Built in 1924, the Blackburn Laboratory was named for Dr. Isaac Wright Blackburn, who had been appointed special pathologist at Saint Elizabeths in 1884. The Laboratory was the hospital's first medical science facility dedicated to the study of mental illness, and is an important physical example of how treatment philosophies at Saint Elizabeths changed during the twentieth century. Before then, therapeutic practices were the primary treatment for patients; however, the 1900s saw the medical staff of Saint Elizabeths employing more scientific forms of treatment.
The Laboratory was part of a major expansion on the East Campus, overseen primarily by Superintendent William Alanson White. This project started in 1900 in response to major overcrowding at the hospital. The goal was to construct multiple modern facilities to create more space for patients, recreation, and medical treatment. After assessing design proposals from various architecture firms across the country, the hospital administrators hired Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge from Boston.
Similar to the other buildings designed by Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, the Blackburn Laboratory is a two-story brick building in the Renaissance Revival style. Throughout the years under White's supervision and after, the East Campus continued to be developed and built on. The agricultural landscape that was once the symbol of the East Campus diminished as buildings continued to be built on the land. It also indicated an important shift in where scientific and medical studies took place at Saint Elizabeths. Prior to these development campaigns on the East Campus, the West Campus was the epicenter for this type of research; however, this work moved east with these new buildings.