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Architectural Significance

As one of the few remaining architectural wonders of the Kirkbride Design, it is precious to the heritage of Hamilton and the province and deserves protection, rehabilitation and adaptive reuse. (CP)

Originally known as the “East House”, Century Manor is one of the few remaining structures of what was a huge cottage system of buildings and gardens. Century Manor one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture, popular in Ontario between 1850-1870.

These types of buildings were often square, many with right-angled towers and projecting frontispieces. The towers and main blocks of these buildings have low-pitched hip roofs, and under wide eaves are prominent decorative brackets. Other features include verandas, round-headed or decorated windows, and belvederes. 

Century Manor's symmetrical façade has several distinctly Italianate components; the centre‑bloc features a low‑pitched hip roof and a pedimented gable over the projecting frontispiece. The eaves are embellished with paired brackets and windows highlighted with segmented arches, and prominent keystones. A polygonal accent the long façade of each wing, single eave brackets marking the four corners. The contrasting buff brick is a staple feature of the Italianate styling, and in this case is accentuated by the widow lintels, which are now painted white, with additional embellishments of corner piers and quoins. The front entrance is further enhanced with a raised portico, featuring wood columns rising from the cut stone plinths.

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The Kirkbride Linear Plan

Century Manor is a rare-surviving example of a special-purpose building, which refers to properties having limited or specialized uses.  It was based on the Kirkland Linear Plan, a nineteenth-century American asylum prototype. Created by Dr. Thomas Storey Kirkbride, the “Linear Plan” promoted aesthetic architecture and natural environments as key factors in the treatment of mental illness (Kirkbride, 1880). The Manors three-storey square centre-bloc with flanking two-storey extensions follows the “batwing” shape popularized by Kirkbride, which formed the centre administrative bloc and ells which would have been separated by gender and severity of symptoms (Ontario Heritage Trust, 1997).

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Dr. Thomas Kirkbride was the superintendent of the Philadelphia hospital for the Insane and in his treatises “The Construction of Hospitals for the Insane”, he details the design and function of asylum facilities that would promote a set of detailed principles that influenced the construction and operation of many North American asylums. One of the core tenets of this system was that asylum buildings were active participants in the therapy and treatment of patients (Kirkbride, 1880). Asylums to Kirkbride could provide activity, seclusion from suspected causes of illness, and medical therapy. Crucial to this was that patients be moved to a more “natural” environment, away from pollutants and urban centres (Kirkbride, 1880).


Fresh air and natural light served to provide a more cheerful atmosphere, and landscaped parks could stimulate and calm patients' minds with natural beauty (enhanced by rational order). Farmland could also make the institution more self-sufficient, and foster and maintain social skills through encouraging the patients to help work the farms, keep the grounds, and participate in other chores (Kirkbride Buildings History and Yanni, 2007). This was said to foster a sense of purpose and belonging and regulate the mind. They were also encouraged to take part in recreations, games, and entertainment.

The general layout of the Kirkbride asylums was a central administration building flanked by two wings comprised of tiered wards. This “linear plan” was meant to create hierarchical segregation of residents according to sex and symptoms of illness (Kirkbride, 1880). Male patients would be housed in one wing, and female the other. Wings were then sub-divided by ward with more “excited” patients placed on the lower floors, farthest from the central administrative structure, and then “better behaved, more rational” patients situated on upper floors, and closer to the administrative centre (Kirkbride, 1880). This was done to provide patients with a more comfortable and productive environment by isolating them from patients with illnesses antagonistic to their own, while still allowing fresh air, natural light, and views of the grounds from all sides of each ward (Kirkbride, 1880).

The Kirkbride model fell out of use at the end of the nineteenth century due to a lack of concrete evidence indicating substantial numbers of permanently cured patients, and no reduction in the incidence of mental illness caused the mental healthcare establishment to seek different forms of treatment (Kirkbride Buildings History, and Yanni, 2007). The newer generation of asylum superintendents began advocating for different forms of treatment based on different ideas of care and new emerging treatments like psychoanalysis and drug treatments, however many of these institutions continued to function. There further seems to be a divide in the literature on this topic. Many scholars point to the several issues which these hospital s faced; such as overcrowding and lack of financial support, leading to the stigmatization of these buildings, often citing cases of inhuman treatment (Kirkbride Buildings History). A smaller section of the literature, however, notes that these methods of treatment were not intended by Dr. Kirkbride and his contemporaries. Regardless of whether or not Kirkbride intended for the darker realities of mental health care in the nineteenth century, the Kirkbride Linear Plan has been characterized as a move towards the gradual humanitarian movement to improve the quality and effectiveness of mental healthcare in North America.

Century Manor Research Project - Allison Harper 

Kirkbride Institutions in Ontario


The Kirkbride Linear Plan was highly influential during the period in which Canada was beginning construction on its mental health institutions, the new "moral treatment" of patients gaining momentum among architects and superintendents. Other notable examples of Kirkbride-influenced structures in Ontario are the Rockwood Lunatic Asylum in Kingston, and the London Psychiatric Hospital, previously known as the London Asylum.

The London Psychiatric Hospital

First opened as the London Asylum for the Insane between 1869-1870, it was designed in the Victorian style by London architect Thomas H. Tracy, modelled after Dr. Kirkbrides of the Pennsylvania Asylum. Most of the original 19th Century complex has been demolished, save for the Infirmary, Recreation Building, Chapel and horse stable. However, MHBC Planning Urban Design and Landscape Architecture have recently started an area plan for the property to create a compact urban village, with the intention to preserve its heritage value.  

The Rockwood Lunatic Asylum,
Kingston, Ontario

The Rockwood lunatic Asylum in Kingston Ontario began construction in 1859, under William Coverdale. While the institution was constructed before Kirkbride's vision of mental health institutions became codified in 1880, there are several similarities between Coverdale's and Kirkbride's vision: the emphasis on aesthetically pleasing architecture, the central administration hub with connecting wings, and being surrounded by nature, in this case, a view of Lake Ontario (McKendry, 1993). This site closed in 2000, and has sat vacant ever since.

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(Century Manor Heritage Project - Allison Harper)

Original 1883 Drawing by Kivas Tully, Architect of Century Manor


Century Manor Designation. Ontario Heritage Trust. 1997

“Councillor Worried about Break-Ins at Century Manor.” Councillor John-Paul Danko. Ward 8 Hamilton, November 4, 2020. 

Dongen, Matthew Van. “Trespass Tourism 'out of Control' at Decaying Hamilton Asylum Wing Century Manor.”, October 29, 2020. - (n.d.).
Hristova, Bobby. “City Council Asks Province to Fortify Century Manor amid Break-Ins and Vandalism | CBC News.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, October 28, 2020.

Kirkbride, Thomas Story. On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane. With Some Remarks on Insanity and Its Treatment. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1880. 

“Kirkbride Buildings - Historic Insane Asylum History.” Kirkbride Buildings History. Accessed March 26, 2021.

McKendry, Jennifer. “An Ideal Hospital: Rockwood Lunatic Asylum, Kingston, Ontario.” SSAC Bulletin SEAC, 1993. And Drummond, Katie. “Lives of 'Misery, Sadness and Terror'.” The Journal, 2006.

 “Ontario Architecture Style Guide.” Heritage Resource Centre, 2009.

Yanni, Carla. The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. 

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