The Ridges, formerly the Athens Lunatic Asylum, was built in 1868. Built in late Victorian style, the asylum took six years to construct and was eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The facility served to meet mental health needs in Athens, Ohio from 1874 to 1993, primarily serving Civil War veterans, children, and violent criminals who suffered from mental disabilities.
The asylum, like many other asylums or sanatoriums of the time, made efforts to be completely self-sustaining. Originally, the asylum sat on 141 acres of land, although by the time the hospital closed, it was closer to 1000 acres. On the grounds was livestock, farm fields, gardens, orchards, green houses, dairy farms, a steam heat plant, carriage shop, boiler house and laundry; in addition to the administration buildings, school, hospitals, a tubercular ward, and housing for both patients and staff.
Encompassing over 660,888 square feet, the Athens Lunatic Asylum was one of the largest employers in Ohio at the time, despite the fact that patients did most of the necessary work at the facility. Unfortunately, the influx of staff also led to an influx of complaints regarding safety, staff training, accidents, and patient treatment. It didn’t help that the Athens Lunatic Asylum was an early trier of therapies later discredited as inhumane, including hydrotherapy (or ice water baths), lobotomies, electroshock therapies, and psychotropic medications. There were also issues with overcrowding and a high fatality rate.
The Athens Lunatic Asylum is best known as the site of the early lobotomy procedures and also as being a great center of enormous paranormal activity. Many of the stories stem from the facility’s cemetery. There are three small cemeteries on the grounds and nearly two thousand people are buried there. 700 women and 959 men have their graves marked only by a number, their identities lost in the decay of the asylum. Oddly enough, some of the linear shapes of the gravestones form a circle. Rumors circulate that it is a spot for demonic activity or witches. Visitors commonly report feeling watched and an overall eerie feeling. Odd photo occurrences are common, as well as apparitions, shadow people, weird responses from animals, and trouble breathing.
Another story involves the tragic death of a young patient that left her mark on the hospital forever… literally. Little Margaret Schilling was a young girl afflicted with mental illness and living full time at the facility. To appease the young girl, one of the nurses was playing hide and seek with her. Unfortunately, the nurse got tied up with other patients and forgot about the girl. Not one to quit, the girl waited and waited. Once the nurse realized her mistake, she sought the help of other staff to search for the missing girl. Even after tearing the hospital apart, the girl was lost for over a month until eventually found by a maintenance worker. By then, she had died, and left a permanent imprint of her clothes and hair on the floor where she was found. The outline returns, no matter how many times it is scrubbed or bleached away.