July 18, 1893: Spencer State Hospital Opens

Spencer State Hospital

Spencer State Hospital opened in Roane County on July 18, 1893. It was intended to relieve the overcrowding at Weston State Hospital in caring for people with mental illnesses. At times, its mission was expanded to treat diseases such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

Spencer State Hospital’s connected brick buildings extended a quarter-mile in length, and some have suggested it was once the longest continuous brick building in America. The hospital’s farms included dairy cattle, hogs, chickens, and vegetable gardens, all of which provided food for patients and staff. The hospital also had its own water and power supplies.

The institution maintained an open-door policy—with patients free to come and go—but a fence was erected around the hospital to separate patients from the town of Spencer. Between 1973 and ‘76, the administrative building was torn down and replaced. Spencer State Hospital closed for good in 1989. Four years later, the city auctioned off most of the equipment left behind. A local employer, Monarch Rubber (later Armacell), took over the hospital’s familiar-sounding whistle so residents of Spencer could continue hearing its blasts morning, noon, and night.