Alabama's oldest and largest inpatient psychiatric facility.
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.