#116: Kankakee County Museum, Kankakee State Hospital

One of the most famous urban legends in Kankakee’s history is that we had a choice between having the University of Illinois or the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the insane being built in our city. The legend claims the City of Kankakee chose the hospital over the university. However the question remains, is this urban legend actually true?

On this monthly episode with the Kankakee County Museum, we get to the bottom of this urban legend and much more with Jack Klasey and Jorie Walters.

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About Illinois Eastern Hospital

The Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane, now the Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee, was built in 1878 with the first patient being admitted in 1879. Kankakee was one of 16 communities that were being eyed for the construction of the hospital. It was awarded to Kankakee in 1877.

By 1903, the original campus that consisted of 12 buildings had now multiplied to about 50 with a patient population of 2,300. In 1910, the name was changed to Kankakee State Hospital. Its peak in patient population was in the mid 1950s, housing approximately 4,500 people.

In 1971, the patient population had dropped to about 1,500 people as mental health treatment options became more community based. By 1974, the Kankakee State Hospital became the Shapiro Developmental Center, named after former Illinois Governor Samuel H. Shapiro, an advocate for mental health patients and a resident of Kankakee. Today, the center houses approximately 500 adults with intellectual disabilities.

About Kankakee County Museum

The Kankakee County Museum, established in 1906, is one of the oldest historical societies in Illinois. Initially displaying artifacts and documents in various locations, it found a permanent home in 1948 with the construction of the Historical and Arts Building on Governor Small Memorial Park. The park’s land was donated by the Small family as a memorial to the 26th Governor of Illinois, Dr. Abram Small’s son, Lennington. The museum’s exhibits, ranging from historic documents to Native American artifacts, were expanded over the years. Today, the Kankakee County Museum has grown to more than four times its original size, housing the Taylor One-Room Schoolhouse, the Column Garden, and the Let Freedom Ring Garden. The museum continues its rich tradition of showcasing art through the annual Art League Art Show and other periodic exhibits.

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