Pittsburgh in the 19th century was a city that was growing, until the economic panics and recessions led the city to construct a poorhouse for the indigent and mentally ill, along with unwed pregnant mothers, but it was soon overfilled. In 1846, the city purchased 150 acres along the Monongahela River and built a three-level brick poorhouse that housed 300 but it was not long before it too became crammed to capacity.
A new location was sought outside of the city and into the countryside, the belief that those who resided in rural areas were healthier, important to those who suffered medical or mental ailments. In 1893, Marshalsea, named for the London debtors prison, was constructed on the George Neal Farm, which was followed by a new building in 1899 to house the mentally ill. It was not long before Marshsea was known as “a place of sorrow.”
“Poor wrecks of humanity they are – some mental, some physical, some moral wrecks – stranded, at last dependent upon the city for enough to keep a miserable broken body and a poor shrunken soul together. […] If there is to-day a discontented man or woman in this city I prescribe a trip to Marshalsea. The blood may flee from the face at times and pity clutch at the heart strings.”
-Home Monthly, 1900
Marshalsea was so depressing that even speaking the name of the facility was enough to give people a negative perspective. A contest was held to find a better name in 1916, and Mayview won out – thus renaming the property to the Pittsburgh City Home and Hospital at Mayview.
During the early years of Mayview, there was a coal mine that fueled a power plant and a farm so that the hospital could be as self-sufficient as possible. At its height in 1934, Mayview boasted 80 buildings and 1,001 acres, along with 4,000 patients and 450 employees. In 1946, an observation unit was established, which became a forensic center in 1974. The center provided evaluation and treatment for those in the criminal justice system.
But advances in medicine and treatment for those with mental illness, state hospitals such as Mayview saw their patient numbers slowly decline. The goal of the mental health community was no longer institutional care, but outpatient care, community-based services and treatment options at existing hospital campuses. In 1969, more than 27,000 were housed in state hospitals in Pennsylvania, but by the mid-1990s, that number had dropped to 4,900 – and less than 2,000 by 2007. Mayview saw its adolescent unit closed in the early 1990s, and many other buildings were closed or mothballed.
On December 29, 2008, Mayview State Hospital closed, and at the time of closure, Mayview housed only 37 patients and employed 259. What replaced Mayview included outpatient mental health services for patients in small groups, long-term residential communities with 24-hour care, and institutional care at nearby hospitals with psychiatric units.
Since its closure, Mayview’s redevelopment plan has been finalized, calling for the construction of a park, office park development and a subdivision. Below are photographs of Mayview, the first coming from two Staff Housing buildings (“H” and “G”), or Building No. 26 and No. 28.
The geriatric ward – Temple Center I and Temple Center II, or Building Nos. 65 and 71, still carried electricity and many items from its past were still inside. Pianos, chairs, dental equipment all remained, along with some awful paintings and signage.
Unfortunately, the historic Mayview State Hospital campus will most likely be bulldozed and converted into another use. There is not much hope in transforming what are mostly institutional structures into other uses, considering many are out of date, compromised or are single purpose. Restoration costs into other uses, such as apartments and offices, are most likely prohibitive, although other historic miracles have been performed – such as with Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. The new potential owner has expressed little to no interest in saving much, if any of the building stock.
Click through to the Mayview State Hospital page for more background information along with many more photographs. Enjoy!