The five antebellum structures at Western State are recognized as one of the best-preserved and original assemblages of early institutional architecture in the United States. First known as Western Lunatic Asylum, this institution was founded in 1825 to serve Virginia’s western region.
Architect Thomas Blackburn, master builder William B. Phillips, masons, and carpenters executed finely detailed work on this campus. They also worked on the early construction (1817-1826) of the University of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson in nearby Charlottesville. The original architectural fabric of the campus remains remarkably unaltered. Architectural elements such as rooftop railings, masonry techniques, door and window surrounds, interior archways, stairs, and specific molding details clearly indicate the involvement of fine craftsmen deeply influenced by their work with Jefferson. The buildings are a testament to Virginia’s early effort to provide enlightened care to the mentally ill. Surrounding the building is a landscape of healing, where patients enjoyed the therapeutic pleasure of fresh air in a lush, verdant setting. Of note is the decorative wrought iron enclosure with pineapple finials. The hospital relocated in the 1970s. The complex was then converted into a state prison, which closed in the 1990s. Today, the 80-acre campus is undergoing re-development into a mix of uses.
Where to Park
The Blackburn Inn was built in 1828. The central portion of the main building was originally designed by Baltimore architect William F. Small, Jr. The structure was significantly expanded in 1833 by architect/builder Thomas Blackburn (the namesake of the inn) with the addition of new end wings and again in 1847 with Greek Revival porticos. After a comprehensive rehabilitation, the building opened for guests in 2018 as a boutique-luxury hotel.
170 Village Drive – this structure was built in 1838. Known as The Bindery, this neoclassical building is one of the largest in the complex. The imposing façade includes four-story Doric pilasters, Doric pediment, and an octagonal cupola. The building now houses private condominiums. The building’s name refers to a period in the building’s history when inmates in the state prison here learned the trade of binding books.
Take a Traipse Tour
Partnering with the Blackburn Inn, Traipse has three unique tours that you can embark on while visiting the grounds or as a hotel guest. The first Traipse, called The Blackburn Inn: Thomas Jefferson’s Protege, will have you exploring the grounds of this historic hotel that was once Old Western State Hospital. Discover the life and work of Thomas Blackburn, a rural builder, architect and Thomas Jefferson’s protege from Albermarle County, Virginia. The tour will reveal architectural details and notable features on the grounds of this beautiful hotel. The other two Traipse tours are lodging packages created by Blackburn Inn and are available for purchase. These Traipse tours serve as great itineraries for visitors looking to experience downtown Staunton and the city’s many offerings. Complete all three tours and receive an exclusive prize from the Blackburn Inn. Download these Traipse Tours.
Pick up a walking tour map from the kiosk outside the Visitor Center located at 35 S. New Street and visit some of the other historic districts in downtown Staunton. You can also view and download the walking tour map here.