Through the Gates of Eloise (Eloise Hospital, formerly known as the Wayne County Poorhouse and Asylum)

Welcome to Eloise Hospital (formerly known as the Wayne County Poorhouse and Asylum) on Michigan Avenue in Westland, Michigan. Eloise is said to be one of the most haunted locations in southeastern Michigan.

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Known today as the Kay Beard building, the first two floors of Eloise’s former main administrative structure are presently being used for Wayne County offices. The building also contains a small museum dedicated to the asylum, which is open to the public.

In 1839, Wayne County, Michigan purchased the Black Horse Tavern, a stagecoach stop located here on the Chicago Road, for use as a poorhouse. Early on, the Wayne County Poorhouse accepted not only the county’s indigent, but the infirm and mentally ill as well. The mentally ill were kept in chains and housed on the upper floor of a farm building used to keep pigs.

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A stone well on the grounds is a haunting reminder of the many wishes and prayers that were undoubtedly whispered throughout Eloise’s long and sometimes painful history.

During the mid to late nineteenth century, the Wayne County Poorhouse and Asylum became one of the largest public health-care facilities in the United States. The most advanced medical and psychiatric treatments were used there.

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Approaching the turn of the last century, the number of patients grew and new buildings were constructed to meet the demand. In 1894, a post office opened on the grounds with the name Eloise, Michigan after Eloise Dickerson Davock, the only child of Freeman B. Dickerson, the Postmaster of Detroit and President of the Governing Board of the Wayne County Poorhouse. Eloise was a name that became synonymous with what developed into a 902-acre, 75-building complex.

During the early twentieth century, Eloise physicians pioneered the use of X-rays for diagnostic purposes, radium for the treatment of cancer, and “open air” treatment for tuberculosis. Psychiatric patients underwent electroshock and insulin shock therapy as well as music, recreational, and television therapy. As decades passed, many of the unfortunates who passed through the Eloise Asylum’s gates would never leave.

By the late 1920s, Eloise’s population had peaked at 10,000 patients and 2,000 staff. A city in itself, Eloise had its own farm, cannery, bakery, cemetery, employee housing, police and fire departments, a powerhouse, trolley and train stations, and 16 kitchens that served 30,000 meals daily. Many of the buildings were connected by a complex system of underground tunnels, which still exist today.

In 1945, Eloise was renamed Wayne County General Hospital and Infirmary. The new name was intended to reflect the modern “scientific” approaches to medical care that had been instituted at the facility. Wayne County General quickly came to be considered one of the best hospitals in the nation and it played a major part in metro Detroit’s health network. It was the only acute-care medical and surgical hospital between Detroit and Ypsilanti. Despite the name change, most locals continued to refer to the facility as Eloise Hospital. It was during this time that my father was born at Eloise, in the fall of 1945.

Psychiatric care ended at Eloise Hospital in 1979 and the general hospital closed in 1984. Most of the complex’s 75 buildings were razed by the mid-1980s. More than 7,100 patients are buried in the Eloise cemetery, their graves marked only by numbered blocks.

All that remains of the original 75 buildings are the old fire station, the powerhouse, the bakery and commissary buildings, and the main infirmary. The infirmary and the small handful of decaying outbuildings remain at their original location on the north side of Michigan Avenue between Henry Ruff and Merriman Roads in present day Westland, Michigan.  The main infirmary is presently being used as temporary housing for homeless families. Its future is unknown. UPDATE MARCH 30, 2016: The bakery has burned down in an arson fire.

An interesting bit of trivia is that a 1946 movie from the UK,  “Genius in an Asylum”, was filmed in part at Eloise and includes a brief clip of then Eloise Superintendent Thomas K. Gruber explaining the asylum’s use of music therapy.

UPDATE JUNE 2, 2014:  A new Hollywood horror film titled “Eloise” starring Eliza Dushku is currently in production.  The movie, which will be filmed in part on location, is set in modern day and tells the story of Jacob Martin and his three friends, who break into the abandoned institution in hopes of finding a death certificate to prove an inheritance.  While inside the asylum, the film shows the group “discovering that the institution houses a horrifying history as well as the truth about their own tragic pasts.”  I just happened to be in the Eloise area today, conducting some business at the Wayne County Clerk’s satellite office there, and got caught in traffic, which was snarled up by the movie’s production crews.  More on this to come, I am sure!

