When Minnesota’s first state hospitals in St. Peter and Rochester became woefully overcrowded, it was clear that another facility was needed to meet the needs of the state’s growing population. Fergus Falls State Hospital opened in 1890, and its expansive campus was quickly filled.
The building was constructed in a style of architecture known as the Kirkbride Plan, so named after the American physician Thomas Kirkbride, who developed the style and accompanying therapy methods. The complex has a central main building and large wings extending on either side.
The Kirkbride Plan stressed the importance of routine, fresh air, natural light, and occupational therapy through chores. Like most mental health facilities of the time, however, Fergus Falls State Hospital was unable to effectively meet the variety of needs of the residents which included addiction, mental illness, and even simply poverty. Following World War II, improvements to mental health treatments and outpatient therapy greatly reduced the need for large facilities like this Kirkbride.
In 1985 Fergus Falls State Hospital became Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center as the mission shifted to providing local services to individuals with developmental disabilities or chemical dependency. The entire facility has been closed since 2005, and the cost of maintenance for the building threatens its longevity.
Today the area is a city park, and visitors are able to walk around the grounds of the main hospital building. The weight of the experiences of those who lived here still lingers in the area. Friends of the Kirkbride is a group dedicated to saving the historic building, and many plans to repurpose it have been considered. Currently an organization called Springboard for the Arts has an artist residency program that uses the former nurses’ dormitory to house artists.
Know Before You Go
The grounds of the former hospital are free to visit, and open from sunrise to sunset. Parking is available, and there are outdoor restrooms (though they may not always be open) .
The main hospital building is empty and the indoors are closed to the public. There are residents in some of the outpost buildings, however, so as you visit please be respectful of those who live on or near the complex.
The Fergus Falls State Hospital Cemetery is about a 1.5 mile walk from the hospital. It is accessible by dirt paths and surrounded by fields.