Early history of the Manitowoc County Insane Asylum
Those venturing around Hamilton and Division Streets in Manitowoc today could never imagine the scene that surrounded the area 125 years ago.
In 1884, William Rahr, Chairman of the Board’s Committee on Insane, had visited the Sheboygan County Asylum and thought a similar structure would be beneficial to our community. In the spring of that year, the County Board voted to build the Manitowoc County Insane Asylum, a place for those inflicted with tuberculosis and physical and mental ailments, as well as the poor. The board, consisting of William G. Lueps of Manitowoc, Jacob Kestly of Centerville, Fred Schmitz of Newton, and Gustav Mueller of Reedsville, voted to make a few improvements from the plans of Sheboygan County’s structure including adding five feet to the height of the building and implementing steam heat, instead of a furnace. Rahr estimated the cost of the project to be $19,450.
With the project receiving a green light, the committee then had to decide on a site for the building. The chosen site was the Third Ward in the City of Manitowoc, located between what is now Hamilton and Division and 21st and 22nd Streets. It was in that area that the city already owned 18 blocks and additional land was purchased from individuals nearby. The 57 acre property soon became the site of much activity as construction began on the new Asylum that summer. Schuette Tegru and Company was awarded the building contract for a cost of $15,000 and the heating contract was given to the M. Coogan Company, in Milwaukee, for $2,180. Local architect Christian H. Tegen was chosen to design the building. Tegen, who moved to the area as a young adult, also designed the Dempsey block in Manitowoc, the original Holy Family Hospital and the Manitowoc County Courthouse.
The building could house 85 patients and 58 beds were filled following the opening of the Asylum in November 1885. Gustav Mueller was chosen as the first superintendent and his wife became the matron. Together they received an annual pay of $800. The first physician, Dr. F.S Luhman, who visited the site twice a week, received $100 a year.
In the year following the opening a building was added for a laundry, bake shop, and smoke house, costing $1,336. By 1889, 75 patients were housed in the institution.
In 1892, the 75 acre Fehring Farm was purchased for $5,000 by the county. In 1898, the farm boasted a herd of 91 cattle, produced 17,000 pounds of meat, 4,484 pounds of butter and 66,000 pounds of milk. The large farming operation began to support the operation of the asylum. The farm was later expanded to 265 acres with the hospital, barn, silos, outbuildings, fields, gardens and livestock.
With the coming of the 20th century, the Asylum experienced many changes. The number of patients continued to grow leading the county to build a new facility in 1949 on Calumet Avenue in Manitowoc, being renamed the Manitowoc County Hospital. The name was changed to the Manitowoc Health Care Center in 1973.