Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
An old postcard shows the former Marinette County Insane Asylum, which opened in 1907 just outside Peshtigo. It was later converted into a nursing home, but many remember the expansive grounds and farms which supported the patients and staff. To share information about this photograph or story, or to contact the Menominee County Historical Society, people may visit the website at www.menomineehistoricalsociety.org.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

An old postcard shows the former Marinette County Insane Asylum, which opened in 1907 just outside Peshtigo. It was later converted into a nursing home, but many remember the expansive grounds and farms which supported the patients and staff. To share information about this photograph or story, or to contact the Menominee County Historical Society, people may visit the website at www.menomineehistoricalsociety.org.

Anyone traveling the U.S. 41 passageway between Marinette and Peshtigo in recent years has seen the landscape and the route of travel undergo a transfiguration of such immense magnitude that it would have been unperceived from their earlier recollections. Businesses have come and gone. The biggest changes, however, were in the path-ways between the two cities.

Depending on a person’s age category, some will remember the old “Peshtigo Road” as the main corridor and the two-lane concrete highway that followed. Not too many years ago, the four-lane access was added, a doorway that now connects us with the latest highway revolution.

One will have to be a senior citizen, or I suspect at least nearing the retirement bracket, to remember the old Marinette County Insane Asylum, an identification long removed from normal wordbooks before political correctness came along. The old penny postcards even pictured the buildings and the identity of the facility that way.

The three-story red brick structure stood a considerable distance from the highway amid towering trees and flanked by spacious potato and vegetable gardens. Wooden benches were positioned near the front road entrance where patients would sit during a garden break and wave to passersby. There are many recollections when it comes to reciting the history of the Peshtigo landmark.

The former hospital is long gone, having been replaced by a chain of businesses at the north gate to the city of Peshtigo.

The hospital was a sizeable operation. Another part of its application was Harmony Farms, located at a different site. The hospital’s total surroundings were so far spread that it was impossible to envision when passing the main entrance on U.S. 41.

The land and the buildings sat idle after the hospital ceased operations. The county built a nursing home on a portion of the property after it discontinued its caring for the mentally ill. I was a newsman covering the Marinette County Board when supervisors were debating whether to sell the nursing home and the balance of the vast landholdings. The political skirmishes were scalding at times, and emotions ran high throughout the county.

But this column won’t replay the political bickering and the selling of the land. The focus instead will trace the roots to 1907 when the county invested $144,434 to construct the hospital for treating the mentally ill.

I uncovered information about the facility while chasing down the history of the hospital during the three-year run of controversy in the early 1990s. Richard M. Smith was the first hospital superintendent, serving until 1925 when he was succeeded by his son, Morris. Morris Smith was no stranger to the hospital, having worked there for years when his father was at the helm.

Many of the facts about the operation were disclosed in 1947 when the hospital was ranked as one of the best county-run institutions in Wisconsin. It was a tribute to the political leadership of the county board, and the management and workers at the hospital.

The hospital had a cold storage area where it stockpiled canned food for the winter months. It was common for farmers and city dwellers back then to stock their storage shelves with canned meat, fruit and vegetables, and it was no different at the county hospital.

A good-sized farm operation was a significant part of the hospital’s performance, both from a business and patient therapy standpoint. The farm helped prune operating costs by producing meat, poultry, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

Hogs were raised and butchered on the farm. The farm included 147 Hol-stein cows, the number probably shift-ing from time to time. The barns and silos were important shelters for machinery, equipment and supplies, and for storing cattle food. New buildings replaced the old and timeworn structures. In the 1930s when the Great Depression shriveled most operating budgets, government and private, three cold storage rooms were added as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.

The hospital showed a net loss of$14,596 in its first year of operation. 

The loss was based on expenses of $25,277 and cash receipts of $6,803, a humbling beginning for the county. The math doesn’t add up correctly when the numbers are compared, but then again management didn’t have calculators and computers to do their arithmetic 90-plus years ago. The deficit was reduced to $2,608 during the second year of operation.

Early records indicate the hospital embraced 440 acres, noting that the total acreage changed from period to period. The registry of history further shows the hospital had an inventory of 240 hogs, 600 chickens and 96 head of cattle — 50 of the cows were for milking. The Harmony Farms under-taking registered 600 acres of land and sheltered 147 Herefords.

The hospital’s patient count in 1947 was 282. Twenty-eight workers were on the payroll for staffing the Peshtigo and Harmony Farms operations. Some of the patients performed farm chores and worked in other areas of the facility which pared the costs of farm labor. While the male patients worked in the fields and in the barns, women patients were kept busy in the kitchen, laundry and in other parts of the buildings. The buildings and the surroundings were well maintained.

The Peshtigo facility included mostly older patients. Morris Smith had praise for the Winnebago Hospital at Oshkosh where therapy there included insulin and shock treatment. Because of the treatment at Winnebago, few young patients were housed in Peshtigo.

The county hospital was an important part of the area’s economy for more than a half-century. Much more important was the fact the hospital provided a treatment center for mentally ill patients in a past age before modern-day medicine, treatment methods and well-equipped facilities came along.

Marinette County has had a long and distinguished record of providing excellent public services for its citizens whether in acute care medical or men-tally ill patients, nursing homes for the sick and elderly, two-year colleges and technical schools, and other social and cultural services. It is an impressive record for all county boards and county citizens, from early history to the present, to recognize with pride.

The mental images seniors have of the old county hospital on the outskirts of Peshtigo may be blurring with time, but even a total makeover of its resting place can’t blot out the place it has in local history.