Allegheny Tuberculosis Sanatorium

Medical / Pennsylvania

Allegheny Tuberculosis Sanatorium is an abandoned prison and former tuberculosis hospital in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.

The actual name of the location has been modified to protect the location as much as possible from vandalism.

History

Andrew Carnegie, who led the expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century, became a leading philanthropist in the United States and the British Empire. During the last 18 years of his life, he donated $350 million to charities, foundations, and universities. He also gave away massive land holdings.

Carnegie had selected a site along the front range of the Allegheny Mountains for a mansion for his mother. 4 9 Before the house was started, his mother died, and the land remained idle.

At the same time, Samuel G. Dixon, the state’s first Commissioner of Health, had been scouting locations in the mountains for a tuberculosis hospital. 4 9 It was believed that fresh mountain air, rigorous exercise, and a healthy diet was the best way to handle the disease.

When Dixon approached Carnegie as to his willingness to sell the land to the state for a tuberculosis hospital, Carnegie said that he would donate the property that was to be the site of his mother’s mansion if the state would build a suitable sanitorium on the grounds. 4 9 Carnegie sold his land holdings to the Commonwealth in 1911 at the cost of one dollar.

Allegheny Tuberculosis Sanitorium

Dixon designed the campus layout of what became the Allegheny Tuberculosis Sanitorium, which included a central administration building flanked by two wings. The first buildings erected were the Administration Building, the Dining Building, and the East Wing, all connected by interior corridors. 4 9 Also built were 20 cottages, four open pavilions, a powerhouse, laundry facilities, a barn, and a poultry house. Most of the early structures were designed in the Tudor Revival style, with the Administration Building receiving the most adornments with gargoyles on the tower and the crests of Scottish clans cut into the sandstone as a reminder of Carnegie’s heritage.

The new sanitorium began admitting patients in December 1912 and officially opened in January 1913. 4 9 At the time, construction was still ongoing on the facilities, and some patients were admitted to the Dining Building. By June, the cottages and wards were complete.

Initial treatment for tuberculosis included fresh air daily, a diet high in ascorbic acid, vitamin A, and protein, and bed rest. 4 Later, pneumothorax treatments were developed that allowed the partial or complete collapse of a lung by the introduction of air into the pleural cavity, giving the lung a chance to rest and heal.

As the number of children admitted to Allegheny increased, so did the need for some schooling. A small frame structure was built in 1915, and a patient who had been a teacher was placed in charge. 4 9 After the West Wing opened, with children occupying ten of the twelve wards, a playground was installed, and the schoolhouse was moved there. Two other one-room schools were soon built and were ultimately replaced by two four-room buildings.

A training school for nurses was added in 1919, 4 followed by the erection of the Children’s Playhouse that contained a swimming pool and play space for children in 1921 and 1922. 9 The pool was used for the treatment of children crippled by polio. In 1932, the 122-bed Children’s House and associated nursery opened to serve adolescents under the age of six. 4 9

The development of the drug streptomycin led to a dramatic decline of tuberculosis rates and deaths in the United States. Streptomycin was first isolated in October 1943 by Albert Schatz, a PhD student in a laboratory at Rutgers University as part of a research project funded by Merck and Company. 5 6 The first randomized trial of streptomycin against pulmonary tuberculosis was carried out between 1946 and 1948 by the MRC Tuberculosis Research Unit and was widely accepted to be the first randomised curative trial. 7 The results showed efficacy against tuberculosis. 8

Streptomycin began to be administered at Allegheny in 1947. 9 The admittance rates of those with tuberculosis began to drop significantly to the point that age of the remaining patients skewed older. 4 With fewer adolescents admitted for what became a treatable disease, the Children’s House was closed in August 1950. 9 A Social Service department was added in February to aid patients in working through personal, financial and family problems, followed by the establishment of a Rehabilitation department in September, a Vocational Training School in October, 4 9 and an Occupational Therapy department in February 1951.

In January 1950, a modern surgical unit was implemented at Allegheny in the former Children’s Playhouse. The Medical Services Unit was added in the fall of 1952 adjoining the J and K wards in the East Wing. 4 9 The first floor was used for the x-ray department, a clinical laboratory, a pharmacy, and a dental clinic while the second floor was used for 27 patient rooms.

Allegheny State Hospital

In December 1956, the Allegheny Tuberculosis Sanitorium became the Allegheny State Hospital, to specialize in the treatment of those with severe mental disorders. The facility then became the Allegheny State School and Hospital in 1964 when it began admitting patients with intellectual disabilities. It was renamed again in the 1970’s to the Cresson Center.

Cresson Center closed in December 1982 when plans were announced to convert the psychiatric centre into a prison.

SCI Allegheny

In 1984, work began to transform the state hospital into SCI Allegheny, a medium-security state correctional institution, which was completed in 1987 3 at the cost of $20.6 million. Several of the original tuberculosis-era structures were left intact while the wings that sprouted from the Administration Building were removed. The director’s residence was moved from inside the prison to the road leading to the institution, which became the superintendent’s home.

J Block, a 256-cell building, was added in 2006 at the cost of $8.6 million. 3

The state announced that SCI Allegheny would be closed on January 8, 2013. 10 The facility officially closed on June 30. 11 The Cresson Secure Treatment Unit, which operated independently from SCI Allegheny, was shuttered in August 2016. 12

Energy Management had proposed the construction of a natural gas plant on 93 acres of the former SCI Allegheny property in 2014. 12 It entered into negotiations with the Cambria County Redevelopment Authority in May 2016. The county then authorized timber harvesting at the site to prepare the site, but the company pulled out of the project on January 12, 2017, citing low energy rates as the primary reason.

