Sanctuary Woods

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United States
Sanctuary Woods

Landscape Information

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Located in the City of Wauwatosa in Milwaukee County, these 66-acre woods surround the site of Milwaukee's first hospital for the care and treatment of persons with mental health concerns. Originally known as the Milwaukee County Asylum for the Insane when it opened in 1880, the asylum’s name was later changed to Milwaukee County Hospital for the Insane. Its principal structure was designed by German-American architect Henry Koch. The landscape surrounding the asylum was a precursor to today’s healing gardens and contained features designed to help patients relax and recuperate, such as an artificial lake and waterfall, sunken gardens, and a “women’s grove” for the repose of its female patients. Many of these features, including remnants of fieldstone and curbed woodland pathways, stone staircases, a walled patio, a segment of the former sunken garden, and other elements, were built by the patients themselves as a therapeutic activity under the supervision of Dr. Moses White, an early superintendent of the asylum. The last remaining structure was torn down circa 1994 and replaced with a parking lot.

Sanctuary Woods is a component of the much larger Milwaukee County Grounds, which housed a number of county institutions, including the Milwaukee County Home for Dependent Children, a farm for the indigent (Poor Farm), and The Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy. The latter was designed by noted Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler, though most of the Eschweiler-designed structures have subsequently been demolished and replaced with new development.

The landscape features a diverse variety of terrains and ecological niches. It is contiguous with a 55-acre county park and 90-acre flood detention basin. All of these, together with a 45-acre Wisconsin State Forest and Milwaukee County Parkways along the Menomonee River and Underwood Creek, comprise the second largest open green space in Milwaukee County.