KPH Brook and Colony Farms: Harvesting Mental Health

Farm House - Michigan Asylum

The Old Farm House. Probably at Brook Farm, but possibly at the Asylum Lake facility.

Photo Gallery: KPH Colony Farms

From its inception, the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital's treatment of the mentally ill was known for its humane innovation. No less so was the establishment of Brook Farm in 1885 and Colony Farm in 1887. The patients living and working at these establishments were sent to the farms when their diseases were under control and life in the institutional setting had become monotonous and irksome. Working on the farms afforded creative and physical outlets, while, at the same time, filling the needs of the institution for dairy and vegetable products. The establishment of these farms made Michigan a forerunner in this type of treatment that was later copied by many states.

This treatment, for want of a better term, became known as the "colony" method. Patients were transferred from the main hospital to reside in "cottages" at the farm colony. They participated fully in the operation of the farms and were able to supply the main hospital with badly needed milk and foodstuffs that were becoming too costly to purchase from local farmers.

Brook Farm

Brook Farm was located two and one half miles north of the hospital on Douglas Avenue. Two hundred fifty acres stretched on either side of the road. A year after the purchase, the first "cottage" was built. It was a two-story wooden structure, known as Trask Cottage, that could hold 45 male patients and attendants to supervise them. Within the first five years timber was cleared, and the farm became known as one of the most productive and pleasant in the vicinity. When the house was built, a dairy barn was also constructed that housed 56 cows, room for calves, a silo, storage space for roots, hay, grain and vehicles needed to run the farm. The herds grew over the years and soon were providing the main hospital with most of its dairy needs. By 1938 the farm also included 34 horses, 11 mules and six colts. The farm was discontinued in 1958.

Asylum Colony - Fairoaks Map

Source: Illustrated Atlas of Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Detroit: Wm. C. Sauer, C. E., 1890

Colony Farm

Colony Farm sat three miles southwest of the state hospital on what was formerly known as the "Hind's Farm" on the southern shore of Asylum Lake, to which the institution gave its name. In 1887, the State Legislature authorized purchase of 320 acres on an elevated plateau and 40 acres of timberland. Because about 40 acres of the land were covered with large native oak trees, the site was also known as "Fair Oaks." The "cottages" constructed on the site were built of brick and housed male and female patients. There were four cottages in all, the Van Deusen, which held 35 women; the Palmer, which housed 29 women; the Pratt, occupied by 72 men; and the Mitchell, caring for 79 women. The farm produced milk, fruit and vegetables for the institution.

Farm Production

The output of the farms enabled the state hospital, in 1933, to maintain lower costs per patient, lowering it in 1933 to 57 cents a day. In 1942, the farms raised 100 tons of alfalfa and all the vegetables, such as sweet corn, tomatoes, string beans, peas, pumpkins, squash, beets and carrots. Fifteen thousand gallons of tomatoes alone were canned in the hospital's cannery.

By 1958, the cost of maintaining both farms began to outstrip the cost of purchasing needed foodstuffs for supplying the dwindling population of the main institution, so the farms were scaled down or eliminated.

Closure

In May of 1958, in just a few hours, the dairy herd at Colony Farm was sold at public auction and netted $32,395 for state coffers. The prize of the day went to a six-year-old milker named Kalamazoo Bessie Tobey, who had produced 14,619 pounds of milk and 540 pounds of butter in one 335-day lactation period. She sold for $630 and went to the City of David Farm in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

In 1971, Michigan State agencies were given first crack at bidding on the surplus items at the farm, and $5,000 was raised. Some of the furniture was of historical value and went to the Michigan State University Biological Center at Hickory Corners, and the Department of Military Affairs. A large number of table and chairs went to the Department of Corrections. In August of that year, dynamite and bulldozers razed the brick "cottages" and the farm faded into a warm memory.

Sources

Books

Report of the Board of Trustees of the Michigan Asylum for the Insane , 1887-88, 1889-90, 1895-96

  • Lansing, Mi: State Printers, 1859-1906
  • H 362.2 M618

History Room Subject Files

Kalamazoo State Hospital 

Kalamazoo State Hospital - Buildings & grounds