Sunday, January 20, 2013

Asylum Walk (22)

Growth of the Asylum and the Green Stairs:

Situated on the brow (the edge of the Niagara escarpment above Hamilton), on 100 acres of wooded property purchased from local landowners, the Asylum for Inebriates was completed in the fall of 1875. Patterned brick with stone trim, a mansard roof. The asylum housed 200 patients and staff. It was the fruit of determined lobbying by temperance advocates for a place of detention for the city’s purportedly fast-growing number of alcoholics.

When these alcoholics failed to appear in sufficient numbers, J.W. Langmuir, inspector of prisons, recommended that the asylum be assigned to the insane, whose numbers had overflowed existing institutions and gaols into private houses. On 17 March 1876, the building, under superintendent Dr. Richard M. Bucke, was opened for the chronic insane and 210 patients were transferred from Toronto, Kingston and London asylums.

In 1879, wings increased the asylum’s length to 550 feet, and a three-storey addition was built in the rear. At this time eight counties were assigned to the hospital. In June, to meet demand, basement housing for 27 patients was added.

In the same year the problem of sewage disposal was addressed. To this point, waste had been collected and treated in tanks blasted out of the rock before the main building, with raw sewage overflowing down the mountainside. Now connection was made by pipe with city sewers. The problem of raising fresh water up the mountain was solved by a special pumping station erected at the corner of Queen and Markland Streets.

In 1888 the Asylum for the Insane at Hamilton was officially declared best in the province of Ontario. Additions had provided East House for the criminal insane and accommodation for 300 added patients. A flight of wooden steps now led to Queen Street below. These stairs, joining other flights widely spaced along the brow, were painted a bright green and were called by all who used them “the Green Stairs.” (Non-pedestrians usually designated them by the major street they descended to: the Queen Street stairs, the James Street stairs, the Wentworth stairs, the Dundurn stairs....)

In 1892, in its seventeeth year, the asylum was severely damaged by fire. Following this, a 200,000-gallon reservoir, a fire hall and hose tower were erected, with a powerful steam pump to ensure adequate pressure. The new century saw an infirmary and operating room built; a skating rink installed; and substitution of electricity for gaslight.

With additional propery purchased, by 1914, the asylum owned 529 acres, housed 1,312 patients and served eleven counties.

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