Alabama Insane Hospital

Also known as: Bryce Hospital, Alabama State Hospital for the Insane
University Blvd., Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Alabama's oldest and largest inpatient psychiatric facility.


Alabama Insane Hospital

Photo taken by WillyT

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Bryce Hospital, opened in 1861 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, is Alabama's oldest and largest inpatient psychiatric facility. First known as the Alabama State Hospital for the Insane and later as the Alabama Insane Hospital, the building is considered an architectural model. The hospital currently houses 318 beds for acute care, treatment and rehabilitation of full-time (committed) patients. The Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatry Hospital, a separate facility on the same campus, provides an additional 100 beds for inpatient geriatric care. The main facility was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.


The plans for a state hospital for the mentally ill in Alabama began in 1852. The new facility was planned from the start to utilize the "moral architecture" concepts of 1830s activists Thomas Story Kirkbride and Dorothea Dix. Dix's reformist ideas, in particular, are credited as the driving force behind the construction of the hospital. Architect Samuel Sloan designed the Italianate building using the Kirkbride Plan. Construction of the building began in 1853 but was not completed until 1859. The hospital was the first building in Tuscaloosa with gas lighting and central heat, "all clad in a fashionable Italianate exterior."

The Alabama Insane Hospital opened in 1861. It was later renamed for its first superintendent, Peter Bryce, a 27-year-old psychiatric pioneer from South Carolina. Bryce had been brought to the attention of the hospital trustees by Dix. He had studied mental health care in Europe and worked in psychiatric hospitals in New Jersey as well as his native South Carolina. His tenure was marked by absolute discipline among the staff of the hospital. He demanded that patients be given courtesy, kindness and respect at all times. The use of shackles, straitjackets and other restraints was discouraged, and finally abandoned altogether in 1882. Various work programs and other activities were encouraged, including farming, sewing, maintenance and crafts. Between 1872 and the early 1880s, some of the patients wrote and edited their own newspaper, called The Meteor. These writings provide a rare inside look at life in a progressive mental institution in the late 19th century. At that time, Bryce's management and commitment to "scientific treatments" was recognized around the country as in a class of its own.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on April 18, 1977
Reference number
Architectural styles
Mixed architectural types; Victorian: Italianate; Roman Revival
Areas of significance
Architecture; Social History; Health/Medicine
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction; B - Person
Property type
Historic function
Current function
Periods of significance
1850-1874; 1875-1899; 1900-1924; 1925-1949
Significant years
1853; 1861

Update Log 

  • January 9, 2012: New photos from WillyT
  • May 27, 2011: Updated by WillyT: Added description