The Eastern State Hospital
(Click for full image)


As the following extracts from his writings demonstrate, John Galt devoted a great deal of energy to the ongoing development of the buildings and grounds of the Eastern State Hospital. Informed by contemporary discussions of architecture in the US and abroad, Galt did his utmost to create the most amenable surroundings possible for the residents in Williamsburg. In doing so, he went far beyond the rejection of the “noisome dungeon and the galling chain," to use the physical environment, not as a way to oppress the sick, but as a means to both represent and implement a new “moral” way of treating the insane.

Galt recognized that, if nothing else, there were health reasons for redeveloping hospital design.

[I]t is now an acknowledged truth—positively supported by the best authorities—that the deleterious influences of numbers of the sick gathered together in a hospital; their mutual disadvantage from the contamination of the air, constitutes a most serious obstacle to the return of health. So that with a parity of reasoning, and other things being at all alike and equal, that hospital is the most successful in results, which has the most limited number of patients; and the more especially as compared with the space which they occupy. (61; 40)

Galt knew that this wasn't going to be an easy transition to make, but felt change was essential, and in proposing a form this could take came up with a truly innovative possibility for hospital organization.

This seems a mortifying conclusion, when we reflect on the immense sums that in all civilized countries have been lavished on hospitals established on a magnificent scale; but facts appear clearly to substantiate a conclusion of the kind … To this intent the device of out-door aid exclusively being rejected as not feasible, the plan has been adopted of dividing a hospital into a number of distinct sections, each of these sections or subdivisions being for convenience entitled a “pavilion,” and the whole establishment a “Pavilion Hospital.” (61; 40)

In his discussion of a new building for “patients whose minds are in a demented or incurable condition,” Galt provides further insight into the way the hospital was organized.

[P]erhaps it would have been better for this class to be under the same roof as other patients, for it is sometimes found that the insane thus separated are apt to meet with neglect. But in the first place, an extension of the main building for this purpose would have been attended with very great difficulties; and secondly, I am satisfied that the officers to whom patients are entrusted in an asylum at the south, can be depended on in certain respects to a greater degree than the attendants in free states. The system of having slaves to perform the menial duties, and the officer merely to supervise the patients, apart from other circumstances, makes a considerable difference here. (48; 15)

Galt was keen to promote what he felt were the beneficial effects of natural surroundings. Indeed, on some level, he attributed the increased level of insanity in American life to the loss of a relaxed pastoral existence.

In former days, too, the fiery ardor of popular feeling was cooled by space and time. And quiet nooks and corners existed, to which, as to some placid inland lake, the tempestuous waves on the ocean of life came not, and men passed their whole existence in unvarying tranquility … Again—At a former period there were manly pastimes—pastimes  which, often as in the cricket of “merrie England,” were serviceable as a wholesome recreation, and also in developing the muscular over the nervous system. (55; 20-21)

Hence, retrieving the potential of the land became an integral part of Galt’s program of treatment.

In a previous report, I pointed out the inferiority of American asylums in the important item of pleasure-grounds. But there is a general awakening on this subject; and the absurd policy of acting in a country where land is comparatively cheap and plentiful, as though exactly the reverse held good, is likely hereafter to cease. In the plan procured by this asylum, of an ornamental arrangement of the existing grounds, we have an example of the English style of landscape gardening—the clumps of trees, winding walks and green swards. It is a matter of regret that this could not be carried into effect; doubtless it would have proved a valuable adjunct to our present means of moral treatment. (59; 34)

Galt's ideal of people strolling through a beautifully landscaped garden can be identified in the following image of the extended hospital. The presence of a closed gate however serves as a reminder that, at least for certain parties, the image of the hospital's patients roaming completely freely was not a comfortable one to picture

Introducing some new building developments, Galt discusses the international influences on the construction of American institutions at some length.

