In 1909, Bessie Williams and a few other people purchased a property called “Morissana” which would become home to one of Virginia’s most popular facilities for mental illness. Located near Lynchburg in Amherst County, Virginia, the Virginia State Epileptic Colony was established in 1910. The facility officially opened its doors to patients with epilepsy on May 16, 1911, with the limit of 100 patients. One of the first buildings on the Morissana site was known as the Drewry-Gilliam building. It was named after two men, Dr. William F. Drewry, and Mr. Robert Gilliam, who worked hard to secure the funds for the construction.
With a total cost of $24,420, the building held a dining room, kitchen, pantry, service room, laundry room, coal storage room, cold storage room, and a toilet room. The second floor of the Drewry-Gilliam building, which was also known as the “cottage” held a living room, attendant’s rooms, and two 40-bed wards. A second, three-story building, was built and became known as the Administrative building. The third building constructed became known as the Employee’s Cottage. It was a two-story brick colonial-type cottage. An addition would quickly be added to the Employee’s Cottage to accommodate the growing number of patients.
A Growing State Colony
Right before the start of World War I, construction began for a new building on the Morissana property. This building, which would become known as the Mastin-Minor Building, would house 60 beds for “feebleminded” women. Feebleminded was a popular term in the early 1900s to explain people with mental illnesses. Because of this change in mission, the name of the institution was changed from Virginia State Epileptic Colony to Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded.
During World War I, the institution received its own post office. While this addition helped the mail system at the facility, it did not improve transportation to and from the property nor did it help with lodging for its visitors. Until automobiles, bus systems, and other methods of moving would become more available to the public transportation would continue to be an issue for visitors. The facility was never able to accommodate lodging for visitors of the patients.
While the facility was only meant to accommodate 100 patients at its opening, by 1919, there were a little over 500 residents; 351 were deemed epileptics, and 157 were classified as feebleminded. However, this number did not stop there. Seven years later, the facility had approximately 845 residents with 347 males labeled as people with epilepsy, 164 females were considered people with epilepsy, and another 334 women classified as feebleminded. By 1940, the facility was housing over 2,000 patients, with many of them sleeping on mattresses on the floor. The facility did not reach its height for admissions until 1972 with a total number of 3,686. It was then that the facility decided to discontinue admissions.