Peoria State Hospital was in operation from 1902 to 1973. The institution began life as the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane. The first superintendent, Dr. George A. Zeller, went before the state legislature to demand a name change. He felt strongly that no patient was incurable. In 1907, the name was changed to Peoria State Hospital, as Peoria was the closest large town.
Most of the Asylum’s original campus is lost to time, but the large Bowen Building still stands. There were 63 buildings on the campus at the asylum’s height. Today, 13 of those buildings are left, including the Bowen and the Pollak Hospital, the tuberculosis ward.
There are also four cemeteries on these grounds containing the thousands who died while in residence at the asylum. Famous graves include the former gravedigger Mr. Bookbinder, Rhoda Derry, who sadly became famous because of the cruel treatment she suffered before coming to this institution, and Emily Belsher, the last surviving descendant of the legendary explorer Sir Frances Drake.
The Bowen Building still stands as of April, 2016. Unfortunately, there are plans for it to be demolished this upcoming summer. The Pollak Hospital, just a block away from the Bowen, is open and available for historical tours and paranormal investigations. The Peoria State Hospital Museum, a block further up Pfeiffer Road from the Bowen, has many artifacts from the asylum’s history, including the last remaining Utica crib belonging to the asylum.
Update September 2017: The nurses’ dorm and college, the Bowen Building, has been demolished. Twelve of the original 63 Peoria State Hospital buildings remain, all in good condition and occupied, including the only hospital left on the grounds, the Pollak Tuberculosis Hospital.
Know Before You Go
The Bowen Building, while it survives, is easy to locate just down Pfeiffer Rd in Bartonville. The Peoria State Hospital Museum is just a block up from the Bowen, on the same side of the street (just past the water tower). The four cemeteries are a bit harder to locate as they are obscured by the forest. They are about two blocks away from the Bowen Building within the forest area. Cemetery One, where Rhoda Derry is buried, is on the curve of the road near the Assembly of God church. Cemetery Two, Bookbinder's resting place, is tucked into the forest just yards away from the Pollak Hospital. Past the Pollak, to the left, is a gravel driveway that leads to Cemetery Three-Four, where Emily Belsher is buried.