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Feb-01-2010 00:12printcommentsVideo

A Mad World...Fairview Training Center Up in Flames

The historic building's demise brings to light the evolution and consequences of aged mental health misnomers.

Fairview burning
Fairview Training Center burns January 27, 2010.
Video/Photo by Jerry Freeman
Tim King, reporting
Produced by Bonnie King

(SALEM, Ore.) - Fairview, the State Institution for the Feeble-Minded, was established by the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1907. It opened just outside Salem one year later with 39 residents that were transferred from the Oregon State Hospital.

Built on a 670 acre plot, Fairview was specifically charged with "the care and training of such feeble-minded, idiotic, epileptic, and defective persons as have been or may hereafter be committed to its custody." Nothing politically-correct about their verbiage and they didn’t hesitate to put people on the intake roll.

Many of the first patients were epileptic; few of them were severely physically handicapped. Therefore, an emphasis was placed on training them for practical work. Developing skills and learning a trade is a valuable asset to any individual, and there was no question that it was appropriate to put these folks to work. Without a daily wage, they were also a very good value.

Fairview was more than an institution; it was also a large farm. By 1920, 400 acres were used for crops and 45 acres for orchards, the patients also raised hogs, chickens, and both dairy and beef cattle.

In 1917, a commitment law was passed to standardize admissions and to insure that valuable space was used for the "feeble-minded" and not the "insane." It also stated that no one under 5 years of age was to be admitted. This age limitation was removed four years later. Children by the score were “raised” at Fairview.

The Ultimate Betrayal

In 1923, the Board of Eugenics was formed. Roughly based on the idea of "natural selection", eugenics was the belief that society should be "improved" by keeping "unfit or unwanted" people from having children.

The institution’s superintendent served as an ex-officio member of the board that provided for the "sterilization of all feeble-minded, insane, epileptics, habitual criminals, moral degenerates, and sexual perverts who are a menace to society." The board examined the mental and physical condition of institutionalized individuals who could “produce offspring inheriting inferior or antisocial traits” and decided who should or shouldn’t have the right to reproduce.

Many were forced by state law to undergo sterilization surgery before they could be allowed to leave the institution. Others who were sterilized included criminals, homosexuals, and teenage girls who "misbehaved". By 1929, 300 Fairview residents had been sterilized.

Parole for residents was established in 1931. Parole had five requirements:

  • a surety bond filed by the resident's guardian/overseer;
  • the guardian's net worth must be at least $1000;
  • the guardian must have been a resident of Oregon for six months;
  • the parolee must have been sterilized;
  • home or workplace for the parolee must have been inspected.

The connection between parole and sterilization was not “explicit”, per the state, but it was obvious: two-thirds of the residents that were sterilized were paroled. Germany's dictator Adolph Hitler also appreciated the American sterilization laws. He saw them as an acceptable outline for his Nazi plan under which hundreds of thousands of Europeans were forcibly sterilized without consent, legally.

The "science" behind eugenics was easily disproved in the latter half of the century, after more than 60,000 American men, women, boys and girls had experienced unnecessary castrations, vasectomies, hysterectomies or tubal ligations in 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Too late for too many.

The Mental Health Division was created in 1961 to oversee mental health services in Oregon, and laws establishing the policy for providing services to retarded persons were passed in the same year.

In 1967, the Legislative Assembly finally created more restrictive provisions for ordering sterilization, and changed the board’s name from Eugenics to Social Protection. The board was transferred to the Health Division in 1971 and abolished in 1983, when, as a state senator, John Kitzhaber was on the committee that wrote language to throw out Oregon's archaic 1917 sterilization law.

In 2002, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber apologized to victims of the eugenics policy. He said, "The time has come to apologize for misdeeds that resulted from widespread misconceptions, ignorance and bigotry. It's the right thing to do, the just thing to do. The time has come to apologize for public policies that labeled people as 'defective' simply because they were ill, and declared them unworthy to have children of their own."

Finding Their Way Home

In 1980, Oregon was the first state to get a federal waiver to use Medicaid money for community-based services. With the tougher regulations, the federal government took more notice of Fairview. Federal inspectors showed up and critiqued health and safety problems, instances of abuse, and violations of rules including civil rights concerns.

December 10th was proclaimed to be Oregon’s Human Rights Day, in memory of those who had been forcibly sterilized.
In 1985, USDOJ found major civil rights violations and life-threatening conditions, and filed suit along with the Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC) and parents of Fairview residents. Within a year, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) cut off Medicaid funding over safety and staffing issues and the tug of war for funding continued.

