Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

State Hospital, Raleigh, N.C.

Our Flashback Friday postcard this week features an early view of Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Hospital. Once known as the state ‘lunatic’ or ‘insane’ asylum, Dix Hospital cared for North Carolina’s mentally ill for more than 150 years.

No message on this week’s card.

Long known as the ‘State Hospital’,  or simply ‘Dix Hill’, the facility was renamed Dorothea Dix Hospital in 1956 by the state legislature in honor of  Dorothea Dix (1802-1887), a prominent 19th century advocate of humane treatment of what were then referred to as the insane. In 1848 she had lobbied North Carolina legislators to create a state institution where the mentally ill could receive proper care.


Dorothea Dix, passionate advocate for the mentally ill.

As a result of her influence, a legislative commission was created to establish and locate a suitable site for a state-supported institution to treat the mentally ill.

In 1851 the commission declared

“. . . after carefully examining the whole country in the vicinity of Raleigh, we chose a location west of the city and about one mile distant, which in our opinion was best adapted to that purpose . . . This location has a commanding view of the city and is believed to be  perfectly healthy. The grounds are beautifully undulating and susceptible of improvement.”

The state hired the nationally renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis, a principal in the New York-based firm of  Town and Davis, to design a modern facility to accommodate the new hospital.

The first patient was admitted February 22, 1856.

This illustration of the new state ‘insane asylum’ (above) depicts the facility as it appeared ca 1860. Below is artist CN Drie’s rendition as is seen in his famous 1872 ‘Bird’s Eye View’ of Raleigh.

Below is a ca 1900 photo view of the central pavilion of Dix Hospital. It featured a dramatic entrance and skylight-topped rotunda. The pavilion was demolished in the early 1950s, and replaced by the modernist-styled McBride administration building.

State Archives of North Carolina photo

Here is another view of architect Davis’ central pavilion, as it appeared in the 1940s. It is very similar to the view seen in this week’s postcard.

State Archives of North Carolina photo

Here we see a broad view of the central pavilion and the east wing of the hospital. All of the architectural embellishments of Davis’ original design were removed in the 1950s.

State Archives of North Carolina photo

The Spring Hill Connection

Colonel Theophilus Hunter established Spring Hill plantation in the 179os, and is buried adjacent to his former homeplace.  His son, Colonel Theophilus Hunter, Jr. inherited the property in 1798 and erected Spring Hill house in 1816. When he died 1840 the plantation comprised 5,000 acres. The state of North Carolina purchased 182 acres from his estate in 1851, which became the core of the Dix Hill property. William Grimes bought Spring Hill in 1872, and upon his death in 1908, his widow sold Spring Hill house and an additional 160 acres to the state, thereby enlarging the grounds of Dix Hospital.

Dix Hill Central Park

The Dix Hill Historic District, which includes Davis’ original hospital building and Spring Hill house, was designated a Raleigh historic site in 1978, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

Ten years ago the state moved to close Dix Hospital, and to relocate patients to a repurposed Umstead Hospital in Butner, NC. Soon thereafter, a popular campaign emerged, which proposed to transform the Dix property into a destination ‘central park’ to be based in Raleigh for the enjoyment of all North Carolinians. In the forefront of this effort were two grass-root organizations: the  Friends of Dorothea Dix Park and Dix 306. And, happily, their efforts have prevailed, as the Council of State and the City of Raleigh have just this month reached an agreement to establish a park on the Dix Hill property.

This week’s beautifully-tinted Flashback Friday postcard was published by the Valentine-Souvenir company of New York City.

Valentine-Souvenir (1914-1923)
New York, NY

Formed by the merger of the Leighton & Valentine Company with the Souvenir Post Card Company. They published tinted halftone view-cards in line block that were printed in the United States.

While their later white border cards retained the usual limited pallet, these cards have an entirely different look. There is much more emphasis on the details that are printed in black rather than the color overprinting.

“Flashback Friday” is a weekly feature of Goodnight, Raleigh! in which we showcase vintage postcards depicting our historic capital city. We hope you enjoy this week end treat!

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