The Power Plant building consisted of four rooms: boiler room, engine room, washing room and ironing room. My father was engineer and was assisted by William Mellinger who lived on Brooklyn Avenue near the Wabash Railroad. They also operated the ammonia refrigeration system installed below the patient’s kitchen. A patient who I now think looked like my version of a Prussian army officer brought coal in from outside with a wheelbarrow, and took ashes and cinders out to the cinder pile. He would be stripped to the waist and would pull red hot clinkers out on the floor in front of the boiler, then turn the hose on them before hauling them out. It looked to me like a hot, dirty and threatening job, but in 1930, I saw foreign-born men still doing this same work at a brick plant in Niles, Ohio. In the bottom of a large pit in the boiler room was a steam driven well pump that moved slowly up and down to pump water into an overhead tank. The water was very hard.
The steam engine in the next room had a big flywheel with a leather belt on it driving a dynamo. It was also belted to shafting in the laundry. The engine did not run continuously. When it did not run we had no lights. The engine would be started with its connected load and the lights would gradually increase in brightness as the engine came up to speed.
The horizontal washing machines and extractor were all belt driven. There were barrels of soap powder. After the clothing was taken out of the extractor they would go into the dryer in the ironing room. The dryer was a sheet metal enclosure lined with steam coils into which clothes racks were rolled on a track. The room was hot. In front of the dryers were the ironing boards attached to the wall. Each iron had a detachable handle. When the iron became cool it was carried over to a coal stove where it was left to be heated and another hot iron picked up by the person doing the ironing. The large outside door to the ironing room was always open if the weather permitted. One patient who worked or spent time at the laundry was a large woman who was said to be part Indian. This lady would step up on the doorstep and then jump off and would immediately repeat the action. This would go on for long periods of time.
THE INSANE WARD
Some people came to the Institution against their will. Only a few were placed in the Insane Ward. My opinion is that the Ward was not a punishment facility, but a place to hold people until they were finally committed to a mental institution. Some were not wanted at the jail downtown because of their constant yelling and loud obscentities. In some cases patients were probably locked up for fighting, but not for long and not often. The building was two-story, with the right wing for women and the left for men. The cells had iron bars and a door facing the inside and a screened window on the outside wall. I believe each wing had 8 cells on each floor, making 32 total. The long-time attendant on the men’s side was William Dornte.
My Aunt Gladys says that a female patient whose husband was a conductor on the Pennsylvania Railroad attacked Grandma and got her down. She might have been injured but she was helped by another patient named Grandma Landski whose son was a professional baseball player. Grandma Landski was ordinarily quiet and peaceful but when she was needed, she gave support.
One time a man who was locked in his cell on the second floor pulled his toilet loose from the floor and with it broke a hole through the outside wall under the window. He climbed through the hole, dropped to the ground and went around to the front of the Main Building. He had torn up sheets and wrapped them around his head and body. He turned handsprings on the walk leading to the road. He was finally subdued and confined again.
The yelling is what I remember most about the Insane Ward. There was a high wood fence around the exercise area in the back of the Ward, but the noise came from the cells of individuals who were inclined to call sometimes night and day. The calls might be for help or might be just a string of profanity or just yelling. There were not many patients in the Ward. When we were living in the little house on the hill, we were not far from the Insane Ward and could clearly hear the yelling. When particularily violent patients were confined, my mother would be afraid. In the 1920s, I had the privilege of touring a part of a mental hospital in Ohio and the yelling of some patients there reminded me of the noise from the Insane Ward.
The porch between the Main Building and the Ward was where the farm wagons would back up and unload melons several times during the summer. Patients helped themselves, ate standing up, spit the seeds on the ground and had a general good time.
Aunt Gladys told me that one time she and some of her friends raided the watermelon patch, broke melons and ate only the hearts. One of the boys was from a farm near Rome City. The next night this same boy returned with some of his boy friends and they were caught by a farmhand and locked in the Ward. When Grandpa heard about it, he was angry and had them released at once. They never returned.
I WAS RAISED AT THE POOR FARM-Continued by Cindy Cornwell
The following is the continuation of a memoir written in 1986 by Carl C. Johnston, a reprint from the Old Fort News 1986, provided by The History Center, Fort Wayne courtesy of Marilyn Horrell.
The memoir, which includes some recollections of Carl C. Johnston’s aunt, Gladys Marie Young of Fort Wayne, concerns his youth at the Allen County Asylum under the superintendency of Carl’s grandfather, William H. Johnston, who governed the institution from 1908 to 1920.