Script: Multimedia: History of WRTC campus

Ever since it was authorized by the Minnesota Legislature in 1907, the facility that most people today know as the Willmar Regional Treatment Center, has been chang-ing.

Ever since it was authorized by the Minnesota Legislature in 1907, the facility that most people today know as the Willmar Regional Treatment Center, has been chang-ing.

Built on an open farm field north of town, the Willmar Hospital Farm for Inebriates opened in 1912 with just 37 patients.

Their treatment included working on the self-sustaining farm where oats, barley, corn, timothy, vegetables and livestock where raised.

During the hospital's first 18 months, 84 inmates escaped, which "did little to allevi-ate the skepticism and stigma that had surrounded the new institution from the be-ginning."

In March of 1917, the hospital was renamed the Willmar State Asylum and "so-called hopeless or custodial care cases" who were destined to become lifelong wards of the state" were housed at the facility.


From 1919 through the early 1930s, buildings were added to the campus in a steady schedule of new construction in an attempt to keep pace with the increasing popula-tion. New cottages for men and women, an administration building and auditorium were built.

Mentally-ill patients arrived in rail coaches from other hospitals in Minnesota, in-creasing the population to 1,471.

In 1937 the name was changed to Willmar State Hospital.

During and after World War Two, shortages of staff and money resulted in deterio-rating conditions at the hospital. Reports said patients were "forgotten people" who were "crowded like animals" and slept in "dingy attics."

Improvements were made, and in the 1950s, doctors at the Willmar State Hospital developed a "holistic approach" to treating alcohol addiction that was later called the "Minnesota Model."

During that time, the hospital had a population of 1,483 and employed about 320 staff.

A movie called "the Human Side" that addressed the nature and treatment of men-tal illness, was filmed primarily at the Willmar State Hospital and had a premier showing in Willmar on July 11, 1957, with Gov. Orville Freeman in attendance. A crowd of 15-hundred people attended the showing of the film, which received the Sil-ver Award from the American Psychiatric Association.

By 1962, community mental health centers were opening in Minnesota and the population at the Willmar State Hospital shrank to 851.


In 1969 the livestock and farm equipment at the hospital was sold and farm build-ings were demolished.

In 1985, the hospital was given a new name -- the Willmar Regional Treatment Cen-ter. In 2002, plans were initiated to close it.

Today, most of the sprawling campus is owned by a private company called Minn-West Technology.

The people who had received care at the hospital in the past - those with mental ill-ness or developmental disabilities - now receive care in community-based settings.

Ground-breaking for a new, 16-bed psychiatric hospital will be held Oct. 2 on another open farm-field in Willmar.

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Human Services will hold a celebra-tion of the hospital's history in the former rehabilitation building. The event will be held from two until four p.m., with a program at 2:30.

Regional administrator of the State Operated Services, Rod Kornrumpf, said the event will be an opportunity for people to "honor the past, embrace the present and create the future."

A statewide Celebration commemorating the work of all the former State Operated Services treatment center campuses will be held Oct. 15 in St. Paul.


Carolyn Lange reporting.

© 2007 West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn. 56201

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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