On Grounds of Poorhouse, Cecil County Insane Asylum Opens in 1887

In the 1880s, Cecil County was searching for a more cost effective way to meet the needs of the mentally ill.  Some ended up at the jail in Elkton, others turned up at the poorhouse in Cherry Hill, and the most acute patients went to “insane asylums” around the region.  Considering the growing number of people needing institutionalization at distant facilities, the expense for the county was becoming a burden so the commissioners decided to build the “Cecil County Insane Asylum.”

After examining other institutions around the region, they approved the erection of a substantial three story brick building on the grounds of the county almshouse in Cherry Hill (present day Mt. Aviat Academy).  The contract was awarded to C. A. Walt & Son of Westminster, Carroll County, for the sum of $5,942. The asylum had apartments for 31 inpatients, and was located across the road from the Poor House near the Potter’s Field.

One day in August 1887, thirteen patients scattered around the state were brought to their modern new home.  Sheriff Robert Mackey, helped by ex-Sheriff Wm. Boulden, went to Frederick to get three people confined there.  Bailiff King and Poorhouse Trustee E. W. Janney took the train to Baltimore to pick up patients from Spring Grove, Monevien, and Mount Hope, a Catholic Asylum.  All of them were brought to Singerly Station on the B & O Railroad and taken from there to the new asylum in carriages.

According to Dr. William Lee, the Secretary to the State Board of Lunacy, the new institution was a   “credit to the county.” It would be well to take patients from other counties, at the expense of those locations, he suggested since there was plenty of capacity.

By 1893 two counties supported “hospitals for the insane, independent of the almshouses,” according to Maryland, its Resources, Industries and Institutions.  Allegany County’s Sylvan Retreat, near Cumberland, had sixty inmates.  The Cecil County Insane Asylum in Cherry Hill had twenty-seven inmates.

When the American Medico Psychological Association, the forerunner of the American Psychiatric Association, met in Baltimore in 1897, Elkton’s Dr. C. M. Ellis, the president of the state medical association addressed the group.   This is an era “of renewed interest in the general welfare of our insane,” he remarked.  But he noted that much needed to be done as our “almshouses and jails are still tenanted by the idiotic and distraught. . . Some effort is being made to awaken the conscience of the State to its further duty toward those of the insane who are deprived of the opportunity for betterment in wards of well-equippped hospitals,” the Baltimore Sun reported.  “Every insane, man, woman, or child whatever their condition condition . . .  should be entitled to a certain minimum provisions within the confines of hospitals or aslyjums sustained by the state for their care or their cure.”

Gradually the state assumed responsiblity for providing inpatient mental health and in May 1915 the Eastern Shore Hospital for the care of the insane opened in Cambridge.  That month 26 patients took the long ride to Dorchester County, where they were admitted to the new institution.   A few months earlier nine African-American residents of Cecil’s asylum were transfered to the “state hospital for the colored insane at Crownsville, MD,” the Cecil Whig reported.    The county insane asylum was torn down in 1935 when C. B. Van den Huevel was paid $50.25 to remove it.

Also posted on Delmarva History on Facebook.

Cecil County Insane Asylum

Early Cecil County Map shows the location of Poorhouse


6 responses to “On Grounds of Poorhouse, Cecil County Insane Asylum Opens in 1887

  1. Jacque Broomell

    Wow. I never knew any of that. Fascinating history. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Great story.

  3. Mike, nice story. My grandfather Maloney used to tell us stories about the poor house.

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