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By: Lauren Mojkowski
“The Benet and Fisher Auditoriums and the Horger Library represent the progress the State of South Carolina is making in the field of mental health and represents another milestone in the hospital’s effort to provide a well-rounded treatment program for its mentally ill citizens.” –Dr. William S. Hall, 1956
The above statement by Superintendent of the South Carolina State Hospital Dr. William S. Hall shows the pride evident in the construction of one of the most recent buildings located on the South Carolina State Hospital campus. The Benet Auditorium and Horger Library building on the South Carolina State Hospital campus, designed by local architectural firm Lafaye, Fair, and Lafaye and opened in 1956, was the first purpose-built location for recreational therapy services and occupational therapy services on the Bull Street campus. The Benet Auditorium/Horger Library building is significant to the campus in several ways. First, it is the best example of modern architecture on the site. Second, its construction shows the importance of occupational and recreational therapy in the treatment of the mentally ill starting in the mid-twentieth century. Lastly, the construction of a similar building, the Fisher Auditorium, at the State Park campus, provides interesting information about the segregation of mental health care during the mid-twentieth century in South Carolina.
Prior to the construction of the Benet Auditorium and Horger Library, the patients and staff at the Columbia campus of the State Hospital used a small auditorium on the third floor of the administration building (now called the Babcock building.) However, the small, cramped space was not sufficient, and was also a fire hazard. Dr. Hall stated that visiting legislators who witnessed these conditions felt the need for new facilities, and in 1953, General Assembly appropriations were earmarked for auditorium buildings, at both the Bull Street and State Park campuses. The new buildings would also provide space for the occupational and recreational therapy and library services sections of the hospital, which were also housed in small spaces in the administration building. The local architectural firm Lafaye, Fair, and Lafaye, who had designed many other buildings on the Bull Street campus over its history, designed both Auditorium/Library for the Bull Street campus, and the auditorium for the State Park campus. Construction on both buildings began in October 1954, and was completed about a year later.
While it is not known exactly why the modern architectural style was chosen, it might be assumed from the emphasis on the modernity of the new facilities that the style of the building was chosen to represent what was seen as the most modern, up-to-date ideas about the treatment of the mentally ill. The Benet Auditorium and Horger Library were some of the first projects built during the “new era of mental health” treatment. Another modern building, the William S. Hall Psychiatric Institute, which emphasized the idea of an “open door” policy, followed the auditorium/library building in the mid-1960s. Gone were the barred windows and intimidating architecture; the new buildings were intended to be more welcoming to patients who were now able to more freely wander the campus grounds.
In addition to representing a more modern approach to mental health treatment for the patients who utilized the building, the auditorium and library, situated near Bull Street and visible through the fence surrounding the site, also presented a more modern public face of the State Hospital. In an attempt to counter negative stereotypes of the mentally ill and mental health treatment during the mid-twentieth century, the State Hospital completed projects like the auditorium and library, and the maximum-security wards (1955), and then held open houses, inviting visitors to view the conditions themselves. These open houses were really only partially open, showing visitors select locations at the asylum. However, they do appear to have improved public opinion of the South Carolina State Hospital. Lastly, the mid-century modern style, which is mostly unornamented, may have been chosen for economic reasons as well, as buildings for two separate campuses were to be built.
The Benet Auditorium and adjoining Horger Library were officially dedicated on January 29, 1956. Though connected and technically a single structure, the auditorium was named the Benet Auditorium after the Honorable Christie Benet, who became superintendent of the S.C. State Hospital in 1915 and served on the Board of Regents until 1948. The library section was named the Horger Library after Dr. Eugene Leroy Horger, a staff physician from 1915 until 1923, when he became clinical director. Horger held that position until his death in 1943.
The construction of an auditorium/library building, rather than buildings to house patients, is telling about the priorities of the State Hospital and the State of South Carolina at this time. In part, this shows the focus on treatment, and not custodial care, that Superintendent Hall and others were trying to bring to the hospital at this time, especially since there was a definite need for relief from the overcrowding in the wards. According to Hall, “the goal of modern-day efforts in behalf of the mentally ill is intensive treatment rather than simple custodial care. In addition to the psychiatric, medical and surgical therapies that are familiar to most of us, this intensive treatment includes a vocational and recreational program.” By 1956, the role of the hospital was to prepare the patients for a return to their communities. However, the state hospital, not the community, was still seen as the best place for patients to be treated and recover enough to reach this ultimate goal, and occupational and recreational therapy would help in that pursuit.
