Happy Carolina Friday Team!
This week’s exploration of the NC Vocational Rehabilitation program heritage really has more to do with the campus where the DVRS Central/State Office currently resides and its history. Many of you may already know that the City of Raleigh has purchased the Dorothea Dix Campus (Dix Hill) and will be relocating tenants from the property, including DVRS Central/State Office sometime during the next 5-8 years. The current plans are to create a mixed use destination park.
NC DVRS CENTRAL / STATE OFFICE PREVIOUS LOCATIONS:
Before we go further into the review of Dix Hill’s history, the following are the previous addresses of the NC DVRS program and approximate related time periods:
NC DVRS was a Division of the Dept. of Public Instruction when it began in 1921. It is thought that the very first office space (birthplace?) for the NC DVRS program was located at 121 West Hargett Street, Raleigh, NC. Am confident that the building has been demolished, but here is a modern street view of that sacred spot in our history:
Interesting fact: About that time (1922 ad) East Carolina University was offering free tuition for anyone who wanted to be a teacher(!):
Circa 1938- May 1959 NC DVRS Central Office was housed in the former Education Building (Now NC Justice Building) 114 West Edenton Street, Raleigh (4th floor)
NC DVRS Central Office was located at the following office addresses all in Raleigh, NC:
June 1959- May 1966 1124 Hillsboro Street, Raleigh, NC
June 1966 - July 1972 305-1/2 West Martin Street, Raleigh, NC
August 1972 – Early 1980’s 620 N. West Street, Raleigh, NC
Early 1980’s – Present 805 Ruggles Drive, Raleigh, N (Haywood Building on Dorothea Dix Campus)
The Haywood Building, current location of NC DVRS Central/State Office, was built as a dormitory facility in 1950 (left wing). The wing protruding forward on the right side of this photo was built circa 1960. It is one of over 100 buildings currently located on 310 remaining acres of the current Dorothea Dix Campus (Dix Hill). Boundaries to the campus are Western Boulevard, Lake Wheeler, and Centennial Drive in Raleigh.
EARLY HISTORY OF DIX HILL
Dorothea Dix Campus was originally Spring Hill Plantation owned by a prominent civic leader and merchant Colonel Theophilus Hunter (Sr.). The plantation was established in the 1790s, and Colonel Hunter is buried adjacent to his former home place. His son, Theophilus Hunter, Jr. inherited the property in 1798 and erected Spring Hill house in 1816. When he died 1840 the plantation comprised 5,000 acres. The state of North Carolina purchased 182 acres from his estate in 1851, which became the core of the Dix Hill property. William Grimes bought Spring Hill in 1872, and upon his death in 1908, his widow sold Spring Hill house and an additional 160 acres to the state, thereby enlarging the grounds of Dix Hospital.
The house shown below is the home built in 1816 by T Hunter Jr., which replaced the home of the Col. T. Hunter (Sr.) which was thought to be built somewhere behind the current structure. This home is still on Dix Hill and now serves as NC State University’s Japan House.
DOROTHEA DIX PLEADS FOR HUMANE TREATMENT OF INDIVIDUALS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
Who was Dorothea Lynde Dix and why is the campus named after her/her father?
Dorothea Dix (April 4, 1802 – July 18, 1887) was an American activist on behalf of individuals with mental illness who were then referenced as “the indigent insane.” Ms. Dix, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and Congress, created the first generation of American Mental Illness Treatment Facilities previously referenced as “insane asylums.” During the Civil War (War Between the States), she served as a Superintendent of Army Nurses.
In 1848 North Carolina, Dorothea Dix followed her established pattern of gathering information about local conditions which she then incorporated into a “memorial” for the NC General Assembly. Warned that the Assembly, almost equally divided between Democrats and Whigs, would shy from any legislation which involved spending substantial amounts of money, Ms. Dix nevertheless won the support of several important Democrats led by Representative John W. Ellis who presented her “memorial” to the Assembly and maneuvered it through a select committee to the floor of the House of Commons. There, however, despite appeals to state pride and humanitarian feeling, the bill failed. Ms. Dix had been staying in the Mansion House Hotel in Raleigh during the legislative debate. There she went to the aid of a fellow guest, Mrs. James Dobbins, and nursed her through her final illness. Mrs. Dobbins’s husband was a leading Democrat in the House of Commons, and her dying request of him was to support Ms. Dix’s bill. James Dobbins returned to the House and made an impassioned speech calling for the reconsideration of the bill. The legislation passed the reconsideration vote and on the 29th day of January, 1849, passed its third and final reading and became law. One of the buildings on the Dix Hill campus is named after James Dobbins.
As a result of her influence, a legislative commission was created to establish and locate a suitable site for a state-supported institution to treat individuals with mental illness.
In 1851 the commission declared:
“. . . after carefully examining the whole country in the vicinity of Raleigh, we chose a location west of the city and about one mile distant, which in our opinion was best adapted to that purpose . . . This location has a commanding view of the city and is believed to be perfectly healthy. The grounds are beautifully undulating and susceptible of improvement.”
The state hired the nationally renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis a principal in the New York-based firm of Town and Davis, to design a modern facility to accommodate the new hospital. This architect had previously designed a similar facility in Staunton, Virginia, but the Legislature did not wish to spend as much as the Virginia project had cost. Note: the facility in Staunton, which retained more of its original architectural features was being converted to historical multi-family dwelling last time I had visited Staunton.
For the next seven years, construction of the new Dix-inspired hospital advanced slowly on a hill overlooking Raleigh, and it was not until 1856 that the facility was ready to admit its first patients, which were admitted February 22, 1856. The cost of the structure, was approximately $185,000 and the cost to operate the hospital was approximately $30,000 per year. Dorothea Dix refused to allow the hospital to be named after herself, although she did permit the site on which it was built to be called Dix Hill in honor of her father. One hundred years after the first patient was admitted, the General Assembly voted to change the name of Dix Hill Asylum to Dorothea Dix Hospital.
Dorothea Dix Hospital no longer serves as a hospital as a new Central Regional Hospital in Butner, NC replaced it over a period of time in the mid-2000’s. The building now serves as office space for portions of DHHS operations.
Below is a progression of photos beginning with early photos/renderings (circa 1860’s) to more recent ones:
Below is a circa. 1900 photo view of the central pavilion of Dorothea Dix Hospital. It featured a dramatic entrance and skylight-topped rotunda. The pavilion was demolished in the early 1950s, and replaced by the modernist-styled McBride administration building.
Below is another view of architect Davis’ central pavilion, as it appeared in the 1940s.
Below we see a broad view of the central pavilion and the east wing of the hospital. All of the architectural embellishments of Davis’ original design were removed in the 1950s.
Below: a current photo of what were the male and female dormitories.
NEXT ISSUE: CIVIL WAR ACTIVITY ON DIX HILL (and other related Dix Hill topics)
Thanks for joining us for this edition of our exploration of our rich VR History and our vanishing ties with historic Dix Hill.
Until next time, fellow rehabbers, you are strongly encouraged to make your own history like the great Dorothea Dix did through your commitment to serving North Carolinians who truly need your help and an extra touch of care and compassion. Capture and live the passion of your profession!