by Paige Beyer
Kenyon’s Ascension Hall has a twin in Knox County. However, Ascension has aged much better than its sibling since architect William Tinsley designed both buildings in the 1800s.
Just west of Mount Vernon in the town of Bangs sits the former Knox County Infirmary, a structure reminiscent of a building one might find in a Stephen King novel. “At 75 feet wide and 127 feet long, with an open court in the rear that is 55 feet wide by 34 feet deep, it is a structure perhaps best described as imposing,” Thomas Stamp, College historian and keeper of Kenyoniana, wrote in an email to the Collegian. The 19th-century Victorian Gothic building was built in 1857 and was designed at the end of Tinsley’s career. The building was used to house both the homeless and the mentally and physically ill. The infirmary closed in 1953, nearly a hundred years after its construction. Four years later in 1957, Knox County Bible College bought the building and for several decades it functioned as part of its campus. However, the Bible College relocated to Virginia in 1988 and left the building to sit idle.
The years of abandonment have led not only to the deterioration of the building but also to its earning a rather eerie reputation. “It used to be a nice, beautiful building and [now is] slowly just … going away,” Jodi Pursel, a Bookstore employee who lives in Mount Vernon, said.
Recently, Knox County officials deemed it dangerous to enter the building. “I went by there not too long ago and this one whole wall, front wall was had just gone down,” Ed Welker, an AVI staff member, said. “There’s a fence around it that says, ‘Keep out.’”
After the Bible College was relocated, the Knox County Infirmary functioned as a haunted house attraction dubbed “The House of Nightmares,” with staged sets placed throughout the building. The building was featured in Spooked TV’s Children of the Grave 2, a film released in 2012. In 2006, however, after a partial internal structural collapse, the building was closed to the public. “The floors started caving in,” Welker said. “They were using it as a haunted house and the boards rotted off and the upstairs floor became the downstairs floor.” Maintenance problems have seemingly plagued the building for years as previous tenants failed to clean up the building, which still holds old medical equipment, Halloween-themed sets and old paintings.
Tinsley was an Irish immigrant who came to the United States around the time of the Great Famine in the mid-19th century. He mostly designed institutional buildings such as college buildings, churches and courthouses. As far as 19th-century architecture went, his main inspirations were English Gothic buildings and Italian Renaissance villas. He was also noted for always adding a personal touch, such as the astronomical observatory in Ascension.
Although an architect to a number of college and university campuses, including the University of Wisconsin, Wabash College and Indiana University, Tinsley’s masterpiece is considered to be Ascension Hall, according to his biographer J.D. Forbes.
Bishop Gregory Thurston Bedell, the College’s board chair at the time, was responsible for bringing Tinsley to Kenyon. A generous gift from the congregation of the Church of Ascension in New York City funded Ascension’s construction, after which the building is named.
The Northeast Ohio Investment Partners LLC, which currently owns the property, purchased the building and surrounding 2.6 acres from the State of Ohio in April 2014. The building was slated for renovation, but little has actually been done to advance the restoration.
The Knox County Infirmary is a staple in the area, as a historic structure still standing. “There are many in Knox County who would love to see the building preserved, but it’s deteriorated badly in recent years,” Stamp wrote. An independent preservation society consisting of local historians is currently dedicated to restoring the building to its former beauty.