Those interested in mental health, history and the paranormal can whet their appetites for all three in one of West Virginia's most unique attractions.
The Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum in Weston served the mentally ill in the mid-1800s and its history tells the story of "Civil War raids, a gold robbery, the ‘curative' effects of architecture and the efforts of determined individuals to help better the lives of the mentally ill."
"We opened up for tours and we realized really quickly that people were in love with the building itself," said Rebecca Jordan-Gleason, operations manager for the Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum. "Then, we realized with the Civil War history and the fully operational farm … as well as the vegetation and coal miners we were giving tours all over the property from the front lawn, inside the building all they way to the back because the history is so deep and it's everywhere."
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum even offers plenty of entertainment for those interested in old architecture. The building is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America and was constructed between 1858 and 1881. Only the Kremlin is larger.
The building was designed on the Kirkbride plan, a form of architecture calling for abundant sunlight and fresh air specifically for therapeutic reasons. The construction itself was believed to ease the mental health of the patients alongside other forms of treatment.
Formerly known at the Weston State Hospital, the facility is open to tours that stretch the gamut of daily heritage tours to the late-night paranormal ghost hunt. The facility also hosts special events throughout the year.
The hospital closed in 1994.
Walk-in tours of all four floors are offered Tuesday through Sunday, with appointments welcome. During peak season in October, tours are first come, first served. Those seeking larger tours can seek out specialized add-ons such as a tour of the medical center or themed tours such as the Civil War tour.
"The historic community holds fascinating stories of Civil War raids, gold robberies and remarkable citizens," promotional materials for the asylum tout. "Trace the footsteps of men who went on to lead our country as presidents. Identified on the Civil War Trails map as a vital location during the conflict, this is an excellent stop on a state wide Civil War excursion."
Gleason said a number of "cool things" happened at the site of the facility during the Civil War, including an event that would lead to West Virginia's creation.
"The funding that actually created the State of West Virginia was for this asylum and it was robbed by the Seventh Ohio Infantry, taken to Independence Hall and actually created the state of West Virginia," she said. "That's what funded us seceding us from West Virginia."
The facility itself was frequently traded back and forth between Union and Confederate soldiers as they fought for control of the travel corridors that surrounded the large facilities.
The paranormal tours offer the four hottest spots for paranormal activity at the 242,000-square foot asylum. Visitors are asked to bring their own paranormal detection-related equipment.
"The Asylum has had apparition sightings, unexplainable voices and sounds and other paranormal activity reported in the past by guests, staff, SyFy's Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters Academy, the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge," the asylum's site offers. "Step back in time and see how the mentally insane lived, and died, within these walls."
Gleason says she has even had a few encounters with the paranormal herself. She said she's witnessed unexplained shadows and even one instance of more than 30 doors closing on their own.
"I try to just try to work," she joked. "We've got thousands that come here trying to search for the paranormal every year."
Since 2008, the asylum has had more than 165,000 visitors.
Gleason said the community was devastated when the hospital closed. The tours help alleviate some of that distress by bringing tourism dollars to the county. She said just last October the facility brought in $2.5 million to the county.
"I think a lot of people try to focus on the paranormal. … I want people to know that the main thing is preserving the facility," she said. "We want people to learn about what happened here. Paranormal is just a small facet of what we do here."