The Ridges is notorious for being one of the most haunted spots in Athens, but that doesn’t stop some Ohio University staff and students from living there.
The abandoned psychiatric hospital, formerly known as the Athens Mental Health Center, is just yards away from four cottages. Those residential areas used to be housing for staff members of the mental institution but now provide homes for visiting students and faculty as well as newly hired staff members.
One of those residents is Lari-Valtteri Suhonen, a visiting doctoral student from Sweden studying psycholinguistics. When he moved into the apartment two weeks ago, he was unaware of the history of his new home that he will be living in for the next two months.
“It was something the university told me one night,” Suhonen said. “I quite quickly noticed what’s going on here. I’ve done some research and found it was a mental asylum before. I know this house where I live in used to be staff housing for the mental hospital.”
Jneanne Hacker, the director for Business Operations and Conference Services, said the university owns the property and only leases it out to university affiliates. Living in those residential units has many benefits, she said.
“It is a convenience factor,” Hacker said. “It’s within walking distance of campus. … If people aren’t familiar with the real estate and the market in Athens, they’re able to secure housing as they’re transitioning and moving into that position, especially if they’re on a short timeline.”
The houses are leased for one year with the possibility of a one-year extension to be considerate of other staff members, Hacker said.
Bernhard Debatin, a journalism professor, utilized the two-year maximum and lived in the cottage from 2000 to 2002. He was a visiting professor from Germany at the time before accepting a permanent position at OU. Debatin has not experienced anything supernatural, but said other people considered his living arrangement to be spooky.
“Our first son was a year old,” Debatin said. “We had a babysitter from Ohio University. When she would babysit and we weren’t there, she was a little scared. She would go all around the house and pull down the shades and make sure the house was locked. She found it weird, I assume mostly because of the reputation The Ridges have.”
Although Debatin does not believe in ghosts, he did find some of his surroundings a bit unsettling.
“There were a number of things I found strange, like the two graveyards,” he said. “Both of them have these numbered tombstones, so people who got buried there don’t have their names there. These were patients from the institution. They were numbers when they were patients and when they died they were still numbers. … That was a little bit on the creepy side.”
The haunted reputation of the area appeals to many OU students. Debatin was aware of people entering the buildings to witness sights such as the alleged stain of a corpse.
“Around Halloween, there were always students,” Debatin said. “People need to be careful. … You can fall through some floors. … There are some structures on The Ridges that are really old and broken. Just because you find a way in, doesn’t mean you’re competent to explore.”
That continues to be a trend even now, Suhonen said.
“There’s a lot of people going up and down the hill,” he said. “I see party groups in the evening.”
The buildings may not remain dilapidated forever. Shawna Bolin, a co-chair of The Ridges Master PlanCommittee, said the university is working on ways to renovate the area. One of the proposals is to create an ecovillage housing complex and other residential spaces.
“We do envision the opportunity at The Ridges to meet the housing needs for this area,” Bolin said. “We will be open to ideas to rehabilitate the buildings to whatever they may be, including residential.”
Suhonen is thrilled to hear about The Ridges Master Plan, even though he will not be in Athens long enough to witness the completed project.
“It’s sad a lot of the buildings are not being used,” he said. “It’s kind of weird that such a place exists so close to the city center. … The university would do really well if they actually put some apartments out here. It would be a beautiful place.”
The reputation of The Ridges will most likely continue even after the area is revamped, and that may provide unconventional living opportunities.
“It would be cool to say you’d be living near a mental hospital,” Suhonen said. “Maybe some students would feel uncomfortable by that because of the history, but it would definitely be cool for some people.”
Originally published for The Post on October 24, 2016. To appear in print on October 27, 2016