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The remains of the Eloise powerhouse, which was until recently crowned by the “ELOISE” smokestack, a well-known landmark to Wayne County residents.

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Another view of the remains of the Eloise powerhouse, circa 1924.

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The fire station, circa 1896, is the oldest Eloise structure still standing,

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The fire station, circa 1896, is the oldest Eloise structure still standing,

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The old Eloise bakery. UPDATE MARCH 30, 2016: The bakery has burned down in an arson fire.

Sources: Historical markers on site, AsylumProjects.org:”Eloise Asylum”, MLive: “‘Eloise’ thriller with Eliza Dushku puts focus on Metro Detroit’s psychiatric hospital past”

63 Responses to “Through the Gates of Eloise (Eloise Hospital, formerly known as the Wayne County Poorhouse and Asylum)

  • Where is the cemetery located today?

  • I currently live in the homeless shelter and wanted to know what our building was used for. I got spooked last night before my three year old said there was a lady outside the window and he jumped under the covers, I just thought that was real weird and decided to look it up and see if it was haunted because I heard the patients use to get tortured. Does anyone have any info.

  • I was at the cemetery last year .. the stones are about a foot deep .. I’ll be back this year to investigate it further .. nothing but a field honestly.

  • I remember as a child always driving by Eloise in our family car. There was always a lady that sat on the wooden swing that was at the very corner of MI Ave and Merriman. She would hold up her dolls for people to see that drove by. Something I never forgot. I also remember seeing the gardens and people working them. It’s too bad so much was knocked down. I sure hope they don’t bother the Well, it is something that should always be there. I wonder if it was actually used for water or just for looks?

    • Thank you for sharing your poignant memories of the lady on the swing and the people in the garden. I, too, wish that more of the structures would have been preserved. I have very few memories of them; mostly I remember seeing the smokestack each time we passed by. The well was still there the last time I walked the grounds in 2010. There is a photo of it in this blog post. Thanks again!

  • Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this post plus the rest of the site is very good.

  • Saved as a favorite, I like your blog!

  • Patients were not tortured but treated rather well. And I remember being little and seeing the lady with the dolls as well as other patients mulling around behind the fence. I also always asked if I could go visit them as they looked sad. My mom would always say no. I didn’t understand why until many years later. Eloise was one of the first if not the first hospital to use x-rays for diagnosis performed by Dr. Albarran. Patients came from Detroit and other communities to have x-rays done. It also housed the first kidney dialysis unit in the State of Michigan and pioneered in the field of Music Therapy.

  • I had read the book Annie’s ghost and I instantly became quite curious about Eloise. Your article is very interesting. Thank you.

  • I remember people walking around outside close to the iron fence in the 60’s 70’s.My grandpa’s uncle lived there and is buried there. My Uncles father retired from there in the 60’s

  • My sister was born in the “new part of Eloise”/Wayne County Gen in 1962 the new part seemed have great promise because it was new and “modern” as opposed to the older part that was always scary to me when I was a child, and every now and then we would hear of someone “breaking out” which really scared me, as for the grounds on Michigan Av I thought they were always well kept, a close family friend worked there for many years and his wife would always take us w/her to pick him up from work and she enjoyed scaring us by showing us where the “Morgue” was.It is so sad all of the old buildings weren’t preserved, it has such rich history…

  • My name is Ruby McElroy I was born on November 20, 1974 at (as it states on my birth certificate) Child’s Birthplace: Eloise, Wayne County. Is there anyway you can find out exactly where I was born. I don’t have email just Facebook. I live in Adrian, Michigan currently.

    • Westland, Michigan. Located on Michigan Ave. between Henry Ruff and Merriman.

    • If you were born at Eloise in 1974 it would have to be at the Wayne County General Hospital which was located on the grounds.

    • The Wayne County General Hospital, also known as the blue building, had an OB unit and that’s where you were born. I think it was on the third floor. I worked at the main hospital in the 70s in ICU, which was on the 2nd floor.

      • I was also born in Eloise in 1967. Was the OB unit for all pregnant women, or for those suffering from mental health or unwed mothers. Is the blue building still standing?

