AUTHOR SUNDAY – Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa was built at the beginning of the Civil War

“The Alabama Insane Hospital was established by the legislature on February 6, 1952.  Built in Tuscaloosa, it received its first patient in 1861, with Dr. Peter Bryce as director. Applying modern methods, Bryce became renowned for humane treatment of his patients. Today, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation oversees multiple facilities and programs, including Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa.” (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Bryce Hospital Memories


Jean Butterworth

(written in 2012)


Bryce Hospital
Bryce Hospital

Bryce Hospital was built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. Thomas Kirkbride who was considered an early pioneer of hospital design, designed the hospital. It is a historical building located on University Boulevard.

Now, there is talk of demolishing this beautiful old building. The main administrative building is in much need of repair. (Latest news on Bryce Hospital)

Locals also knew Bryce Hospital as the Insane Asylum. Mentally ill men and women were committed there as patients either by a doctor, the state or their caregivers. By today’s standard, some of these patients with medication could have lived fruitful and happy lives in their community.

My dad, Marvin Malley Champion left Wilcox County for a new life in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in about 1927 or 1928. These were the depression years. He obtained a job at Bryce Hospital as an attendant. Then it was known as the State of Alabama Insane Asylum. Life had improved slightly for him now having a full time job.

At the hospital Marvin met his future wife, Ara Ann Williams who was a Registered Nurse at the facility at that time. Ara Williams did not complete high school at Holt High School, but was accepted into the Bryce Hospital School of Nursing, where she graduated in 1930 at age 20.

The diploma reads:

The Bryce Hospital

Training School for Nurses

Miss Ara A. Williams

“Having completed a three year course of instruction in the nursing and care of the nervous and insane, having passed satisfactory examinations in the several subjects taught, and having given evidence of capability and fitness for the work of general nursing, is granted the Certificate of Proficiency.”

Done at Tuscaloosa, Ala. The 15th day of May, 1930

(signed) W.D. Partlow M.D. Supt.

Mrs. Betty Finch R.N. Supt. of Nurses Wini Faulk M.D. Asst. Supt.

Iva B. Strickland R.N. Asst. Supt. of Nurses R.C. Partlow M.D.

Posie Hicks R.N. Asst. Supt. of Nurses Tombs Lawrence M.D.

F.A. Kay M.D.

J.S. Tartwater M.D.

Sidney Leach M.D.

N.V. Culpepper DDS

Marvin and Ara became secretly married August 23, 1931. They eloped, along with another hospital couple, Claude and Vera Schroeder to Columbus, Mississippi to get married. They kept their marriage a secret for about a year. Somehow, the Hospital Superintendent, Dr. J.S. Tarwater, knew they were married but kept this information private.

At that time married couples could not work in the same facility. After a year they revealed their marriage and Ara resigned her job and became a housewife. They lived in their rented white house at 820 4th Avenue, one block off University Boulevard. This house was demolished and University of Alabama buildings are located there now.

Bryce Hospital had a School of Nursing until 1947, then it moved to St. Vincent Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.

I have fond memories of Bryce Hospital as a young child. Hospital administrative personnel, which included the families of Winters and Glass. They lived in nice homes on the hospital grounds. They invited me to birthday parties for their children on the hospital lawns. As children we played among the giant old oak trees that lined the entrance of the hospital from University Boulevard to the main hospital administration building.

One playmate was Virginia Williams whose grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Causey lived on the grounds of the Bryce Hospital farm. I can still remember being at their house at lunchtime and seeing Mrs. Causey stirring large vats of food including dried lima beans with a wooden paddle. She prepared all of the patient farm worker’s meals. Virginia Williams graduated from Druid City Hospital School of Nursing in 1957.

I graduated from the School of Nursing at Druid City Hospital in 1957. I can remember looking each spring from our dorm windows across University Boulevard at the beautiful blooming peach trees on the Bryce Hospital farm near the old water tower.

Even though Bryce Hospital was across the street from Druid City Hospital, mental health training was not available to nursing student at Druid City Hospital School of Nursing in the 1950’s. The nursing students spent three months at the Massilon State Mental Hospital in Ohio for their mental health training.

The architecture of Bryce Hospital administrative building is a beautiful historical building in our state.Bryce Hospital staff 1930

Picture of group in front of Bryce Hospital Main Building 1930

Back row L-R:


Dr. Frank Kay

Dr. J.S. Tarwater

Dr. R.C. Partlow

Dr. N.V. Culpeper, ( Dentist)

Dr. Sidney Leach

Dr. W.D. Partlow

Dr. W. Faulk

Bryce Hospital -new graduates Ara 2nd from right

Front Row L-R

Miss Posey Hicks, Nursing Instructor

Ruby Lowley, R.N. Graduate

Miss Iva Strickland, Nursing Instructor

Miss Betty Finch, Nursing Instructor

Zena Cranford, R.N. Graduate

Ara Williams, R.N. Graduate

Gertie Littrell, R.N. Graduate


Picture of four nursing graduates in front of Bryce Hospital Main Building 1930

Left to Right


Ruby Lowery

Zena Cranford

Ara Ann Williams

Gertie Littrell

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Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama by Jean Butterworth



  1. Loved the story. My Champion line is from Wilcox County as well. My great grandfather and great grandmother worked at Bryce @ 1915 for a few years.