The general style of architecture in the two new buildings is different … some attention seemed due to the idea of external aspect. With this view, in connexion with other considerations, we were led to adopt the Tudor-Gothic style of architecture. Several years since the trustees of a newly established hospital at the north, before proceeding to erect buildings, sent Dr Bell, the accomplished physician of the M’Lean asylum, to visit the trans-atlantic institutions for the insane, in order to obtain from such inspection a suitable plan for the proposed erection. On his return he recommended a building in the Tudor-Gothic style, as having been adopted in a number of the recent English asylums, and moreover on account of its cheapness and general adaptation to structures for the insane … what we desire in cheap but extensive buildings, is merely to break the uniform and dead mass of brick and mortar, by something to satisfy the eye; and this seems to be accomplished in the Tudor-Gothic architecture, by the prominent babels over the doors and windows, by such projections as some purpose of utility induces, and by several other subordinate particulars. And this end is compassed, without the comparative expense of “granite columns and tawdy cupolas.”

With regard to other modes of building, it may be remarked that the Italian seems appropriate for this purpose, and it has been adopted in some institutions to a partial extent. The oriental varieties of architecture have never been employed, I believe, in these structures (48; 17-18)

Even comparatively small details relating to the institution’s appearance concerned Galt.

I am not aware … that previously to the present date, it has been regularly painted throughout since the foundation of the establishment, this process having heretofore been only piece-meal—that is, partially, from time to time, and even then being usually postponed longer than is desirable with such inmates as insane people (55; 27)

In a footnote Galt goes on to display his (European) ideals.

Had there been a greater amount of funds, we could have wished that zinc had been employed to a certain extent, instead of lead, in the painting now nearly completed. A late English traveler declares that the Americans “have invented a new kind of paint, produced by a certain admixture of zinc, which in its application to doors and shutters, covers them as with a surface of white porcelain—hard, polished, and apparently durable as marble.” And he goes on to assert that “a grace is thereby imparted, which would be vainly sought in the best mansions of England.” (55; 27)

Galt actively employed the potential of physical structures to act upon the minds of his residents.

[A]s constituting a most pleasing ornament, and indeed as being even useful in the mental impression created, when we consider the momentous importance of early impressions on the insane mind, attention may be called to the ornamental gateways included in the standard works on architecture. The varieties of architecture, when so applied to the different entries of the asylum grounds, would be very attractive in appearance. (59; 31)

However, this is not to say that he used architecture to remind his patients of their captive status: quite the opposite was the case.

If, as respects an asylum, a handsome building can be erected, at the same or but a slightly increased cost, with one of a prison-like and mean appearance, why some advantage is gained in the fact that the patient is more likely to be satisfied with his situation, and less apt to fancy himself in jail. (48; 16)

Indeed, Galt was determined to avoid the trappings that marked out buildings for the insane as different.

   In order to render the apartments of the insane as much as possible like those of the sane, and for the important moral effect involved, every appearance of confinement is now studiously avoided; and particularly so with respect to tranquil and convalescent patients. With this view, in the northern building we have adopted the kind of window in which all exterior grating is dispensed with … the windows do not differ in their aspect from those of ordinary dwelling houses. (48; 19)

Galt’s dedication to improving the surroundings of his patients was part of a more widely shared belief that “architectural beauty” should be available to all.

[T]he following remarks from one of the most popular American writers on architecture, apply equally as well to structures for the insane, in comparison with more ambitious erections, as they do to the abodes of the classes of citizens which the writer here contrasts. He says:—“Men of moderate circumstances, and the really poor, have been so long accustomed to plain, uncomfortable houses, that beauty and convenience have come to be regarded as solely the right of the wealthy and independent … The humblest cottage should, in beauty of form and convenience of construction, be equal to the finest villa, and the laboring man may, without extra expense , be sheltered by a roof constructed upon the same principles of architectural beauty , as that which shelters his wealthy employer. As the sun shines, the rain falls, flowers blossom, the stars twinkle, and birds sing for all, so are the discoveries of science, and the progress of art for all.” (48; 17-18)

See the Complete Report for 1857.
See the Bibliography.