Historic America

A Trip to Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

As part of our trip to West Virginia last month, my wife and I stopped by the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a destination that’s been on my bucket list for a while. Yes, it’s appeared on just about every paranormal-themed TV show, but it has an interesting history dating back to the Civil War as well.

Welcome Home

Designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews in Gothic and Tudor Revival styles, construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began in 1858. In 1861, the Civil War’s outbreak interrupted construction on Virginia’s new asylum as Union troops seized its construction funds from a local bank (totaling nearly $30,000.00 in gold) and used them to help fund a pro-Union Virginia government in Wheeling. It opened in 1864, though construction wasn’t fully completed until nearly 20 years later.

The Institution

During the mid-twentieth century, it was notoriously overcrowded and closed in 1994. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. After sitting abandoned for several years, it opened for tours as a museum and it slowly being restored.

Room with a View

My wife and I went on a 90-minute tour that took us throughout the main building, and even to some places most visitors don’t get to see. Our tour guide took us onto the main balcony, the lobotomy rooms, children’s wing, and even up into the attic.


One of the most tragic things we witnessed was in the common area of the children’s wing. Patients had carved initials, shapes, and figures into the wooden windowsills. In one corner, someone had scraped deep grooves with their fingernails. You can imagine a young patient staring out the window, clawing at the wood with their nails over and over… truly creepy.


We were lucky to visit on one of the last weekends of the tour season. The asylum will be closed for repairs until April 4, 2020. If all their tour guides are as good and knowledgeable as ours was, it’ll be well-worth a trip next summer.


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