    • You would have been born in the sky blue colored modern building know as Wayne County General Hospital.

    • I was also born there. I was put up for adoption through the protestant youth organization (Christian Family Services). I was born on January 23rd, 1973. Trying to find my biological parents. I had a body cast a birth from having a dislocated hip. I don’t have much to go on other than that.

      • Shawn – I also was born there and put up for adoption in 1967 and had absolutely no information, so I understand your frustration. But this year, I have found the identity of my birth father and on the trail of the mother by using 23andme. Good luck in your search.

    • It would be Wayne County General Hospital.

  • As I write this, seems one of the remaining buildings is burning. Seems it might be the old bakery. I live on Livonia not that far from Eloise and worked there as a nurse in the general hospital from around 1970 until its change to Southwest General. Took my psychiatric training there in 1968 when it was still its own city with a fire department and its own zip code — Eloise, Michigan.

    • My mom was born there on March 2, 1970.

    • When did you work at WCGH? Did you work in the OB unit? I was born there in 1973 and was put up for adoption. Looking to find my biological parents.

  • Interesting thread. I toured some of the facility in the 1962-63 time frame in association with a psychology class (either at Dearborn HS or Henry Ford CC – where ironically the instructor was the same). Prior to that I remember wondering what it was about. Afterward, good to know that it existed, but convinced that the kind of work involved was not for me.

  • I have a relative (my grandfather) that, according to one source, appears to be buried in the cemetery. Is there any database where one can research the cause of death of a patient at Eloise? He passed away in 1935.

  • It was the fire station that burned down in March 2016. You have beautiful pictures of it before it was caught or set on fire (they believe).

  • My Grandfather worked there as a barber. Wished I knew the years. His name was Doris Foley. The years may be 1965-? His wife also worked there as a nurse. Mary Foley. If anyone knows of my relatives..i would love to hear your stories. Email me at loribid77@comcast.net. I have enjoyed reading all these posts.

  • For those curious about the cemetery here is a link for some of the graves and names that have been documented.

    https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=454&CScn=Eloise&CScntry=4&CSst=24&CScnty=1308&

  • Curious, in 1968 was Eloise a mainstream hospital for the area, or primarily serving the community for the mentally ill?

    • My daughter was born there in 1967 and I was hospitalized there for bleeding (kidney) and the hospital was just a regular ‘modern’ type that treated everything. Seemed pretty mainstream to me though it did accept those unable to pay.

    • Eloise was for the poor and mentally ill. Wayne County General Hospital was on the back side going away from Michigan Avenue and going down Merriman. Everyone went to the hospital in the city. It was modern, my sister worked there. It was on their property and I believe some doctors also worked over in Eloise. Eloise was behind tall iron fences. I remember people walking outside in white gowns and white socks and yes, an old lady with dolls. I lived across the street on the other side of Merriman on the dirt streets that hook into Michigan Avenue.

  • My mother was an inpatient there for psychiatric issues in 1960. Her name was Lois Sheldon. She was thirty. I wondered if there was anyone there that remembers her? She had me five years after in 1965 & died when I was sixteen.

  • I think if we treated our less fortunate friends of society with a state of the art facility and humanitarian a spirit. Redeveloped this property to house the homeless and mentally ill. Make an example for the world to see we could change humanity for the better.

    • Well most of the Eloise Compound is where the Kroger’s, auto parts and video store are now standing. In fact, the place where the woman would swing and show off her dolls is where the BP price sign is now. I’m 65 and I remember the lady with the dolls too. All my 3 children were born at Wayne County General Hospital which was less than 30 years old when it was torn down. It was a time when there were “payless” paydays if you worked for Wayne County. The county ran out of money. It could not afford to keep it open. It cost half the budget to tear it down.

  • I grew up in nearby Garden City in the early fifties. This whole area was full of farms, fields, and wooded areas. We were all taught, adults and children, that if you were outdoors and heard their siren to go inside and stay behind locked doors until the all clear second siren sounded.. The siren meant that one of the mentally ill patients escaped and could be a threat.. It was really creepy and scary to hear that siren.

  • My Great Grandmother was a patient at Eloise, she also died there in 1961, she is buried at Mt. Carmel cemetery in Wyandotte. Whom would I contact about obtaining copies of her records?

