Babcock Building – South Carolina State Hospital

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A night-time view of the “center main” building at South Carolina State Hospital’s Babcock Building. The main building was designed by Samuel Sloan, the patient wings which flank the main building were designed by George E Walker.

The building was constructed in phases, the male wing was built first and actually used for patients before any of the other sections were built. Sloan’s center main was completed last.

During the planning of this building (which was conceived as a solution to overcrowding in the original asylum building designed by Robert Mills), there was much debate about whether the Kirkbride Plan was suitable. Although by far the most popular and evangelized plan for asylums of this time, it was not without it’s critics. Among these critics was South Carolina State Hospital’s own head physician, Dr. D.H. Trezevant. He argued to the hospital’s Board of Regents:

“With every respect to Dr. Kirkbride’s opinion, on matters connected with the insane, I differ with him in toto, as to the building he selected; and I think that in Alabama’s [in reference to the Alabama Insane Asylum, built explicitly to Kirkbride’s vision, deigned by Sloan] adopting the double range system, she has entailed a curse upon the insane, which ail be daily and hourly felt by all in connection with them… The Asylum in Tuscaloosa will be another monument, to prove that a building may be admirable in itself, and yet utterly improper for the purpose to which is is applied.”

(My words in brackets)

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The argument being made is that, by having rooms on both sides of the corridors of the hospital (which was part of Kirkbride’s plan) instead of only one side, both light and ventilation (which many believed were necessary to cure insanity) would be compromised along with patient health.

However, the superintendent of South Carolina State Hospital J.W. Parker argued against his own lead physician when he stated to the same Board:

“Having previously examined, by your instructions, all the best eastern and northern hospitals and asylums, and canvassed the merits of each, aided by the enlarged experience of competent gentlemen, together with such practical knowledge as has been derived during nineteen years as chief resident officer in our own Asylum, I feel justified in saying, they for convenience, economy, comfort and good ventilation, the arrangement with a double row of rooms with wide passages, as in the plan mentioned, is incomparably superior to any other plan suggested.”

Parker won the argument, and while the Kirkbride Plan was not followed precisely, it was followed in spirit with the use of multiple short wards, offset from each other to maximize light, ventilation and views of the surrounding countryside (all critical features of the Kirkbride plan). Against the Kirkbride Plan, the Babcock building (as it was later renamed) did not expand directly outward from the center main building, with each ward set slightly rearward from the previous, to create an “echelon” of wards. Babcock’s wards would also expand at 90-degree angles (presumably to create a smaller overall footprint for the structure).

(all quotes here taken from the Nomination for for the National Register of Historic Places: http://www.nationalregister.sc.gov/richland/S10817740064/S10817740064.pdf)

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