The dark history of Georgia's Central State Hospital
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
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Haunted asylums are pretty popular, and it’s easy to see why. Some of these places were the site of a lot of death and general misery. So it’s not hard to see why paranormal enthusiasts would believe those spirits might be unable to move on from the trauma that led to their deaths.
Awhile back, someone mentioned Georgia’s Central State Hospital in my comments. I decided to look into it, and thought I would share what I found with all of you. So let’s talk about it.
So just to start out — there is a bit of contradictory information surrounding the hospital’s history. This isn’t too uncommon in the topics I research, especially the ones that took place decades or even centuries ago, where some of the records might have been lost over time. There are also some dates that are vague — only the decade is given, but no specific years. I’m not sure why this was done, but I’ll share what information I could find to the best of my ability.
I found three separate addresses for the hospital. One is 7 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, another is 2450 Vinson Highway. When you go to Google Maps, the only location they list for Central State is at 620 Broad Street (which was another address listed by a few sources). I don’t know for sure why so many address are listed. My guess would be either a.) the campus was so big that different buildings had different addresses, b.) some of the buildings have relocated or c.) a bit of both.
The hospital opened in 1842 as Georgia Lunatic Asylum in the city of Milledgeville. Until 1866, they admitted white patients only. By 1870, 1/6th of the patients were black — and, unsurprisingly, patients were segregated by race.
In 1885, a women’s school was opened on the grounds. It was so successful that a men’s school was added the following year. In 1897, the hospital was renamed Georgia State Sanitarium.
In 1870, the hospital’s superintendent, Dr. Everts, reported bad conditions to Georgia’s governor, Rufus Bullock. He claimed the buildings weren’t properly lit, heated or ventilated, there were a lot of leaks, rotten floors, roaches in the kitchen, and that people were sleeping on straw beds. All these problems were blamed on insufficient funding, and the hospital was given more money during the rest of the century…but conditions didn’t exactly improve.
By 1904, the hospital had an average of just under 3,000 patients a day. Many were admitted for reasons that might sound odd today: things like "disappointed affection," "religious excitement," "domestic unhappiness" and “ill health and jealousy." I’m not sure if these were euphemisms or now outdated medical terms, or if they sounded weird even a century ago. There were also rumors that people were sent there for things like smoking pot and being in interracial relationships. Parents in the area would threaten misbehaving children by telling them they’d send them to Milledgeville if they didn’t straighten up.
In the early 1900’s, the hospital asked for more government funding to build a tuberculosis wing, since a lot of patients were dying from the disease. There was also contaminated water that was causing typhoid, so they asked for a new water supply. By 1940, the population of the hospital — now renamed Milledgeville State Hospital — was 10,000. Just twenty years later, it had swelled to its peak at 12,000 — and the patient/doctor ratio was 100 to 1. By the 1960’s, 1/4th of the doctors on staff struggled with alcoholism or drug abuse, and none of them were psychiatrists.
In 1952, Dr. Peter G. Cranford, the hospital’s chief clinical psychologist, published his book For the Grace of God. The book details the history and goings-on of Central State up to that point. It’s been out of print for awhile, but around 2009 it was packaged together with another book in a mini collection called Damnation Hospital. Amazon calls both books together “the two most exhaustive looks at Central State’s early history.”*
In the meantime, Central State still wasn’t employing the most ethical practices. Lobotomies, straight jackets, shock therapy and ice baths were all used. Children were put in metal cages and adults were forced to take “steam baths and cold showers” — which I’m assuming were far different than the sauna-like conditions those words bring to mind. Surgeries were often performed without a doctor even present, much less operating. Homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths due to neglect or abuse also happened.
Another issue the staff had to deal with in the mid 1900’s was forced sterilization. Georgia enacted a law in 1937 that would make this practice legal, and many doctors and politicians of the day supported it. It didn’t end until 1963, after over 3,000 people had been forcibly sterilized — 3/4 of them psychiatric patients. I don’t know for sure if this practice was carried out at Central State, but there’s a pretty good chance it was.
In the 1960’s, Georgia’s then-governor Carl Sanders started moving Central State patients to other homes that suited them better. He was aided by Jimmy Carter who, at the time, was a Georgia state senator and, of course, went on to become the 39th U.S President from 1977 to 1981. In 1967, the hospital was renamed Central State Hospital.
In my research, I also came across a lawsuit from 1978. A Central State employee was injured on the job in 1971 and filed for worker’s comp. Then, in 1977, standing all day at work caused her feet to swell, a consequence of her original injury. Worker’s comp and lawsuits are things a lot of companies deal with, and I don’t think they necessarily mean anything on their own. But with everything else going on at this point, it doesn’t look too good for the hospital.
Central State was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. By this time, several of the buildings were falling into disrepair, and many had to be destroyed because they were unsafe.
The patient abuse continued well into the 1990’s and even 2000’s. A 2007 report claimed 42 Central State patients had died under mysterious circumstances over the previous five years. Journalists continued to expose patient abuse and government officials slowly agreed to change things.
the grounds today
Again, sources vary on when Central State closed. One says 2010, but another says it was set to close in 2013. But the hospital is still technically open today, though it houses less than 200 patients (as of 2015) and one, maybe two or there buildings are still in operation.
Central State today is described as a “Forensics facility” as well as a residential living center for people with behavioral health disorders. The building that used to be the hospital’s train station was turned into a museum at one point, but I don’t think it’s still open. In fact, most of the campus’s 200 buildings over its now 2,000 acres lay abandoned and falling apart. Visiting them is technically considered trespassing, so I’d advise you not to go there. Besides, there are plenty of videos of people visiting the old campus that allow you to experience the ruins from the comfort of your home.
In 2019, a project was launched to turn the old Central State campus and surrounding area into Renaissance Park. Their mission is, according to their website: “To develop long term strategies for re-purposing the former Central State Hospital campus by identifying potential business opportunities and coordinating the development of the property with a focus on job creation, education, and real estate value for the community.” There’s not much more information about specific buildings or projects, but you can check out their website if you want to keep up with things.
So given Central State’s dark history, it’s not a surprise that there are rumors of paranormal activity on the grounds. Reports include: apparitions, disembodied voices in the area, screams coming from abandoned buildings, phantom touches, breathing on the back of people’s necks and even rumors of demonic rituals. Two women who visited the grounds claimed someone — or something — was throwing things at them from the inside on the upper floors — while they were outside. A member of another group claimed to feel a sudden chill — something often associated with ghosts. Yet another member of that group reported the smell of rotting flesh which, according to them, is a sign of a demon being present. I’ve never heard this before, but maybe it’s true — or at least a common belief.
There’s also a cemetery on the grounds, with the remains of at least 25,000 people, many of them buried in unmarked graves. Nearby Cedar Lane Cemetery holds 2,000 bodies, I believe in addition to the others. There haven’t been any reported hauntings from these particular areas, at least not that I could find. But it is worth mentioning.
One last thing before we go, and this isn’t related to Central State specifically, but I thought I’d bring it up. While I was writing the script for this video, I coincidentally started reading a book called Asylum by Any Cross. It’s fiction, but takes place in a mental hospital that may or may not be haunted — obviously very similar to Central State. I just started this book a few days ago, and it’s not bad. If hearing about Central State has left you with an appetite for more stories of haunted mental hospitals, you can check it out here.*
So that’s all I have for you today on Central State Hospital. This story is typical of haunted and abandoned mental hospitals in a lot of ways, but I was surprised at how long everything went on. There was still patient abuse happening there even in my lifetime and the lifetime of a lot of my viewers.