11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Human Services Center

Year Listed: 2009
Location: Yankton, South Dakota
Threat: Demolition




The oldest public institution in the state, the Human Services Center – formerly the South Dakota Hospital for the Insane – played an important role in South Dakota history.  It was here in the 1890's that Dr. Leonard Mead implemented his groundbreaking idea of creating an environment that would be therapeutically beneficial for patients instead of the sterile, fear-provoking asylums of the day. As he added buildings to the campus in the former territorial capital of Yankton, it became more New England college than prairie hospital.  Surrounding a landscaped central park, the 65-acre campus, constructed between 1882 and 1942, featured neoclassical, Art Deco, Italianate, Prairie and Neo-Renaissance buildings, many constructed of South Dakota-quarried Sioux quartzite.  Each building had sun-drenched dayrooms with columns and attractive architectural features, like Carrara marble and granite staircases.  Today, more than 125 years after the institution was founded, the State is moving forward with plans to demolish many of the historic buildings on the Yankton campus.

In 1899, a fire at the hospital took the lives of 17 patients. In the aftermath, Dr. Mead ensured that all subsequent buildings were rock-solid – constructed of stone, with foot-thick walls, clay tile roofing and concrete for fireproofing.  An amateur architect, Dr. Mead left his artistic mark in the wide porches, fan and Palladian windows, pedimented porticos, balustrades, bracketed eaves, arches, pillars, coffered ceilings and terrazzo floors that adorn the campus.

The collection of buildings on the Human Services Center (HSC) campus is both architecturally significant and representative of the style of treatment for the mentally ill between 1880 and 1940.  Many patients spent their entire lives at the hospital, and, as a result, the majority of the endangered buildings once served as patient wards.  The campus also includes barns and farm buildings where patients would engage in therapeutic activities such as growing vegetables.