By Nell Mitchell, CMHIP Historian
Colorado State Hospital Dairy Farm in 1938. At its peak in 1961, 496,410 gallons of milk were produced from 324 milking cows. The dairy farm at that time consisted of 144 acres and was part of a 5,000 acre complex with a piggery, vegetable garden and turkey farm.
During the early days (1879 to 1922) of the Colorado State Insane Asylum/Colorado State Hospital), dairy cows were kept on the far southwestern section of what is now the South Campus. As you can see from the picture, this was a highly unfavorable condition since there were patient occupied buildings close by. There were about 15 cows there in 1922 when the legislature granted the funding to buy 120 acres two miles west of the main grounds for a farm (located where the Nature Center is now). Sylvester "Ves" Hughlitt was hired as production manager in 1922 and remained in this capacity for over 41 years. He and his wife Pearl, and daughter Joanne, lived in a quaint, little house on the grounds of the farm.
Holstein dairy herd shown in 1911 on southwestern edge of the CSH South Campus before land was purchased for the dairy farm in 1922.
During the first year of operation, the dairy produced 77,251 gallons of milk for patients. The hospital exhibited a number of animals at the Colorado State Fair for the first time in 1924, winning many first, second and third premium ribbons. By 1952, it had become one of the oldest continuous exhibitors at the Fair. Ves Hughlitt said there was no intent to build a show herd, that "good breeding was just good business." All registered cows and bulls raised at the hospital dairy bore the prefix, Colstah, an abbreviated trade name for Colorado State Hospital.
Dairy Farm Superintendent Sylvester "Ves" Hughlitt. Date unknown.
In 1926, the hospital bought the Woodcroft Sanitarium, a private psychiatric facility at 29th and Court Streets in Pueblo, from Dr. Hubert Work, its director and owner, and called it the Colorado State Hospital Annex. (Dr. Work also served a brief stint as interim superintendent in late 1899). Along with this purchase, came a few head of registered Holstein dairy cattle, which later turned out to be the foundation herd of the largest classified herd in the United States. The hospital didn't buy a single cow since that purchase; it was through buying good sires that the quality of the herd was raised.
In 1922 the Hughlitt's moved into this small, one bedroom house on the dairy farm grounds. It was formerly a caretaker's house.
During the Depression years, Dr. Frank Zimmerman (Superintendent from 1928 to 1961) took advantage of Works Progress Administration and Public Works Administration funds to build modern barns, feedlots and other buildings at the dairy. By 1938, there were 14 employees supervising 50 patients at the farm. After a diphtheria outbreak was traced to milk contamination that same year, a new pasteurizing plant was built. This new equipment insured that human hands never touched the milk. Machines milked the cows, the milk went into coolers, then to pasteurizing vats, then to the homogenizer, and then was bottled. Milk was poured into individual bottles rather than into large milk cans and transported to the main institution to avoid contamination by careless handling.
Dairy herd judging school at the dairy farm in 1944. Every second year, the cows were classified by the Holstein Friesian Assn. Ves Hughlitt is the one wearing a hat.
The hospital dairy provided all the fresh milk needed for the patients-three glasses each a day. And, the dairy provided a form of rehabilitation for patients by giving them a trade to learn once they were discharged and also kept them busy during the day. In addition, a wide variety of vegetables were grown at the farm; i.e., string beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, peppers, corn, and tomatoes. Many of them were picked at the farm and taken to the main grounds for canning at the hospital's cannery. During the food shortage of World War II, the hospital had its own canning plant using equipment from the abandoned WPA canning plant in town, but it was later discontinued since hospital officials feared that a single improperly processed metal can might cause sickness or even the death of a patient.
Patient dormitory at Dairy Farm in 1940. Built in 1938 as part of a WPA project, the dorm was large enough for 100 patients who worked the farm. The dorm was destroyed by fire in April of 1974. City firemen were not allowed to put out the fire since the farm was out of their jurisdiction.
In 1958 a survey by the U.S. Public Health Service determined that the hospital farm should be studied from the standpoint of using it as a sheltered work and living situation for chronic patients, which could be operated by some other state agency. Although this situation never occurred, the report also studied the state's mental health programs and treatment for the mentally ill; Colorado State Hospital was about to be drastically changed.
Automatic bottling and capping machine in 1939. Milk was poured into individual bottles for serving to avoid contamination from the large milk cans.
In March of 1962, the hospital's 6,000 plus patient population was internally reorganized according to the county from which they were admitted (known as geographic decentralization) into smaller units for better care and treatment. Patients from the dairy farm were pulled back to the main grounds for treatment by their assigned treatment teams, leaving them unable to work the farm. In addition, the Fair Labor Standards Act required that patients be paid for their work, resulting in even more financial hardships for the hospital. Although it was reported that many of the patients were discouraged by this major change, some of them were able to be discharged from the hospital and went on to live meaningful lives in the community. Others, unfortunately, were never able to adapt because the dairy farm had become their only home.
A reduction in patient census of course meant fewer patients to feed. Thus, 167 cows were sold to dairymen throughout the state during the 1961-62 fiscal year, leaving 580 cattle; 267 of those were milking cows.
CSH cannery on the South Campus in 1942. Patients performed most of the work there also.
In 1963, Ves Hughlitt retired, knowing in his own mind that the farm would soon be a thing of the past. And so it was. Even though a new production manager was hired in 1964 to replace him, the farm was soon transferred to the Colorado State Penitentiary for use as an honor farm. This was short lived, however, since the inmates were continually escaping from the open environment.
Today, the area is part of a nature center and only remnants remain of what was once one of the finest dairy farms in Colorado. A few stone walls and a small building or two can be seen while taking a walk on the trail along the Arkansas River, but the many operations of the dairy farm are only memories.
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