By Nell Mitchell, CMHIP Historian
Overcrowding was a common occurrence from the very beginning of the Colorado State Insane Asylum in 1879, but by 1923, the patient population had risen to over 2,400.
Dr. H. A. LaMoure, superintendent since 1913, knew the problem wasn't going away any time soon. However, when he proposed that an additional state hospital be built in Denver, the state's largest population center, local citizens became quite irate. They mistakenly believed the Pueblo State Hospital would be abandoned and immediately started a great campaign through the Chamber of Commerce, the Businessmen's Club and other influential community groups, to acquire additional land and buildings for the hospital.
Upon learning that the former Woodcroft Sanitarium, a private mental hospital since 1896, was for sale, the editor of The Pueblo Star Journal took up the cause and initiated its purchase for the State Hospital. The Woodcroft property of 70 acres was located in a rather precarious site, in between the Fountain River and a two-track railroad, just outside the city limits of northeast Pueblo. The only access to the buildings was through a hazardous road that crossed the railroad tracks. In fact, two patients and a nurse were killed at that crossing. There was space for only 293 patients so separate kitchens and dining rooms would need to be maintained. No amusements or occupational therapy could be provided there, and transferring patients would be time consuming and expensive due to the two-mile distance from the main hospital grounds. In addition, the cost was $200,000 for the 20-room main building and four cottages.
Patient beds and wheelchairs are lined up in a hallway due to lack of space in the dorm rooms.
Although this picture was taken in the 1950s, it is representative of the overcrowding of the hospital through the years.
Dr. LaMoure knew this purchase was unwise but was unable to stop the transaction. In the 1923-1924 Colorado State Hospital Biennial Report of the Superintendent, Dr. LaMoure noted that the property was not yet being used to its fullest capacity, as only 75 elderly patients had been transferred there due to insufficient funds for employees and building repairs. It was designated as the Colorado State Hospital Annex, but State officials called it the White Elephant Annex. Through the years, several thousands of dollars were expended by the State in updating the heating plant and equipment, money that could have been used to build new structures for the patients on the main grounds.
Every summer the flood waters of the Fountain River came closer and closer to the State property at the Annex. Finally, on Decoration Day, 1935, the Fountain River swept away a ward building and four employee cottages at the Annex.
Another devastating flood in August of 1936 ravaged several structures that were housing not only patients but also employees who had been hired to implement the eight-hour day.
A house for employees hangs precariously after the 1935 flood. The devastation led to the closure of the Annex in 1937.
Flood damage to the men's dormitory at the CSH Annex along the Fountain River in 1935.
The patients were transferred to the main institution where they were kept until October 1, 1936. An emergency allocation through the federal government was provided for additional housing, three ward buildings, a dining hall and kitchen.
In 1928, Dr. LaMoure resigned as superintendent of the Colorado State Hospital to become medical director of the new Woodcroft Hospital, which was built on West Abriendo Avenue in Pueblo. His replacement, Dr. Frank H. Zimmerman, discontinued the use of the Annex in 1937, noting that it was a fire hazard, was unsuitable for housing elderly patients, and was far too difficult to operate as an annex because of its isolation from the main institution.
The Army and State Health Department rented the main building for $45 a day from March 20, 1944 to February 28, 1945 as a rapid treatment center for venereal disease sufferers. The annex was put up for sale several times and some bidders had looked at the land because it would be adjacent to the new freeway planned to run north/south through Pueblo. On August 9, 1947, The Denver Post reported that, the annex "may become a large tourist court, an industrial site, a super duper night spot, a dude ranch or some other enterprise." It became none of these and continued to be a detriment to the hospital's already meager financial status.
In order to spur some activity to get rid of this "white elephant," Mr. Bill Williams, director of the Colorado State Planning Commission, wrote a report on November 24, 1947, detailing the many problems associated with the annex. It noted that from 1937 to 1947, only six State Hospital employees were living there when the buildings were closed on October l, 1947. A fireman and watchman remained to guard the property until the property was sold for salvage on August 13, 1948, for $26,780.00, quite a loss from the $200,000 paid by the hospital in 1923.
October 18, 2006
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