Pueblo County, Colorado
Colorado Insane Asylum

125 Years
Saturday October 23, 2004 

CMHIP celebrates 125th anniversary
It was on this date in 1879 that the state hospital ushered in new era for treatment of mentally insane.

One-hundred twenty-five years ago today, a new era was established in Pueblo.

It was on Oct. 23, 1879, that the Colorado State Insane Asylum opened its doors to serve mentally ill patients from throughout the state.

Today the institution, now known as the the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, continues that mission although there have been many changes in patients, treatment and the hospital itself.

In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the mental hospital's existence in Pueblo, CMHIP officials hosted a community open house on Friday at the institute's museum conference center.

“There's a lot of history behind the institute and the role it's played in the history of Pueblo, and it's something we wanted to share with the community,” said Nell Mitchell, a retired CMHIP employee and now the institute's volunteer historian.

“We wanted to have an open house to bring together people from the community, retirees and current employees who have memories of the hospital,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

She said legislation was passed on Oct. 8, 1879, providing for the establishment of the insane asylum. Only 15 days later, on Oct. 23, the hospital opened with a population of 14 patients.

The patients lived in a mansion owned by Colorado's first senator, George Chilcott. He had donated 40 acres and the house to begin the operation, then known as the Colorado State Insane Asylum.

Dr. Pembroke Thombs, who had been a military physician, became the hospital's first superintendent and oversaw the early growth of the hospital.

Hospital records show that by 1900 the patient load had increased to 500 people. In 1924, the number of patients had increased so much that the hospital purchased the former Woodcroft Asylum, a privately run mental hospital, to ease overcrowding.

Through the years, the hospital has withstood many changes - from its name change, to the size of the facility, to the direction of the treatment of patients admitted there.

In 1917, the hospital's name was changed to Colorado State Hospital, which remained in use until 1990 when it was renamed Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

The facility also expanded from the original Chilcott house to a campus of several buildings that now spreads over a 300-acre site.

Completed circa 1934, the two-story Mediterranean style residence has white stucco walls and a red tile roof. For 28 years it was the home of Dr. Frank Zimmerman, a pioneer in the humane treatment of the mentally ill who also fought for better salaries and facilities. The former Superintendent's Residence now houses the CMHIP Museum. It also functions as a conference center for the Institute's staff. National Historic Register 9/26/1985, 5PE.527.2, 13th & Francisco
(photo courtesy of Denver Public Library)

The major change in patient care occurred in 1961, when the hospital went from a massive custodial institution to a modern psychiatric center.

At that time patients diagnosed with the same illnesses and coming from the same geographic or cultural backgrounds were housed together and treated by the same team, allowing more continuity in the patient's care, Mitchell said.

As a result of modern psychiatric care, the hospital's enrollment has decreased significantly since the early 1960s. It still continues, however, to offer a variety of psychiatric services.

CMHIP has continually played a role in the many changes in diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses.

“We want people to come and share their memories of the hospital and at the same time have our new employees and people from the community learn more about the history of the hospital,” said Mitchell.

to the Pueblo County Index Page.

Please e-mail comments and suggestions to Karen Mitchell.
© Karen Mitchell