    1. We are related. My 2nd great grandmother, who was at Bryce was Susan Gurley Daniel. Several of her children and grandchildren married into the Champion family. My grandfather was Charles Daniels of Pine Hill. Two of his sisters married Champions.

    2. My great grandmother was Connie Windham and great grandfather was Dacey Champion. Connie was from Pickens/Tuscaloosa County and Dacey was from Clarke/Dallas County.

    3. My great grandpa Wallace’s first wife was a patient there she had post pardon and maybe bipolar we are not sure but would sure like to find out how we could find out about her. today most of these people would be home on medicine today. well some of them maybe this was so long ago she passed in 1898 and is buried there in the cemetery. the Strickland nurse is a distant cousin of one of my friends for all the Strickland’s are related like all the Chastain’s.

  2. I hope they can save it. We are losing way too much of our historical sites these days. Iva Strickland was probably a cousin of mine too.

  3. I hope it is saved. My 2nd great grandmother was a patient there for forty years. She was admitted in 1886.

  4. Surely they will save it! My Dad was a patient at the new Bryce Hospital, as my memory of youth recalls. I was able to visit the old site a couple of years ago, and it is a beautiful building with lovely grounds, all in a state of decay…sad. Not to be irreverent, but my daughter said its approach reminded her of “Gone With the Wind”.

  5. The doctor signature W D Partlow is my wife’s 1st cousin 2x removed.

  6. My mother, Sarah Louise Crocker, and my father, Luther Thomas Jones, worked at Bryce Hospital and they, too, were secretly married. My father quit working there and went to work at Sunbeam Bakery. I remember stories they told about the patients. They spoke favorably about them and talked about some that should not have been committed. Mother also worked at Partlow. I think we may be related to the Champions.

  7. My grandfather, Alonzo Gilliland, worked at Bryce hospital . After he fell ill (stroke) ,he was hospitalized there until his death. As a child in the sixties, I had very fond memories of the hospital and its grounds. My mother’s friends lived in a residential area called Shadydale right off of the university grounds and near the hospital properties. It was not at all uncommon to see young patients wandering nearby at various times. Many were epileptics or other easily treatable disorders that were simply institutionalized at Bryce. The neighborhood was walking distance to the university pool and the Natural History museum. Often on Sundays when the museum was closed, my brother and I would climb through a downstairs window and wander around. I remember being more frightened by a shrunken head that I ever was by the patients on the grounds at Bryce! On windy days we would fly kites on the open areas. It was a pleasant time to grow up. We had no prejudices against the mentally ill, it was just something we accepted. It would be a shame to destroy the building. It is such a lovely structure. Although, I am sure there are many bad memories associated with it, I remember it as a gentler time.

  8. Looks like the UA would purchase it and use for something. It would be a great historical building for the University Campus???

    1. **As I remember, the land and building was donated to the University of Alabama.

  9. My great grandfather oEnoch Henry Johnson suffered with Pellagra and was a patient at Bryce,.. Two of his daughters were nurses there Georgia and Molly…. I have one of their info books somewhere in paperwork… I’ll post it when I find it…..

  10. The main building at Bryce is on the Historical Register. The University of Alabama is restoring the main building.

  11. I recall visiting there while attending Uof A. Met a classmates’s father there and recall the patients with Downs syndrone running to hug us.

  12. My 3rd Great grandfathers sister was a patient there and died there.

  13. I always love finding your posts.There is so much valuable information on AP.

    1. Jana Mackey nothing humane about that place. I havent read it but does it talk about build another place for the black people and they had to work out in the fields to feed the whites during the Jim Crow area

  14. My great uncle, capt. Charles kilgore was an engineer. He was the outside superintendent. The wonderful kilgore home was demolishing seceral years ago. Fond memories of visits. I am named for his wife.

  15. Treatment was not humane !!!

  16. Heartbreaking souls in pathetic living conditions.

  17. I don’t have fond memories of Bryce. I have been there several times. I was just a kid but I remember feeling sorry for those people.

  18. I had a 3x great uncle that was sent there by his wife. He escaped and made it back home. When asked how he knew to get home. They said he looked at them, like they were crazy and said the creeks and streams all run South. Home is North, so I followed the creeks up river.

    He was sent back to Bryce. My grandfather came home from WW2 and found out about him being down there. He went and got him and brought him home. Made him a little house to live in.

  19. My great grandmother was sent by her husband to Bryce where she later died. She probably only had postpartum depression. So sad.

    1. Beverly Newton Chesteen that’s so sad

  20. David Rabren, me too, David, always.

  21. My granddaddy was sent to Bryces for shock treatments. He had hardening of the arteries. Today that would be called Alzheimer’s.

  22. I do hope they don’t tear down this beautiful old building.

  23. I may be mistaken, but isn’t the Bryce Hospital on campus the second Bryce location? The author claims the building was built prior to 1861 but to my knowledge there are only four buildings on campus that were not destroyed by Union soldiers and I don’t remember Bryce being among the four. The Gorgus House and the little octagon building next to the library are two that I remember. Also, I remember an old abandoned hospital in Northport not far from the railroad tracks that I was always told was the first Bryce Hospital prior to the one on campus being built.

    Anyone else have the same info? I’ve been to the old place out in Northport.

    1. Brad Patterson Bryce was not part of the campus when it was built in 1859, prior to the CW. The mansion is from that time period.

  24. Anybody know how to get records of a Bryce patient? I have a great aunt who died there in 1952, and would love to know what steps to take to get her records if they still exist. Thanks! [email protected]

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