AUSTIN – As part of the revitalization of the Austin State Hospital, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is preserving the history of the state’s oldest psychiatric hospital, including more than 6,500 artifacts that archaeologists have found at the campus. From June through October, a small collection will be displayed at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.
The hospital opened in 1861. It is now undergoing a transformation that includes the construction of a replacement hospital that will open in November 2023. During the construction of the new hospital, archaeologists have been excavating around the campus to recover and conserve artifacts.
“As we continue to discover these precious artifacts, we’re getting some unique insight into how psychiatric care has evolved over the past century in Texas,” said Scott Schalchlin, HHS deputy executive commissioner of the Health and Specialty Care System. “This knowledge not only gives us a glimpse into the past, it also propels the future of mental health care.”
Some of the artifacts showcase the self-sufficiency of the hospital that once had its own power plant, water system, carpentry shop, mattress factory, sewing room for clothing and bedding, ice factory, cemetery, and farm that included crops and livestock. Archaeologists have found farming tools, industrial sewing machines, and thousands of porcelain buttons that were popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Other artifacts include items that give some perspective about life inside the hospital, including game pieces like marbles, board game markers and checkers pieces. Archaeologists made some other discoveries including several military buttons from WWI and WWII and some Native American stone tools.
The excavations began in October 2019 and continue with the ongoing construction at the campus. HHSC is preserving the artifacts, and there is a chance for the public to view a small collection of them. From June through October, some of the artifacts will be displayed at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. The display highlights the evolution of the state hospital system, including an “Austin State Hospital” sign from 1925, which marked the year the hospital’s name was changed from “Texas State Lunatic Asylum.” Pictures of some of the artifacts, the Bullock Museum display, and the archaeology efforts can be downloaded here.
The preservation of the hospital’s history also includes the digitization of documents including medical records, personnel documents, and construction documents. Some of the records are more than 100 years old. More information about the document preservation project is posted here.
Construction at Austin State Hospital
HHSC partnered with Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin to design and construct a 240-bed replacement hospital at ASH. It will have private rooms for each patient and ten 24-bed units that each have therapy rooms, classrooms, exercise rooms, an activity/multipurpose room, and other therapy spaces. Once construction is completed in November 2023, the building will replace the current hospital and allow staff to provide psychiatric care under one roof, instead of multiple buildings.