Levi Scofield was 26 when he designed and built his first building in 1868 — the Athens Asylum.
The Southeast Ohio History Center will present the Architects of the Athens Asylum on Thursday as a part of the Scofield Architecture Program.
Since building the asylum, which closed in 1993 and is now part of The Ridges, Scofield constructed a number of other asylums, school buildings, orphans’ homes, penitentiaries and federal buildings in Ohio, most of which have been demolished.
Tom O’Grady, the executive director of the Southeast Ohio History Center, is an expert on Scofield and the Athens Asylum.
“This is the 150th anniversary of the Athens Asylum,” O’Grady said. “It’s played a very important role in our heritage, but (the asylum) been neglected for more than three decades.”
The only way to preserve those buildings is to bring attention to them, but so many have been torn down because of the stigma with asylums and mental health care that has attached itself to their history, O’Grady said.
“Some of these buildings were built to last for hundreds of years,” he said. “But because of the stigma attached to them, it makes them easier to tear down, even though the buildings did nothing wrong.”
Jennie Klein, an art history professor, sees the importance in preserving such ancient buildings.
“I am always interested in preserving old buildings,” she said. “They tell us a great deal about what was in style and how people lived and organized their lives.”
The Athens Asylum is a great part of history available to Athens residents, Klein said.
Over the course of 150 years, the Romanesque style of the Athens Asylum is still noticeable, and Bailey Gilberg, a freshman studying education, has appreciated it.
“The fact that the building has broken windows makes it super spooky, but I like that,” she said. “The style of it seems so old, but I think that’s what makes it such an attraction for people.”
The preservation of the Athens Asylum has been a tug of war for the better part of 30 years, O’Grady said, but he thinks the hesitation to preserve is changing despite the challenge of finding funds to maintain the architectural wonder.
“I think people are starting to realize that we have a real treasure in our midst,” he said. “We’re working in our own best interest when we fight to save the Athens Asylum.”