Bald Eagle State School and Hospital † is a former institution for developmentally disabled individuals in Pennsylvania. It was in operation from 1919 to 1998.
Bald Eagle State Village began as the Pennsylvania Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age, admitting only women of childbearing age. 1 2 The first of its kind in the nation, the hospital detained, segregated and cared for mentally ill women between the ages of 16 and 45.
Dr. Mary Wolfe was among the group who helped select the site of the hospital. 2 Wolfe had served as an assistant physician at Norristown State Hospital before becoming the chief physician of the women’s division there until 1910. Afterward, she opened a private sanitarium near Holmesburg.
The site, located within Seven Mile Narrows in Bald Eagle State Forest, was ideal. 2 The land was already state owned and near tillable farmland. The farmland availability was important as the state wanted patients to be able to grow and harvest their own supply of fruits, vegetables and root crops and raise livestock.
Wolfe was appointed superintendent of the hospital on July 15, 1914 as plans for the institution were being finalized. 2
Construction at the Pennsylvania Village for Feebleminded Women began shortly after and opened with Cottages 1, 2 and 3 in December 1919. 1 2 Each cottage featured 25 rooms, built of native mountain stone that quarried from nearby state forestlands. 2 The first female patient was admitted on January 2, 1920.
In 1923, the hospital was renamed to Bald Eagle State Village. 2
Construction of other cottages followed: Sleighter and Edgett in 1926, Showalter in 1928, Linn in 1938, and McClure in 1952, all spaced around a central mall. 2 The Wolfe Building, or A Building, was built at the south end of the mall in 1937 while Moyer Hall, the recreation building, was built on the north end of the mall in 1928.
A dairy barn, hay barn and sheep fold was built on the adjoining farm in 1927. 2
In August, a three mile railroad spur was built from Laurel Park north to a Bald Eagle Village. 2 The tracks delivered coal to the steam plant. Steam generated by the heat plant was piped to all buildings on the property. The tracks followed a former narrow gauge line that had been used by the Laurelton Lumber Company decades prior.
The Great Depression slowed construction at Bald Eagle State Village but federal and state funding allocated in 1938 allowed for numerous buildings to be erected. 2 The Administration Building, two cottages, hospital, recreation building and sewage plant were added. The heating plant and steam tunnels were expanded to match the new structures. Additionally, the Stony Run Reservoir was built north of Bald Eagle to supply fresh water for use at state hospital.
By May 1938, Bald Eagle State Village boasted 122 employees, 710 admitted females, 110 admits on parole and a wait list of 600 individuals. 2 By 1951, there were 915 admitted females and 200 admits on parole.
Most residents were able to perform some manual labor. 2 The cannery employed as many as 55 to 60 girls, while the kitchen and bakery employed an additional 100. Approximately 120 females tilled in the fields and another 55 were employed in the laundry.
The farm was so productive that food costs at Bald Eagle were halved. 2 Wheat, corn and oats were planted and harvested for use by the dairy operation, and vegetable and root crops, such as potatoes, beans, onions and carrots, were harvested and canned or otherwise used. Some harvests were so plentiful that surplus food was shipped to other state institutions.
In 1961, Bald Eagle State Village became the Bald Eagle State School and Hospital. 2
A new education building was constructed in 1969, one of the last major building projects at the institution. 2 Shortly after, the decision was made to admit males into Bald Eagle Village’s resident population. 1 2
Bald Eagle State School and Hospital was renamed again to Bald Eagle Center in 1976. 2
Decline and Closure
Deinstitutionalization, the process of replacing long-term psychiatric hospitals with community mental health services, began in the 1960’s. The movement towards deinstitutionalization was born out of a socio-political movement for community-based services and open hospitals and the advent of psychotropic drugs and financial rationales. 3
Bald Eagle Center’s resident population was gradually reduced by releasing stabilized patients, shortening inpatient stays and reducing admission and readmission rates. Programs were implemented to reduce reinforcement of dependency, hopelessness and other maladaptive behaviors.
In 1977, the state Department of Welfare announced that it intended to demolish a number of underused buildings at Bald Eagle Center, including Cottage 4. 2 State representatives and other officials intervened and demolition plans were placed on hold. Some cottages were instead closed and mothballed.
The state Department of General Services held a public auction of much of the state owned farm machinery that had been used in 1982. 2
In 1996, the Department of Welfare announced plans to close Bald Eagle Center and transfer the remaining 193 residents to other state institutions by June 30, 1998. 2 Over 400 employees were offered transfers or severance.
A task force was established in April 1998 to determine reuse possibilities for Bald Eagle Center. 2 Two recommendations were pursued, including selling Bald Eagle Center to Hampton Laurelton Associates LP for $4 million and selling Bald Eagle Center to Hickernell Springs Resort. Both deals between the state and Hampton Laurelton and Hickernell Springs fell through by September 2000.
Gary Ream, then-owner of the Woodward Camp, expressed interest in acquiring Bald Eagle Center in late 2002. 2 The deal collapsed, as did a proposal from Firetree Ltd. to convert the property into a drug and alcohol treatment center.
Finally, in 2005, the state was able to sell Bald Eagle Center to Gary Murphy of Mountain Valley Inc. for $1.6325 million. 2 Murphy proposed converting the former hospital into a mountainside resort. Plans included 125 hotel rooms in the Administration Building, two ballrooms, an indoor pool and health spa, an outdoor pool, two restaurants and a convention center.
Five of the cottages would be converted into condominiums and sold to corporations for use by employees. 4 Additionally, a Palmer golf course would wrap around the resort. The plan would cost $5 million to abate the buildings of hazardous materials and asbestos, $19 million to renovate the buildings and $7 million for the golf course.
The Administration Building was constructed in 1938.
The Education Building was added in 1969.
Moyer Hall served as the recreation building and was built in 1928.
† The actual name of the location has been modified to protect the location as much as possible from vandalism.