National Historic Preservation Trust’s "2009 11 Most Endangered List" Includes Human Services Center, Yankton, South Dakota

This year marks the 22nd annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since 1988, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has used this list as a powerful alarm to raise awareness of the serious threats facing the nation’s greatest treasures. It has become one of the most effective tools in the fight to save the country’s irreplaceable architectural, cultural and natural heritage. In the days leading up to and during the National Preservation Trust’s Nashville Conference, Nashville Past And Present will highlight the historic buildings, structures and places on this years most endangered list.

The oldest public institution in the state, the Human Services Center – formerly the South Dakota Hospital for the Insane – played an important role in South Dakota history. It was here in the 1890’s that Dr. Leonard Mead implemented his groundbreaking idea of creating an environment that would be therapeutically beneficial for patients instead of the sterile, fear-provoking asylums of the day. As he added buildings to the campus in the former territorial capital of Yankton, it became more New England college than prairie hospital. Surrounding a landscaped central park, the 65-acre campus, constructed between 1882 and 1942, featured neoclassical, Art Deco, Italianate, Prairie and Neo-Renaissance buildings, many constructed of South Dakota-quarried Sioux quartzite. Each building had sun-drenched dayrooms with columns and attractive architectural features, like Carrara marble and granite staircases. Today, more than 125 years after the institution was founded, the State is moving forward with plans to demolish many of the historic buildings on the Yankton campus.

In 1899, a fire at the hospital took the lives of 17 patients. In the aftermath, Dr. Mead ensured that all subsequent buildings were rock-solid – constructed of stone, with foot-thick walls, clay tile roofing and concrete for fireproofing. An amateur architect, Dr. Mead left his artistic mark in the wide porches, fan and Palladian windows, pedimented porticos, balustrades, bracketed eaves, arches, pillars, coffered ceilings and terrazzo floors that adorn the campus.

The collection of buildings on the Human Services Center (HSC) campus is both architecturally significant and representative of the style of treatment for the mentally ill between 1880 and 1940. Many patients spent their entire lives at the hospital, and, as a result, the majority of the endangered buildings once served as patient wards. The campus also includes barns and farm buildings where patients would engage in therapeutic activities such as growing vegetables.

n the 1990s, the State determined that the HSC’s historic buildings were no longer needed and constructed a new mental health facility on campus called the Mickelson Center. Since that time, many historic buildings have been left vacant – without even utility service or routine maintenance. Despite being neglected, the buildings have endured because of their solid construction.

In 2007, the South Dakota Joint Appropriations Committee voted to approve funds to begin demolition of selected historic buildings on the HSC campus, but budget constraints resulted in a temporary reprieve. The continuing economic downturn prevented a similar appropriation in 2008, but a future ask will more than likely be made and could be approved.

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