Viles Arboretum

Maine Hospital for the Insane, Augusta
Maine Hospital for the Insane, Augusta

During the 1890s, as part of a belief in “moral treatment” of psychiatric patients, patients were thought to derive to benefit from being outdoors and involved in farming activities. From 1835 to 1905, the State Hospital for the Insane (now the Augusta Mental Health Institute) purchased and consolidated several neighboring farms. For more than a century, the hospital farm provided crops and livestock as well as occupational therapy and exercise for hospital patients.

The history of the old State Hospital Farm can be seen throughout the 224 acres which now Vile Arboretum 2make up the Viles Arboretum, currently composed of 224 acres of land with a long history of farming use.

Formerly known as the Pine Tree State Arboretum, the botanical garden boasts of 224 acres of plants belonging to more than 300 different species of plants and trees. There are nature trails at the site, which can be used for pleasure strolls and biking and which lead to woodlands, forests, and Viles Arboretum 1ponds, as well as farmland which once served as a State Hospital farm.

A visitor can still see the valve station used for controlling water flow from the earthern cistern (now the Pavillion) to the hospital. The granite quarry just beyond the Rock Garden is one of the areas where granite was cut from a quarry deposit and used for various projects including

An old picture of the Piggery on the hospital farm
An old picture of the Piggery on the hospital farm

foundations of the hospital. There are also the remains of the animal stalls along the trail to the bridge at Viles Pond.

The Maine Forest Service began development of the Arboretum in 1981.  During that year, 120 trees were planted and construction of fences, bridges, trails, and a boardwalk began.  A board of directors to manage the 224-acre preserve, then called the Pine Tree State Arboretum, was formed in 1981, and in 1992, a 99- year lease was signed with the Department of Conservation, administered by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The Arboretum was renamed the Viles Arboretum in 1992 to honor William Payson Viles and

Arboretum's Winter Table Tour
Arboretum’s Winter Table Tour

his wife, who were instrumental in establishing the Arboretum. An education wing was built in 2003. The Arboretum is continuously adding to its collection of trees and plants, its educational activities, programs, events and its trail system.



17 thoughts on “Viles Arboretum”

    1. Thanks, Terry – I thought it was interesting that in a time when mental hospitals were considered snake pits, they had the patients working outside with crops and animals.

  1. If only people with mental illnesses were housed in places like this today. Now they are medicated and left on the streets if they do not have family who are prepared to care for them. When they do have family, they are basically locked in a room with a TV. So much for modern medicine . . .

    1. I agree. We seem to have no plan to help the mentally ill. I have no clue how the patients were treated inside that rather imposing hospital but at least they got outside and involved in providing for themselves.

  2. I kinda want to know if the idea behind having patients active outside and farming (as long as they weren’t being coerced into menial labor) had any positive effect on their health. Looks like a beautiful place, now. 🙂

    1. Yes, this thinking was pretty modern, but I’m sure conditions on the inside were not great – think lobotomy and electroconvulsant shock therapy.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: