A lot of ink has been spilled in the years since 1973, when the Peoria State Hospital closed its doors. People either love the hospital or they loathe it. And either of these positions is held with grim tenacity and furious passion. Now the Bowen Building, the public face of the PSH, is once again in serious danger of being torn down.
There’s a good reason the Bowen Building is so iconic in many people’s minds in this area. Many people living in the Peoria area have memories of going to visit relatives in the hospital. When the weather was nice, most of those family visits took place on the lawn of the Bowen, with that stately stone building forming the backdrop to many family memories. Tearing the Bowen down and selling it for scrap would be like selling off people’s memories brick by brick.
We should also be mindful of Dr. George Zeller’s legacy when we discuss the fate of the Bowen. Dr. Zeller took a lot of heat for putting up that building in the first place. Critics were vocal, asking derisively why Zeller was pouring good money into a building that was going to be used simply as a nurses’ college and dormitory. He defended his actions by pointing out that if the hospital provided a gorgeous building for training nurses, those women would indeed be drawn to the college for education.
And that’s exactly what happened–the Peoria State Hospital became the finest nurses’ college in the country for decades. Enrollment was so high at the beginning of the semesters that women had to sleep on cots in the attic, moving down to dorm rooms as students dropped out due to the rigorousness of the training program.Dr. Zeller was so invested in his nurses.
He took such pride in educating them in the compassionate care of the mentally ill, and in encouraging them to go on to become doctors in their own right. It would be an insult to Dr. Zeller’s memory and his legacy to destroy the building he put up expressly to train those women.
Whether or not we can pull together to save the Bowen remains to be seen. It just occurs to me that it’s getting hard to hear the voice of history over the sound of axes grinding.
Sylvia Shults is the author of several previous books, including Fractured Spirits and Ghosts of the Illinois River. She describes herself as an open-minded skeptic. She has been a paranormal investigator for several years. She goes into dark and spooky places, she says, so you don’t have to! She lives in Illinois.