A local businessman emerged with the top offer for the remaining acreage of SCI Allegheny on December 22, 2016. 2 The individual, who owned gas wells and sawmills, placed a $600,000 bid for the 326-acre site. He was among four bidders that competed for the site. A previous attempt to sell the prison failed when no bidders met the $730,000 minimum bid price. The state subsequently dropped the minimum bid to $500,000.

It was estimated that the cost of remediating the facility and demolishing the buildings would be $15 million. 3


Buildings

Administration Building / Inmate Services

The Administration Building was completed in 1913 and was connected by interior corridors to the Dining Building and to the East Wing. The Dining Building included large kitchen and dining hall on the first floor, and rooms for nurses on the second and third floors. 4 9

Between 1915 and 1916, the West Wing was constructed and linked to the Administration Building via an interior corridor. 4 9 The Dining Building was also expanded upon for additional kitchen and dining space on the first floor, and extra rooms for nurses on the upper floors. 4 9 Solariums were added to the East Wing a few years later. 4

The Administration Building was expanded in 1952 for a conference room for medical staff, office space for the business manager, and offices for doctors. 4 9 A new front entrance was finished in 1962.

Under SCI Allegheny, the Administration Building was used for Inmate Services.

B Block

B Block, constructed for SCI Allegheny, was a modular 128-bed General Housing Unit.

Children’s House / Unit III / Administration Building

The services of the Tuberculosis Sanitorium were extended to children under six with the opening of the Children’s House and associated nursery in April 1932. 4 9 The children’s department was discontinued in August 1950, and it became known as Unit III, an adult dormitory. Upon the opening of SCI Allegheny, it became the Administration Building.

Children’s Playhouse / Surgery Building / Maintenance

A one-story Children’s Playhouse was built in 1921 and 1922 that contained an indoor swimming pool on the first floor and an open-air play space above it. 9 The second floor was covered in 1950 and converted into a surgical ward.

D Block

D Block, constructed for SCI Allegheny, was a General Housing Unit.

Grace Chapel

Initially, religious services were held in the patients’ dining room, but the need for a chapel was soon apparent. Grace Chapel was built in 1914, remodelled in 1947, and expanded in 1949. 4 9 A Protestant and a Catholic Chaplin were brought in to conduct services in the chapel and visit patients in the wards

Gymnasium

The gymnasium was built circa 1987 for SCI Allegheny.

I Block / Restricted Housing Unit

I Block, constructed for SCI Allegheny, was a Restricted Housing Unit.

J Block

J Block, constructed for SCI Allegheny, was a 256-cell General Housing Unit. It was built in 2006 at the cost of $8.6 million. 3

Medical Services Unit

The Medical Services Unit, adjoining the J and K wards in the East Wing, was constructed in the fall of 1952. 4 9 The first floor was used for the x-ray department, a clinical laboratory, a pharmacy, a dental clinic while the second floor was used for 27 patient rooms. The building continued to be used for medical services under SCI Allegheny.

Nurses Home / F Block

The Nurses Home was renamed O’Halloran Hall after Alice O’Halloran, the first director of the Bureau of Public Health Nursing. 4 O’Halloran frequently consulted with Allegheny. After the state hospital was converted to SCI Allegheny, the building was renovated as F Block to serve as the Special Needs Unit.

Recreation Hall

The Recreation Hall was added in 1915 and included a large multi-purpose room for movies, dances, talent shows, and musicals. The Community Hall replaced it in 1925. In 1951, the Community Hall was renovated, where stage curtains and theatre seats were installed.

Unit I

Unit I, completed in 1950, served as a women’s dormitory for the Allegheny State Hospital. After the facility was converted to SCI Allegheny, the building was renovated as A Block to serve as a General Housing Unit.

Unit II

Unit II, completed in 1950, served as a men’s dormitory for the Allegheny State Hospital. After the facility was converted to SCI Allegheny, the building was renovated as C Block to serve as a General Housing Unit.


Sources

  1. “Paris, Bourbon County Welcome Tuberculosis Hospital.” Bourbon County Citizen (Paris) 15 March 1989. 3 Dec. 2007: 15.
  2. Erdley, Debra. “Former SCI Cresson prison in Cambria County draws $600,000 top bid.” Tribune-Review, 22 Dec. 2016.
  3. Erdley, Debra. “Converting closed prisons a protracted process in Pennsylvania.” Tribune-Review, 29 Oct. 2016.
  4. 50th Anniversary, Lawrence F. Flick State Hospital, 1963. Article.
  5. Comroe, J.H. Jr (1978). “Pay dirt: the story of streptomycin. Part I: from Waksman to Waksman.” American Review of Respiratory Disease. 117 (4): pp. 773–781.
  6. Kingston, W (July 2004). “Streptomycin, Schatz v. Waksman, and the balance of credit for discovery.” J Hist Med Allied Sci. 59 (3): pp. 441–62.
  7. Metcalfe NH (February 2011). “Sir Geoffrey Marshall (1887-1982): respiratory physician, catalyst for anaesthesia development, doctor to both Prime Minister and King, and World War I Barge Commander.” J Med Biogr. 19 (1): p. 10–4.
  8. D’Arcy Hart P (August 1999). “A change in scientific approach: from alternation to randomised allocation in clinical trials in the 1940s.” British Medical Journal. 319 (7209): pp. 572–3.
  9. “History of Cresson Sanatorium.” Article.
  10. Levy, Marc. “Wozniak: SCI Cresson to close.” Altoona Mirror, 8 Jan. 2013.
  11. Giammarise, Kate. “Two closed state prisons go up for sale.” Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh], 25 Jul. 2013.
  12. Brumbaugh, Jocelyn. “Power company pulls plug on SCI-Cresson project.” Tribune-Democrat [Johnstown], 13 Jan. 2017.