Washington, D.C. (April 28, 2009) – The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Human Services Center in Yankton, South Dakota, to its 2009 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places®. This annual list highlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.
The oldest public institution in the state, the Human Services Center – formerly the South Dakota Hospital for the Insane – played an important role in South Dakota history. It was here in the 1890’s that Dr. Leonard Mead implemented his groundbreaking idea of creating an environment that would be therapeutically beneficial for patients instead of the sterile, fear-provoking asylums of the day. As he added buildings to the campus in the former territorial capital of Yankton, it became more New England college than prairie hospital. Surrounding a landscaped central park, the 65-acre campus, constructed between 1882 and 1942, featured neoclassical, Art Deco, Italianate, Prairie and Neo-Renaissance buildings, many constructed of South Dakota-quarried Sioux quartzite. Each building had sun-drenched dayrooms with columns and attractive architectural features, like Carrara marble and granite staircases. Today, more than 125 years after the institution was founded, the State is moving forward with plans to demolish many of the historic buildings on the Yankton campus.
“This is an unparalleled collection of buildings,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Dr. Mead’s vision of a beautiful, soul-nourishing environment doesn’t have to end just because the State of South Dakota wants to dispose of the Yankton campus. Across the country, there are countless examples of architecturally significant, historic buildings being repurposed and given new life by developers. This can be another success story.”
In 1899, a fire at the hospital took the lives of 17 patients. In the aftermath, Dr. Mead ensured that all subsequent buildings were rock-solid – constructed of stone, with foot-thick walls, clay tile roofing and concrete for fireproofing. An amateur architect, Dr. Mead left his artistic mark in the wide porches, fan and Palladian windows, pedimented porticos, balustrades, bracketed eaves, arches, pillars, coffered ceilings and terrazzo floors that adorn the campus.
The collection of buildings on the Human Services Center (HSC) campus is both architecturally significant and representative of the style of treatment for the mentally ill between 1880 and 1940. Many patients spent their entire lives at the hospital, and, as a result, the majority of the endangered buildings once served as patient wards. The campus also includes barns and farm buildings where patients would engage in therapeutic activities such as growing vegetables.
In the 1990s, the State determined that the HSC’s historic buildings were no longer needed and constructed a new mental health facility on campus called the Mickelson Center. Since that time, many historic buildings have been left vacant – without even utility service or routine maintenance. Despite being neglected, the buildings have endured because of their solid construction.
In 2007, the South Dakota Joint Appropriations Committee voted to approve funds to begin demolition of selected historic buildings on the HSC campus, but budget constraints resulted in a temporary reprieve. The continuing economic downturn prevented a similar appropriation in 2008, but a future ask will more than likely be made and could be approved.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its partners have repeatedly offered to work with the State to identify interested developers. While developers seem eager and at least one local bank has said it will finance and purchase tax credits, the State appears committed to demolishing the buildings.
The 2009 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places was made possible, in part, by a grant from History™. Local preservation groups across the nation submitted nominations for this year’s list; the nomination for the Human Services Center was submitted by Preserve South Dakota.