The Anoka State Hospital in Anoka, Minnesota has gone by several names over its century of existence – First State Asylum for the Insane, Anoka State Asylum, Anoka State Hospital and its current name, the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center – but aside from its reputation as being an insufferable sanitarium, it is also known to be haunted by the ghosts of many who died within its sinister walls.

The ‘First State Asylum for the Insane’ was built after a state legislation was passed in 1898 calling for the construction of a state mental institution in Anoka, Minnesota. The asylum opened in 1900 and for the next 5 decades was solely a patient-transfer hospital.

Beneath the asylum is a virtual maze of tunnels, which are where most of the ghostly hauntings of the Anoka State Hospital are said to take place.

Mental patients were transferred from overcrowded asylums looking to downgrade the population. The first 100 patients were all males from St. Peter State Hospital, all deemed “chronic incurables”. In the next six years, 115 female patients were also transferred over from the same sanitarium.
By 1909, the state decided to use the Anoka State Hospital for female transfer patients only, while all males would be sent to the state hospital in Hastings. When the asylum received an additional wing in 1925, that rule was reversed and male patients were once more accepted. By then, the First State Asylum for the Insane had been rebranded the Anoka State Asylum (1919).

Anoka State Hospital 1937

In 1937, it was renamed once more, this time to the Anoka State Hospital (Photo on right Anoka State Hospital 1937), presumably to sound less abrasive for the patients and their families. It wasn’t until 1951 that the institution was established as a receiving hospital, admitting new patients rather than transfers only.

There is likely a long string of abuse, physical and mental mistreatment and experimental methods that occurred at the Anoka State Hospital. Being less infamous than some other mental institutions of that era, you don’t hear much about the way patients were treated in Anoka, but an astounding track record for diabolical neglect and intentional cruelty tends to follow all insane asylums in those days.

It is said that patients used the underground tunnels to attempt breaking out of the Anoka State Hospital. Within these tunnels, those who could not find a way out, as so few would, often reverted to suicide as their new escape route. There are several accounts of patients hanging themselves from the heavy pipes that ran along the ceilings of the tunnels.

Reports of strange noises, sinister whispers and eerie laughter have been reported down in the tunnels. Footsteps approach, but no one is there when you turn around. The air feels suddenly cold, and just as suddenly returns to its previous temperature.

This seemingly paranormal activity continued for many years, and is still reported today by those with access to the tunnels. They have been closed off for years, but are still accessible, when necessary, by maintenance workers and security personal.

Today, the Anoka State Hospital – which underwent yet another name change in 1987, henceforth known as the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center, likely for the same reasons as its prior rebranding – continues to admit patients from the Anoka area and beyond, including Hennepin, Ramsey and Sherburne counties.

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The evolution of Anoka’s State Hospital

1899 – MN Legislature established Anoka Asylum for Insane.
1900 – Facility opened. 113 patients transferred from St. Peter State Hospital.
1900 – Farmstead consisted of two barns, granaries, machine sheds and outbuildings. It eventually built up to approximately 100 head of Holstein cattle, (well known at the State Fairs as a prize dairy herd), 6 teams of horses, 200 hogs, 1000 chickens and 200 turkeys. Vegetables were canned there, homemade jellies and jams preserved and butter and ice cream made.
1904 – August 29 – Cottage 1 (Women’s Cottage) opened and women were admitted. It was planned that Anoka would care for women patients with just enough men on the grounds to milk cows, shovel snow, etc. This resulted in a disproportionately large number of women (approximately 1,000 as compared to 400 men). To care for the approximately 100 women in each cottage, there was an average of 1.8 employees per shift.
1908-1915 – Cottages 2 through 10 were completed and occupied. The buildings were placed in a circle to follow the “Cottage Plan” or the “Home Idea”, where it was felt the separate buildings would allow a closer relationship between the attendants and the patients. There would be useful employment for the patients either on the farmstead or assisting with housekeeping tasks in the cottage. Patients who were sent here or placed here were considered to be long-term residents. It was understood that they would live and work here for the rest of their lives.
1919 – Law made this Anoka State Asylum.
1920 – Influenza epidemic; decrease of 176 patients during this period; many died of influenza.
1925 – Occupational therapy was introduced and a teacher of “industrial work” for women patients was hired.
1935 – First full-time woman psychiatrist, Dr. Gladys Trummald, was hired.
1937 – Name changed to Anoka State Hospital.
1940 – Fully approved by the American Hospital Association.
1946 – Electroshock machine purchased and first utilized.
1947 – Anoka State Hospital became one of the first hospitals in the Union to be approved for funding by the MN Legislature to provide a Tuberculosis Center to serve the Minnesota State mental hospitals.
1950 – Construction began to build a Receiving Building to accommodate sixty patients for careful study, diagnosis and treatment. Renamed the Miller Building after Superintendent Dr. Edmund Miller.
1950-1969 – The Anoka State Hospital became the Tuberculosis (TB) Center for mentally ill in the state and was located in the Burns Building. Prisoners from Stillwater were also sent here for TB treatments and were housed in Cottage 8.
1955 – Tranquilizers were first used to treat patients.
1961 – First state hospital in Minnesota to be accredited.
1965 – Cottage 6 and 7 joined to form the Adult Psychiatric Center (APC); later renamed the Vail Building after Dr. David J. Vail.
1966 – Farming operations ceased.
1970 – Chemical Dependency treatment program opened.
1971 – General surgery program closed.
1980 – Cronin Building completed and occupied by the Chemical Dependency Treatment Program on the grounds of the former Burns Building.
1985 – Name change to the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center.
1995 – November 8 – Groundbreaking ceremony for new facility. Excavation delayed to March 11, 1997.
1999 – April 28 – Patients scheduled to move from old facility to new facility.
2000 – Centennial celebration.