BARTONVILLE-- After more than three years of seeking approval for abatement funds, 32 days of cleanup and plenty of personal sacrifice, developer Richard Weiss has opened the Bowen Building of the former Peoria State Hospital for tours.
The building - which once was called the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane - is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays year-round.
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"Last weekend, we had to turn people away. (Interest) may spike in October, but (ghost-hunting) is so hot right now, it'll be busy all year round," said Weiss, a developer from Farmington, Mo., who found the building on eBay in 2005 and started the not-for-profit organization Save the Bowen with the mission of restoring it.
Tours of the building - which was constructed in 1898 and opened in 1902 - are being hosted on Friday and Saturday nights. Two one-hour historic tours start at 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., two 150-minute paranormal ghost tours start at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., and overnight tours run from midnight to 6 a.m.
On overnight tours, patrons roam the 50,000-square-foot building searching for ghost activity. Tour guides are stationed on each floor.
Weiss, his daughter Trish and construction crews have put countless hours of work into the property. They've installed lighting, smoke detectors, stairway railings and exit signs. They've painted and patched holes in the floor. Nearly 25 trash bins of asbestos and debris were removed.
"We have plans to redo the windows (which are now boarded up), but that's mighty expensive on a building that has 276 windows, some of them oddly shaped," said Trish Weiss.
There's graffiti on the walls from decades' worth of vandals (the building has been vacant since 1973), and some rooms have standing water. It's so quiet inside you can hear paint crumbling off the walls every few minutes. But these are characteristics some might say add to the eerie atmosphere - an atmosphere that Richard Weiss is banking on to draw tourists.
Weiss has three years to repay the village of Bartonville the $340,000 in tax-increment financing money he was loaned in April to move forward with the abatement. If he doesn't pay back the money, the property could go back to the city. But he's confident he'll meet his goal.
He's in negotiations with the Syfy channel's "Ghost Hunters" and plans to host the Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventure" to film segments. Once he repays the village, he says, he'll work on big projects such as installing a new roof, and then try to attract an investor.
"This thing has put me so far in debt," says Weiss, a car collector who has had to sell his three classic Chevy trucks to keep up with costs. "But I could not let the city tear it down. It's got issues, but it's still a very structurally sound facility."
To learn more about the asylum, or to donate or volunteer, visit.