FRANKFORT – A ceremony of remembrance Tuesday marked the re-interment of the remains of 178 individuals that were exhumed in 2011 on the Eastern State Hospital Campus in Lexington, now home to a new Bluegrass Community and Technical College education facility.
A short graveside memorial, given by Sister Clara Fehringer, of St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church, followed the ceremony in the existing Eastern State Hospital Cemetery where the remains were buried, according to a state news release. Attending the ceremony were representatives from the Finance and Administration Cabinet, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Kentucky Heritage Council, Eastern State Hospital, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Fayette County coroner, and members of the Eastern State Hospital Preservation Project and Cemetery Club.
“I applaud those involved with the project for working to recognize the history and the future of this site,” Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Lori H. Flanery said in the news release. “Our staff in the Division of Engineering and Contract Administration has worked closely with all parties involved to ensure that the remains were treated with respect and dignity and honorably laid to rest today.”
Talk of constructing a new hospital and new BCTC campus began in 2008, which prompted state and local officials to closely examine how to move forward.
Anticipating the discovery of additional unmarked graves after ones were found in a 2005 construction project, the Finance and Administration Cabinet’s Division of Engineering and Contract Administration hired the Kentucky Archaeological Survey in 2011 to examine the entire grounds before beginning construction of the new BCTC classroom building. This process ensured that any newly found gravesites would be carefully removed by the team of archaeologists.
Spearheading the project was Dr. David Pollack, director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, which is jointly administered by the University of Kentucky’s Department of Anthropology and the Kentucky Heritage Council/State Historic Preservation Office.
Kentucky Archaeological Survey archaeologists worked to systematically identify, unearth and temporarily relocate the remains to the University of Kentucky’s Laboratory of Archaeological Research for processing and examination.
“The examination of the human skeletal remains from the cemetery provided a unique opportunity to learn more about the lives of those who resided at Eastern State Hospital from the late 1830s to the early 1860s, and how they were treated when they died,” Pollack said.
“It is important that we remember the past even as we look forward to the opening of the new Eastern State Hospital in the near future,” Stephen Hall, commissioner of the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, said. “That facility is a mark of how far we have come and will ensure that Kentuckians have access to the treatment they need in the high-quality setting they deserve. But the history of Eastern State Hospital and the individuals who have lived and died there over its many years of operation must be preserved and honored.”
BCTC, soon to offer classes in the new building, will be responsible for upkeep of the cemetery and is committed to maintaining it as a place of remembrance and respect.
“Our new college campus will bring to this important historical site a new dynamic future of educational opportunity that will benefit the neighborhood, city and region,” Dr. Augusta Julian, president of BCTC, said in the news release.
The Finance and Administration Cabinet invested more than $60,000 in 2011 to make improvements to the once overgrown and dilapidated cemetery. New wrought iron fencing and a gated, arched entry were installed. A new walkway and landscaping were also included in the renovation of the cemetery. Memorial grave markers, once located throughout the hospital property, were relocated outside the new entry to the cemetery.
The design and work to preserve the cemetery and existing grounds was focused on honoring the former patients of Eastern State Hospital. Members of the Eastern State Hospital Preservation Project and Cemetery Club were also instrumental in the cemetery restoration.
Construction is nearing completion on the new Eastern State Hospital, which is scheduled to open this summer. The 239-bed, approximately 300,000-square-foot facility will provide a modern setting for inpatient psychiatric treatment; a new neuro-behavioral unit for specialized services for individuals with acquired brain injuries; a long-term care unit serving individuals with psychiatric disabilities requiring nursing facility level of care; and acute inpatient behavioral health treatment.
In addition to the hospital, the new Eastern State Hospital campus includes three 11,000-square-feet personal care homes, each with the capacity to serve 16 people. These personal care homes will offer less restrictive care that promotes each patient’s return to a community setting. The $129 million facility will replace the current pre-Civil War era Eastern State Hospital; the second oldest psychiatric hospital in the country.