|Gates outside of Eloise Asylum Building - 1940|
The poorhouse was two days travel by stagecoach from Detroit. The unspoken truth was county officials wanted somewhere to send the dregs of society--vagrants, vagabonds, drunkards, thieves, and brawlers. Soon, the insane and feeble-minded were housed there. The mentally ill were housed on the upper floor of the pig barn chained to the timber framing. It wasn't until 1881 when the asylum's first medical superintendent took over the supervision of the mentally ill and ordered the chains be removed.
In 1872, 157 acres adjacent to the poor house was purchased from the Cady family. Over time, the Eloise complex became a self-sufficient community with its own dairy farm, pig farm, bakeries, a slaughterhouse, a greenhouse, a cannery, a tobacco field, a laundry, a police department, a fire station, and a powerhouse. At its height, the complex housed over 12,000 people with 3,000 people working throughout the grounds.
It wasn't until 1894 that the Wayne County Poorhouse was renamed. The United States Postmaster General approved Nankin Township's petition for a post office of their own. The Postmaster established an order that new post offices have only short names of one or two words not resembling any other post office in their state.
|Eloise patients in straight jackets waiting to see doctors.|
In 1955, the Michigan Society of Mental Health calculated that on a per patient basis, Wayne County General was the most expensive mental hospital in the world. Farming ceased in 1958. As unused buildings at the complex were closed, most were razed rather than repurposed. Tunnels once used to shuttle patients between buildings were sealed off at access points.
By the 1960s, new theories for treatment of the mentally ill were developing. Psychiatrists began experimenting with brain chemistry treating patients with pills and powders. The problem of mental illness in America grew so large that institutions couldn't house everyone who needed services.
A new approach evolved called deinstitutionalism. Mental hospitals no longer provided long term care but returned patients to society as soon as possible managing their treatment through home care outreach or half-way houses. Those who slipped through cracks in the system made a life on the streets by sleeping in cardboard boxes or living in culverts or under freeway overpasses. Some panhandled for spare change while others railed at the sky and the demons tormenting their souls. Many of these unfortunate people ended up in the criminal justice system. The psychiatric buildings at Eloise were vacated in 1973. Psychiatric care ended in 1977 when the State of Michigan took over mental health services from the county. In 1979, the name of the hospital was changed to Wayne County General.
Between the 1890s through the late 1940s, Eloise had its own morgue and three cemeteries with 7,145 burials of unclaimed bodies--each grave marked by a cement block with a number molded into it. The burials were discontinued in 1948 when the Michigan legislature passed a law to use the bodies of unclaimed wards of the state as cadavers for medical training.