Aggressive measures were undertaken to improve the policies and practices at Fairview and Medicaid funds were restored in 1987. Still, state officials contended that federal officials ignored improvements.


1864 Hawthorne Asylum in Portland contracted to care for the state's mentally ill.

1883 Oregon Insane Asylum established in Salem.

1907 State Institution for the Feeble-Minded opened south of Salem.

1913 Eastern Oregon Hospital opened; Oregon Insane Asylum renamed Oregon State Hospital.

1917 Board of Eugenics created to order sterilization of institutionalized persons who could produce offspring inheriting inferior or anti-social traits.

1933 State Institution for Feeble-Minded renamed Fairview Hospital and Training Center.

1958 Combined state hospital census peaked at 5,000. Fairview Training Center population about 3,000. State population 1.7 million.

1961 Mental Health Division established to consolidate all mental health and alcohol related services, operate institutions and help counties develop community services. Dammasch State Hospital opened.

1979 State hospital average daily census 1,100. State population 2.5 million.

1981 Community-based services established as primary system of care for persons with developmental disabilities.

1983 Board of Social Protection (formerly Board of Eugenics) abolished.

1985 Alcohol and drug programs transferred to the Office of Director, Department of Human Resources.

1986 U.S. Department of Justice filed suit over civil rights at Fairview Training Center.

1989 Mental Health Division renamed Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Services Division. State agrees to reduce Fairview population, improve services, and develop community-based services to replace Fairview.

1995 Dammasch State Hospital closed. Patients and staff transferred to Oregon State Hospital, Portland. Community mental health services expanded.

1997 Mental health services included in Oregon Health Plan.

1999 Fairview population below 300. Patients being moved to community residential facilities according to the Long Range Plan.

2000 Fairview closed.

In 1988, HCFA revisited the institution and verified that some of the immediate problems had been corrected, but decided to cut off Medicaid funds again due to concerns about "active treatment" plans. The lawsuits had taken their toll on the old institution, and they no longer could envision a future with the same needs as the past.

From 1989-91 Fairview funding was increased, downsizing was eminent, and community placement programs were developed. Times had changed, and progressive alternatives to institutionalizing the ill had shown to be highly successful. Fairview created a Long Term Plan calling for transferring all residents to community based residential and vocational programs and completely closing the institution by July 2000.

In 1999, population at Fairview had fallen to a mere 300 patients, down from 3,000 at its peak. Oregon lawmakers passed a law earmarking money generated from any sale of former institution property to go into a Fairview Community Housing Trust Fund. Interest from the trust fund and up to 5 percent of the principle are to be held for special grants so people with developmental disabilities can live as independently as possible in their homes.

The 274-acre Fairview campus was sold to a group of investors to develop the Pringle Creek community with houses, industries, businesses and stores within a closed-loop economy.[1] The sale is expected to generate $15.1 million over six years, according to an Oregon Department of Human Services press statement.

In 2004, $145,000 was awarded to 63 families around the state. $150,000 more was available in the form of individual grants of $5,000 or less to purchase such things as wheelchair ramps, bathroom modifications, assistive technology and other equipment. None of the money can go to licensed facilities.

Thousands of people passed through the doors of Fairview. They lived, worked, learned, strived and survived the daily life of being institutionalized. Some spent their entire lives there, and some died nameless to the outside world. The battalion of healthcare workers that tended to patients came in many varieties, but most gave their all, every day, with sincerity and tenacity, to ensure that the needs of the patients were met. Many have recalled their relationships with patients, and the bonds they developed.

There is good and bad in everything, and that is the case with Fairview. No one gets a free pass for the crimes they commit against humanity, but neither should positive contributions go unacknowledged.

On February 17th, 2000, the last few residents moved out of the institution and into the community. Fairview was closed for good.

And the band plays on.

1.Fairview Property Becomes Neighborhood
Sources: Oregon Blue Book; Inclusion Daily; Wikipedia; personal accounts.

Bonnie King has been with since August '04, when she became Publisher. Bonnie has served in a number of positions in the broadcast industry; TV Production Manager at KVWB (Las Vegas WB) and Producer/Director for the TV series "Hot Wheels in Las Vegas", posts as TV Promotion Director for KYMA (NBC), and KFBT (Ind.), Asst. Marketing Director (SUPERSHOPPER MAGAZINE), Director/Co-Host (Coast Entertainment Show), Radio Promotion Director (KBCH/KCRF), and Newspapers In Education/Circulation Sales Manager (STATESMAN JOURNAL NEWSPAPER). Bonnie has a depth of understanding that reaches further than just behind the scenes, and that thoroughness is demonstrated in the perseverance to correctly present each story with the wit and wisdom necessary to compel and captivate viewers.

