Small Town Blues
Riverside State Hospital
Began in 1846, Riverside State Hospital was originally Riverside Sanatorium, a county almshouse and hospital for the destitute; however, it was gutted in a fire that killed six people and destroyed the Methodist meeting house. In 1869, using Reconstruction funds, a psychiatric hospital was built upon the site and it remained a state hospital until its closing in 2002. For decades Sherman was known as ‘the town with the loony bin’, and threats to send misbehaving children to Riverside were common.
Rumors of patient abuse and terrible conditions led to reform in the 1960s, and the statewide reforms that came shortly afterwards shut down the farm and steadily emptied the dormitories until they were shut down for good in 1981 and only the main building was in use.
The hospital suffered severe overcrowding up until its closure and transference to a more modern facility in a larger town thirty miles away. In 2010 it was condemned. Attempting to fill its coffers during the economic downturn, the state of West Virginia auctioned the dilapidated structures and the land they were on to an unknown private party. Two months ago, it was announced that in June 2012 the buildings were going to be demolished and a mall put in its place, in an effort to bolster the local economy and attract businesses to the growing town.
Riverside State Hospital is a modified Kirkbride model, with two large four-story wings off the entrance to the main building, a small segregated medical building which housed the infirmary and the morgue, six gender-segregated dormitories, a graveyard, and a small overgrown field that was once farmland for the inmates to grow their own food. There is also an underground system of corridors leading to the different buildings once used by the staff.