The Disturbing History

An old photo of the Nowata branch with an unrecognizable figure standing outside.

This building which sits at 304 West Cherokee Avenue has a deep and dark history associated with it. Before it was used as a church or an Indian clinic, it was constructed to be used as a branch of Eastern State Hospital (ESH) for special cases and was not accessible by the public. Eastern State Hospital is located in Vinita, OK and is now abandoned and condemned. The Nowata branch of this mental institution was home to a horrible accident in which not much details are known. The few details that are known are presented to you now.

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907; the mentally ill were first cared for through contract with private sanitariums. Some of these private sanitariums were very exclusive and nobody knew exactly what kind of treatment the patients may or may not have received while they were in there. In 1909 the Eastern Oklahoma Hospital for the insane was established by Oklahoma state legislature to be located at Vinita, Craig County; on a 160 tract of land given to the state by the city of Vinita for this purpose. Construction of the ESH was completed in 1912.

The two story building of the Nowata branch that sits on the property now is a mere skeleton of what use to be there. In 1913 the building was constructed with a basement, and two floors; it was later annexed on to the south and to the west of the building. The South addition (where the flag poles now sit) was for additional patient rooms and a few doctors offices. The West addition (facing the alley way) from what we can find was used for two offices and a chimney that lead from the basement. The basement is the most interesting part of what the building use to be. On the West side directly underneath the West addition, there was a crematorium and workshop. What this workshop contained exactly is not known, but we assume it was meant for the more questionable methods used in the early days to treat mental diseases. The crematoria was probably used to dispose of the deceased failed experiments conducted in the workshop. Since there were very few, if any, regulations on mental institutions at the time, the occurrences and disappearances of patients went unnoticed by police and other members of the town. The only complaint that was received from time to time was a strange smell that seemed to emit from the building on occasion.

Years later (estimated mid 1920s to early 1930s) there was a fire in the building, cause unknown. An eyewitness recalls seeing a body of a young nurse being removed from the building with the “eyes missing”. It’s reported  later that this particular witness was committed to ESH and all reports by said witness were discredited. After the fire the few survivors were relocated to the main branch of ESH in Vinita and the building in Nowata was renovated. The basement was closed off and sealed with brick along with whatever it’s contents were, still inside. The South annex was turned into a sanctuary for a church, and the West annex was taken out completely. The building was re-bricked in places where the fire had scorched the original brick. The grounds were landscaped to further close off access to the basement. After the church was closed, the sanctuary was taken down and a new parking lot constructed for the Cherokee Indian Clinic that closed in the mid 1990s. What is left is a two story building with two parking lots and few clues to what use to exist on the grounds. The door that leads to the basement is still located in the building, but upon opening the door that locks from the inside, you’ll find that it is now a square closet space with a cement floor. The color of the bricks on the west side of the building show that they are older than the bricks on the rest of the building (where the West annex use to be). If one knows where to look, you’ll see what secrets hide in plain sight at “The Asylum”.