View articles written by Bonnie King

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Cathy J Fields Penn November 30, 2012 1:48 pm (Pacific time)

I was there between 1970-1973. I saw a lot there. I have bad memories of the place!!!!

carmen clark November 19, 2011 3:21 pm (Pacific time)

I have several deceased people from this place with me trying to tell me something and I dont know what they want exactly. I have epilepsy and I am being taken advantage of and my 9 year old son was taken away becauce of it and I have a TBI. I use to be on the farm supposably with both parents and my father got hurt in the 1970's I was born 1973 and they left 5 years or so in salem, I'm not sure if I lived here or not. I know my so called mom would take people home to the house. I remember Anna and playing in the tulips and the cottage. Did she leave me becauce I had epilepsy. We were special children different from others, could we really start fires and see ghosts? I'm not sure. I heard bears talk..

current worker with fairveiws client March 9, 2010 3:55 pm (Pacific time)

fairveiw was a terrible place the clients that came out of there were worse off.. it has been ten years since this place closed and the clients still have nightmeres about this place and the things that happened to them... some of there behivors we will never beable to fix because of what happened to them im glad that place burnt down and the state closed it when it did

Sara M. February 19, 2010 9:07 pm (Pacific time)

I dont know why, but seeing it burn down really hurt me. I understand that it was a bad place but to me it was a landmark it was something Salem is known for. But I have always wanted to have a way to find out stories about the place. I have been there, when I shouldnt have but that place just fascinates me so much. It is a shame that they even wont to tare it down. I know some are happy they will, but for some reason it upsets me.

Kentucky February 12, 2010 10:03 pm (Pacific time)

I work with people that have had the so called "pleasure" of living at Fairview and to say that the staff cared is grossly misconstruded, it really makes me sick to think that a published report as this one that is made to the public is so misleading. Rethink your published lie because you obviosly have not spoke to any patient that has lived there. The truth should and will come out. I once read a post from a patient that said, and I quote" Upon arriving at Fairview Hospital, I knew that that was my first day in HELL," and that was the direct quote of the so called' Feeble minded. research before posting something of a so called article that you might believe is true. As a so called reporter one might think that facts would and should play a significant role, thanks for some very crappy facts!!!

Editor: Nasty comments like yours will never change the world, too bad you can't make a point without being insulting.

TATTOO USA February 3, 2010 10:34 am (Pacific time)

great job on a hard story, way to go bonnie.

Dude February 2, 2010 2:45 pm (Pacific time)

What's up with the tunnels under fairview? I've wanted to go up there and check it out for a long time, but I don't know how to go about getting access to the grounds legally.

Marjie - Dundee February 2, 2010 10:37 am (Pacific time)

This story could be an overview of the lack of understanding our own inhumanities through history. However, I know many good things also went on at Fairview. In the early 80's we had assembly work done by the kids in the training program. I have never seen anyone happier and more proud of their work. I know the people working with them truly cared about them and wanted them to succeed. I was very concerned when in the late 80's and 90's many residents were moved into communities and ended up in the homeless populations. I think much of it is a case "of out of site out of mind." Which is worse? Very good factual story!

EazyMoney February 1, 2010 9:09 am (Pacific time)

So what was the cause of the fire? Did the city decide to burn it down so they can collect insurance and redevelop the property?

Hank Ruark February 1, 2010 8:53 am (Pacific time)

Great and historic document placed on public record, an example of what journalism can and should do NOW for later and fuller understandings by all concerned in the future. Everyone connected with use of fire situation to motivate and illuminate this tragic story should be proud of work here. HOW ELSE will future ever learn from our past ??

Frances February 1, 2010 1:17 am (Pacific time)

No wonder so many people with epilepsy have self esteem problems. And the bigotry and ignorance are still alive. I have epilepsy. My Drs. thought probably from a car wreck when I was 17. And though I put myself through college with no help from anyone except student loans and part-time jobs and graduated with honors, my ex used to tell people I was "brain-damaged". In reality, I think it was him who was brain-damaged. Or maybe the real problem was with his heart or soul. I suspect he was pretty damaged himself.

questioning February 1, 2010 12:59 am (Pacific time)

That is the creepy, sad and haunting footage. Balanced story. Not easy to communicate.

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