The Benet Auditorium was a multipurpose building. It fulfilled the typical roles of an auditorium, with a stage and seating. This section of the building was used both for recreational activities for the patients, such as movie screenings and musical programs, and for staff presentations, like Service Award Day ceremonies. In addition to its auditorium role, the Benet Auditorium building also had other spaces that functioned as social meeting places among patient groups, as well as the setting for occupational therapy and recreational activities. The building included a music room, woodwork shop, ceramic shop, and a “press room” for the publication of the Palmetto Variety, the patient-run monthly newsletter of the State Hospital.
The Horger Library allowed patients to visit and take out books. This provided both the recreational therapy of reading, and also was imitative of life in the community, where patients would be free to visit the library. The Horger Library also provided books to those elderly or infirm patients who could not leave their wards. The patients wrote effusively about their experiences with the new library and their enjoyment of it. One patient wrote about the uplifting act of browsing through the books in the library, noting that it provided “mental strength.”
While many of the programs mentioned above existed before the construction of the Benet Auditorium/Horger Library building, the new building provided larger, purpose-built spaces to accommodate more patients.
As previously noted, the Benet Auditorium and Horger Library was not the only building constructed for recreational and occupational therapy for mentally ill patients at this time. A week before the Benet Auditorium and Horger Library was dedicated, a similar building, the Fisher Auditorium, was dedicated on the State Park campus, which was home to African-American mental health patients during this time period. While the Benet Auditorium has a more impressive façade, and is larger, they certainly have similarities. Both buildings were designed by Lafaye, Fair, and Lafaye and Associates, and were constructed of the same materials by the same contractors. Due to differences between the sites, the Benet Auditorium building has an additional floor, and it has the attached Horger Library, whereas the Fisher building does not have a separate library. However, the Fisher Auditorium building fulfilled the same functions for the African-American mentally ill as the Benet Auditorium/Horger Library did for the white community. Recreational and occupational therapy and library services were housed in both buildings, and both groups received these types of care, with the ultimate goal of returning patients home. While the differences in the buildings show that the State Hospital system was maintaining a “separate but unequal” status as a segregated institution until the State Hospital was desegregated in 1966, similar, modern therapy types were provided for both white and African-American patients.
According to former Department of Mental Health staff person Mike Mefford, the Benet Auditorium and Horger Library continued in the same function they were built for until around 2004 or 2005, when the building, along with almost all other buildings on the Bull Street campus, was vacated, and its functions moved to the Crafts-Farrow campus. The building continued to serve as a library, gathering place, and center for occupational and recreational therapy until its closure. The buildings constant use for these purposes from its opening in 1956 until the closure of the Bull Street State Hospital campus shows the importance that recreational and occupational therapy programs have in the modern treatment of mental illness.
Wilbur McCartha, “Dedication of Buildings Is Scheduled This Month,” January 1956, Series 190008 State Dept of Mental Health Agency Record Scrapbooks, South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
“Open House at State Hospital Attracts Many Visiting Groups,” The State, May 5, 1955, Series 190008 State Dept of Mental Health Agency Record Scrapbooks, South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
Wilbur McCartha, “Dedication of Buildings Is Scheduled This Month.”
Norma Hawkins, “Hospital Trades Asylum Image,” 196x, Series 190008 State Dept of Mental Health Agency Record Scrapbooks, South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
“Open House at State Hospital Attracts Many Visiting Groups.”
South Carolina State Hospital, “Printed Under the Direction of the State Budget and Control Board,” “One Hundred and Thirty Third Annual Report of the South Carolina State Hospital For the Year Ending June 30, 1956,” 1956, Box 2, Series 190002, State Dept. of Mental Health Agency History Record, South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
Wilbur McCartha, “Dedication of Buildings Is Scheduled This Month.”
South Carolina State Hospital, “Palmetto Variety Vol. 3 No. 8,” August 1956, Series 190074 Newsletters 1951-1991, Bound Volumes., South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
South Carolina State Hospital, “Printed Under the Direction of the State Budget and Control Board,” “One Hundred and Thirty Second Annual Report of the South Carolina State Hospital and Pineland, a State Training School for the Year Ending June 30, 1955,” 1955, Box 2, Series 190002, State Dept. of Mental Health Agency History Record, South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
South Carolina State Hospital, “Printed Under the Direction of the State Budget and Control Board,” “One Hundred and Thirty Third Annual Report of the South Carolina State Hospital For the Year Ending June 30, 1956.”
Kimberly Campbell, “Notes from First Talk with Mike Mefford,” March 25, 2014.