Friday, October 22, 2010

Through the Gates of Eloise (Eloise Hospital, formerly known as the Wayne County Poorhouse and Asylum)

Welcome to Eloise Hospital (formerly known as the Wayne County Poorhouse and Asylum) on Michigan Avenue in Westland, Michigan.

In 1839, Wayne County, Michigan purchased the Black Horse Tavern, a stagecoach stop located here on the Chicago Road, for use as a poorhouse. Early on, the Eloise poorhouse accepted not only the county's indigent, but the infirm and mentally ill as well. The mentally ill were kept in chains and housed on the upper floor of a farm building used to keep pigs.

As decades passed, many of the unfortunates who passed through these gates would never leave. Today, Eloise is said to be one of the most haunted locations in southeastern Michigan.

During the mid to late nineteenth century, the Wayne County Poorhouse and Asylum became one of the largest public health-care facilities in the United States. The most advanced medical and psychiatric treatments were used there. During the early twentieth century, Eloise physicians pioneered the use of X-rays for diagnostic purposes, radium for the treatment of cancer, and "open air" treatment for tuberculosis. Psychiatric patients underwent electroshock and insulin shock therapy as well as music, recreational, and television therapy.

Approaching the turn of the last century, the number of patients grew and new buildings were constructed to meet the demand. In 1894, a post office opened on the grounds with the name Eloise, a name that became synonymous with what developed into a 902-acre, 75-building complex.

By the late 1920s, Eloise's population had peaked at 10,000 patients and 2,000 staff. A city in itself, Eloise had its own farm, cannery, bakery, cemetery, employee housing, police and fire departments, a powerhouse, trolley and train stations, and 16 kitchens that served 30,000 meals daily. Many of the buildings were connected by a complex system of underground tunnels, which still exist today.

In 1945, Eloise was renamed Wayne County General Hospital and Infirmary. The new name was intended to reflect the modern "scientific" approaches to medical care that had been instituted at the facility. Wayne County General quickly came to be considered one of the best hospitals in the nation and it played a major part in metro Detroit's health network. It was the only acute-care medical and surgical hospital between Detroit and Ypsilanti. Despite the name change, most locals continued to refer to the facility as Eloise Hospital. It was during this time that my father was born at Eloise, in the fall of 1945.

Psychiatric care ended at Eloise Hospital in 1979 and the general hospital closed in 1984. Most of the complex's 75 buildings were razed by the mid-1980s. More than 7,100 patients are buried in the Eloise cemetery, their graves marked only by numbered blocks.

All that remains of the original 75 buildings are the old fire station, the powerhouse, the bakery and commissary buildings, and the main infirmary. The infirmary and the small handful of decaying outbuildings remain at their original location on the north side of Michigan Avenue between Henry Ruff and Merriman Roads in present day Westland, Michigan. A stone well on the grounds is a haunting reminder of the many wishes and prayers that were undoubtedly whispered throughout Eloise's long and sometimes painful history. The main infirmary is presently being used as temporary housing for homeless families. Its future is unknown.

Sources: Waymarkers on site,