The monthly tour of the Ridges educates people about the history of the complex 

One of the most popular draws to The Ridges is its connection to the supposed paranormal activity on the grounds, but since Sunday’s Historical Walking Tour of the Athens Asylum, these rumors were debunked.

The Athens Lunatic Asylum, also known as The Ridges, has been an important part of Athens since it’s opening in 1874. Thousands of patients suffering from a wide variety of illnesses have came and gone from the hospital, but the structure still remains.

George Eberts, a long-time employee of the asylum and Ohio University professor of astronomy, directed a tour Sunday highlighting the history of the building.

The Ridges was built in 1868 by an architect named Levi Scofield and followed the Kirkbride style of architecture, with a large main building in the front and a west and east wing branching off of both sides. The grounds even had an alligator that lived in the front fountain during the summer months.

Originally, Ebert said, the main goal of the hospital was to rehabilitate and treat patients through work and therapy. Well-kept, beautiful gardens and grounds were also part of the recovery process for the patients, as doctors thought the beauty would help them heal faster.

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As populations more than doubled, treatments like shock and hydrotherapy and lobotomies were used to quell the demand to treat patients, he said.

But, with reform acts and changing policies, the asylum was soon brought back to its old ways.

“I think the architecture is beautiful and I want to learn more of the history” Martha Wiemer, a retired teacher and Athens resident said. “I used to work at an institution in Kentucky and it adds the interest.”

With the extensive history of The Ridges and the long time standing over the campus of OU, rumors of ghosts and scary stories associated with patients have arose and been passed down through generations of students.

Eberts touched on a few popular stories about the building, like the infamous stain and the “haunted” graveyard.

“I walked those halls at night and dared any ghost to come out and get me,” Eberts said. “Nothing ever happened. Either they’re too lame to scare me or they don’t exist.”

The most famous lore surrounding The Ridges is the stain. Left by a female patient who died in 1979, the stain is simply caused by extensive amount of time the body was left before being found.

But, what is almost always forgotten is the amount of people that called the asylum home and worked there.

Gretchen Yencia, a former resident of Gloucester and retiree, had family who worked at the hospital.

“My aunt was a nurse in the 1930s until the 1940s. The patients were treated with respect,” Yencia said.

Eberts said it was typical for multiple generations of families to work at the asylum, because the building employed a large of number of southeastern Ohio residents.

“My father was the baker from 1953 until around 1981,” Yancia said. “He worked directly with patients and formed relationships with them. He would buy them Christmas presents. He would say when a patient he knew was released ‘I treated another one!’ ”

One important thing Eberts tried to convey in his tour was that the hospital was a place of recovery and kindness.

“It’s not that kind of place,” Eberts said. “The people that worked here made it nice, and familiarity made it good. Everyone that worked here knew each other and the patients. It helped the treatment of the patients.”

Walking tours of the hospital occur on a monthly basis. More information can be found at http://athenshistory.org/asylum-walking-tour/.  

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