The Blackburn Inn was formerly Building 12 or the Main Administration Building for the Old Western State Hospital. It was constructed between 1825 – 1828 and at the time, Doctor Frances T. Stribling became the facility’s superintendent. Dr. Stribling was known as a prominent figure in founding the American Psychiatric Association as well as practicing what he called “moral treatment” which focused on the emotional well-being of patients. He soon decided to expand Western State Hospital’s complex to provide the best amenities possible.

Dr. Stribling went on to hire architect Thomas R. Blackburn to lead the expansive renovation project of the property in the mid 1830s. Blackburn was a respected protégé of Thomas Jefferson who was able to incorporate Jeffersonian-esque design elements, such as red bricks, whitewashed wood trim, classical moldings, and dramatic columns. Together, Stribling and Blackburn also added spacious room wings, magnificent gardens, and a hand-crafted spiral staircase leading to a cupola and rooftop veranda.

 

Western State Hospital later relocated, and the original property was transformed into a medium-security prison in 1981. Edward Murray, the first superintendent of the correctional facility, appreciated the beautiful landscape and although some prison infrastructure had to be constructed on the site, Murray preserved as much of the original property as he could.

Once the correctional facility closed, the city of Staunton took over ownership and began searching for a developer to restore the historic buildings and grounds. Richmond-based firm, Miller and Associates, proved to the city that they could take on the task. In 2006, Miller and Associates, became the new owners of the 80-acre property or what is now known as The Villages of Staunton, an upscale, mixed-use community.

The Blackburn Inn officially opened in June 2018 as Virginia’s newest, luxury boutique hotel. The development team was able to maintain many of its architectural features including the signature spiral staircase, classical arches, hardwood pine floors, and traditional fireplaces, all while creating 49 unique guest rooms, an art gallery, and an intimate on-site restaurant.

In celebrating the centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, here is a little unknown fact of a historic women in history at Western State Hospital.

The Blackburn Inn resides within old Western State Hospital. The first director of the hospital, Dr. Francis T. Stribling, was appointed in 1840 and served until his death in 1874. Dr. Stribling, the first graduate from the University of Virginia Medical School in 1830, embraced the concept of “Moral Medicine” for Western’s patients. He was a reformer who worked closely with Dorothea Dix, known to have visited Stribling at the hospital, in their shared efforts to understand and treat mental health clients in humane treatment facilities

Dorothea Dix was an early 19th century activist who drastically changed the medical field during her lifetime. She championed causes for both the mentally ill and indigenous populations. By doing this work, she openly challenged 19th century notions of reform and illness. Additionally, Dix helped recruit nurses for the Union army during the Civil War. As a result, she transformed the field of nursing.

 

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