Department of Historic Resources
For Immediate Release
June 4, 2021
Contact: Randy Jones, DHR
—Originally established by the Freedmen’s Bureau, Central Lunatic Asylum became a state hospital for African Americans suffering mental disorders by 1870, the first such standalone facility for Black patients in the U.S.—
—The marker text reproduced below—
RICHMOND – A state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will be dedicated next week that highlights the one-time location in Richmond of the Central Lunatic Asylum, the first standalone hospital for African Americans suffering from mental disorders or ill health in the United States. The state later relocated the facility to Dinwiddie County and renamed it Central State Hospital in the late 1800s.
Officials of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and Central State Hospital, the sponsor of the marker, will dedicate the sign at an unveiling ceremony beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the marker’s location at the corner of 20th and Fairmount Streets in Richmond. The ceremony is open to the public.
Event speakers will include Dr. Vanessa Walker Harris, deputy secretary of Health and Human Resources; Angela Harvell-Moore, DBHDS deputy commissioner for facilities; Dr. Brandi Justice, director of Central State Hospital; Julie V. Langan, director of the Department of Historic Resources; Dr. Colita N. Fairfax, board chair of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources; the Rev. Dr. Herbert Ponder, pastor of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church; Dr. Ronald O. Forbes, of the Friends of Central State; and the Rev. Roberta Anderson, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Del. Delores McQuinn and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney will participate in the unveiling of the marker.
The site of the Central Lunatic Asylum was known as Howard’s Grove, a 19th-century recreational retreat near Richmond, which became a Confederate hospital in 1862. After the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau operated the hospital as an asylum for African Americans. The federal government transferred the facility to Virginia in 1869 and the hospital became a state institution in 1870.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, and by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority such as Richmond.
[PLEASE NOTE: DHR markers are erected not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, markers are not memorials.]
Text of marker:
Central Lunatic Asylum
Howard’s Grove was a 19th-century recreational retreat near Richmond before becoming a Confederate hospital in 1862. After the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau operated a hospital here for African Americans suffering from mental disorders, ill health, or homelessness. In Dec. 1869 the federal government transferred the facility to the state as an asylum exclusively for the “colored insane,” making it the nation’s first stand-alone mental hospital for black patients. Organized as a state institution in 1870, the Central Lunatic Asylum moved to Dinwiddie County in 1885, was renamed Central State Hospital in 1894, and was desegregated in 1967.
Originally posted: June 4, 2021
Updated: June 4, 2021