  • I am looking for information about my Grand Uncle Marvin Hendershot who was at Eloise. I am not sure of the dates that he was there. Nor why or what he did there. He passed away in 1942. Any help would be appreciated thank you.

  • My grandfather was a patient at Eloise (Wayne County General Hospital) probably around 1930 until around late 1970’s or early 1980’s. My mother never had contact with him, but someone let her know that he had died. He went to live with a sister and that’s where he died. His name is Russell J. Martin. I would like to find out when he passed away and where he is buried. Would anyone know how I could get any information regarding his stay at Eloise and after?

  • Are there tours for this place like in Alcatraz in Cali? I’m so into this stuff, learning history AND spooky haunted tours. I love seeing these things up close and seriously feel privileged to be in one looking around. Even if it’s just a tour. This has me so excited to learn more!!

  • I was born there May 8, 1967 and was adopted the following January through Catholic Social Services. How would I go about getting any info on that? All I know is my natural mom was 16 when she had me.

    • I was born there on May 30, 1967. We could have almost been crib mates! I would also like to get any information possible. I was adopted through Lutheran Services.

  • As a 6 year old, I was treated at the hospital for putting my hand through the blades of an electric mixer. I can remember driving under the big arched gates. What I remember is that, at that time, they did not separate emergency psychiatric from emergency physical. I was in a room for several hours with a woman strapped down to a table. The woman’s daughter and my mother stood between us trying to shield me from seeing the woman. I remember being told that I would not use my fingers again, but I type 85 words a minutes so I guess they were wrong.

  • I worked at WCGH from 1971 to 1984 when it was sold. I saw miracles performed that saved many people. The people who worked there were dedicated and caring. I still remember a patient named Robert whom the wonderful staff cared for to his end. His body just gave out.

    A true loss to the people of Wayne County when it closed.

    • I was born at Wayne County back in January of 1973 and was put up for adoption. I had a dislocated hip at birth and had to wear a body cast. What kind of hospital was this?

    • What part of the hospital did you work at? I was born in January 23rd, 1973. I had dislocated hips at birth and had to wear a body cast. I was put up for adoption.

  • What was the address and zip code of the old Wayne County General Hospital?

  • I was born at Eloise Hospital in 1977. I think it was referred to as Wayne County General Hospital. I remember my mother having to jump through hoops when I was 15 in order to get my birth certificate. I cannot remember if she got it from the city or Westland or Wayne or Lansing. The hospital has a rich history and it fascinates me. I would love to learn more.

  • My broken arm was set and put in a cast when I was 4 years old, in 1965, at Wayne County General Hospital’s emergency room. I’ve lived in Chicago for 30 years; I didn’t know until tonight that it had been torn down. Now I see that you can tour the Eloise Kay Beard Building. Wow.

  • I was born in Eloise according to my birth certificate. My mother was a patient there on and off for many years. I was her 10th child. I never knew her. After Eloise closed, she lived most of her life in a homeless state. Is there any way possible to obtain records of her time there or are they all discarded? I’m just curious and would like to know more about her. Thank you.

  • I was born there in July 1968.

  • My birth certificate tells me I was born here Jan 1970. How can I find out if I was adopted and who was my biological mother. This is scary to find out it was a hospital for mentally ill. I was always told my mother was taken to wrong hospital from eastside of Detroit. Please help me of you can for closure. The woman I know as my mother died 3 years ago.

  • Like many on this site, I was born in Eloise in 1967. Since I have learned more about Eloise, I have been disturbed with thoughts that my birth mother was put away in a mental hospital until I was born and possibly treated for depression afterwards. Can you tell me more of how young, unwed girls were treated in the 60’s?

  • My Grandmother was taken to Eloise for cancer treatment and died there due to radiation burns. I know it was an experimental procedure at the time and I like to think that she helped our medical team today with knowing how much radiation was too much. Anyway my question is does anyone know what building they housed the patients for radium treatment in? Is this the building that’s still standing?

  • My husband’s mother and uncle lived in the poorhouse at Eloise during the sixties. Their names were Lucille and Harold Moore. Lucille was deaf. I never met them but often wondered whatever happened to them. I’m pretty sure they are buried in the Eloise cemetery. I would greatly appreciate any information on them. thank you.

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