Staunton, VA

This abandoned Virginia hospital once used forced sterilization for the mentally ill

Sara B
Photo by“DeJarnette Center” by SchuminWeb

The DeJarnette Sanitarium opened in 1932 as a semi-private facility, founded by Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, who was also an advocate of Eugenics and the forced sterilization of the mentally ill or any he deemed defective.

At the time, he was not the only one in favor of Eugenics for the mentally ill; he was, however, one of the most vocal, even stating that Nazi Germany was ¨beating us at our own game¨. Once a thriving mental hospital, it is now a crumbling building and is said to be one of the most haunted places on earth because of its dark history.


The DeJarnette Sanitarium sits on a hill in Staunton, Virginia, and was founded in 1932 by Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, a well-regarded physician among the white Virginia elite. DeJarnette was also the director of the nearby Western State Mental Institution.

Initially, the Sanitarium functioned as a private facility catering to middle-income patients and operating independently from the nearby state facility Western State Hospital. However, DeJarnett had been in the sanitarium business since 1906 and petitioned for Virginia to pass a law legalizing compulsory sterilization.

As a strong advocate of Eugenics, especially forced sterilization for those with mental illness, and he considered them defective. He was often referring to those with epilepsy as feebleminded.

Dr. DeJarnette believed the only way to preserve society's integrity was through sterilization, a similar thought that Hitler had at the time. However, at the same time, he was a big advocate for more humane mental health treatment. He was so passionate about sterilization that he wrote a poem:


“Oh, why are you men so foolish –
You breeders who breed our men
Let the fools, the weaklings and crazy
Keep breeding and breeding again?
The criminal, deformed, and the misfit,
dependent, diseased, and the rest –
As we breed the human family
The worst is as good as the best.

Go to the house of some farmer,
Look through his barns and sheds,
Look at his horses and cattle,
Even his hogs are thorough breds,
Then look at his stamp on his children,
Low browed with the monkey jaw,
Ape handed, and silly, and foolish –
Bred true to Mendel’s law.”

DeJarnette performed hundreds of legally forced sterilizations, and most of his patients had the following disabilities:

  • Mental disabilities
  • Epilepsy
  • Alcoholics
  • Those deemed promiscuous

Public opinion on Eugenics post Holocaust

Also, many of his victims were poor, African-American, or Native Americans. However, after the Holocaust, the public opinion of Eugenics in the US changed, and it was deemed inhumane pseudoscience.

DeJarnette's reputation was ruined. However, forced sterilization did not stop in Virginia until the 1970s. However, by 1938, it is said with the help of DeJarnette, the US had sterilized over 27,000 people.

Inhumane practices performed at DeJarnette Sanitarium.

Forced sterilization was not the only procedure performed by Dr. DeJarnette. He also performed other human experiments, such as taking blood from the most hyperactive children and injecting it into those who were depressed. He was also known for roaming the halls and quoting Adolf Hitler.

By 1940, he was ousted, and the Sanitarium was turned into a children's mental hospital in 1975 when the state of Virginia took over. The facility was renamed the DeJarnette Center for Human Development.

In 2001, the facility was renamed the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents again due to the DeJarnette name association with Eugenics. As well as the state of Virginia also publically apologized.


In 1996, the center was relocated to a new facility near the Western State Hospital, and the original building was closed for good. It now remains abandoned and not open to the public.


Even though the building is now closed to visitors, there have been past paranormal investigations. Many say you get an eerie feeling when you step on the ground. Other patient stories include being locked up in their room for hours, and others remember hearing screaming from the basement.

Some have reported seeing figures walking through the halls at night, white-greyish. As well as it was common for them to strap kids down and pump them full of medications, leaving most walking around like zombies. A doctor who once worked there stated they performed lobotomies on children who misbehaved shock therapy to unruly teens.

Due to the inhumane treatment at the facility, it is no surprise that it is deemed to be haunted.

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