and probably the world.)

It’s Still Operating

This was the most shocking to me…Milledgeville State Hospital is still open, just not in the same capacity.

It is currently a maximum secure forensics facility providing psychiatric evaluation, treatment and recovery services to 384 people referred from Georgia State Corrections who do not require a hospital level of care but are unable to reintegrate directly into the community.

Cedar Lane Cemetery

Cedar Lane Cemetery Mishap

Cedar Lane, the cemetery for whites, is the cemetery photo you usually see, with metal stakes lined neatly in tight-knit rows.

It turns out, those stakes do not actually mark graves. They are a memorial to the lost burial places of those interned at Cedar Lane. You’ll have to come on the tour to hear the whole chronicle. We also learned another unique side-story: While we are adamantly opposed to segregation, we discovered why African-American families of former residents can be thankful for this instance in a strange twist of fate.

Central State’s First Patient

Tillman Barnett is the name of the first patient admitted here in 1842. He was from Macon, but did not enjoy a 30 min drive from his hometown; he arrived via horse and buggy. However, because of his feared mental illness, he was not allowed to ride in the buggy. He was chained to it, and forced to walk the entire distance. Before a year was up, he died at Central State from the exhaustion of the trip.

Poor Treatment? It’s Not What You Think

There are multiple stories about poor treatment of patients, and “crazy” therapy plans like lobotomies, shock therapy and such. According to our guide, that’s not the reason the institution was shut down. Those treatments, at the time, were state of the art advances in the world of behavior health and psychiatric hospitalizations.

The problem was the lack of help. With such a large number of patients, there was only one doctor for every 200-300 patients. At that rate, no matter how caring and intelligent the doctor, patients just could not get the mental health care they needed.

Geraldo Wasn’t the Original Mental Health Whistleblower

Geraldo Rivera is probably America’s most revered investigative reporter for his 1972 expose about Willowbrook Institution’s poor conditions and treatment of those seeking mental help. He won a Peabody Award for his effort.

Long before this revelation, though, John “Jack” Nelson won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting about Central State in 1960, in an AJC article. His coverage led to reforms at the institution and additional funding for mental health in Georgia from the state legislature. 

Sherman Was Challenged Here

Dr Greene was the hospital’s superintendent during the Civil War. When Sherman and his troops came to town, Greene was able to convince Sherman to spare the hospital, and even give rations to the patients here. You’ll have to take the tour to learn his persuasion techniques.

That’s Just the Beginning

  • The Powell building’s facades offers a unique architectural optical illusion
  • The train depot here is being transformed, and you’ll love it
  • The world’s largest kitchen has been bought and finds a new use
  • The pecan grove can be rented for events
  • The Jones Building was a filming location for a pop-culture favorite
  • …and more!
Jones Bldg, courtesy of Milledgeville CVB

Tour Logistics

a) The tour is about 90 minutes, and tickets can be purchased here for $25 per person.

b) You’ll leave from Milledgeville’s tourism building, climbing aboard the trolley for the tour. Parking in the area is generally easy to find. Just note that it is all 2-hour parking. That works out perfectly for the tour, but if you want to explore Downtown (and you should!) then you’ll need to move your car before doing so.

c) Plan for some time after to the tour to go back to the Pecan Grove if you want photos. The only time you’ll exit the trolley on this tour is at Cedar Lane Cemetery. I longed to take photos of the ruins, but there is not an opportunity.

I recommend you take the tour first so that you understand the significance of the buildings you photograph.

d) Yes, you can enter the grounds on your own. You are not, however, permitted inside any of the buildings. In fact, the rules require that you stay on the sidewalks. The Milledgeville CVB is working on a self-guided tour of the 10 buildings around the pecan grove. As soon as it is available, we’ll link to it here.

Upcoming Onsite Events

Mar 28, 2020 April Fool’s Ride (The ride departs from the pecan grove.)

Apr 25, 2020 Bluegrass, Brew & ‘Que Festival

May 18-24, 2020 Milledgeville-Eatonton Film Festival (Central State will serve as center stage for the festival on Thursday night in what one of the ME Film Festival’s signature events. Short horror films submitted to the festival will be shown on the CSH campus on a 24-foot inflatable screen.)

Oct 16, 2020 Thriller 5K and Fun Run (Running for your life through the historic Central State Hospital while being pursued by Zombies– what could be more motivational and thrilling? If you survive…)

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Lesli Peterson

Lesli Peterson

Lesli made her way to Atlanta over 20 years ago, after living in Germany, Japan and six U.S. states. She relishes the discovery of obscure, offbeat and unwonted places, and she will chat up any willing stranger to uncover a new secret locale.

After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.

Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.
Lesli Peterson

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