The Susquehanna State Hospital † is a closed state mental institution in Pennsylvania and was in operation from 1851 to 2006. The campus was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

The hospital was the setting for the 1999 movie “Girl, Interrupted” 14 and the 2010 movie “Another Harvest Moon.”


After much lobbying, headed by Dorothea Dix, the Susquehanna State Lunatic Hospital and Union Asylum for the Insane was formed in 1845 to provide care for the mentally ill in Pennsylvania. A nine-member board of trustees was appointed to purchase land, construct buildings and hire a superintendent.

The hospital was changed to the Susquehanna State Lunatic Hospital after the state appropriated $50,000 for construction. Finished in 1851, the Main Building was designed in the Kirkbride Plan. The Kirkbride Plan, a system of mental asylum design advocated by Thomas Story Kirkbride, involved designing buildings where exposure to natural light and fresh air was imperative. Most buildings were built with a bat wing” floor plan, with wings that sprawled outward from the centre. The centre housed the administrative offices, with the wings housing female and male wards.

The first patient was admitted on October 6, 1851. The Main Building initially had a capacity of 250 patients but was later expanded after the dining rooms were removed, and with the addition of the North Branch and South Branch buildings.

The state hospital included a 130-acre farm that provided work therapy for the patients. It also enabled the facility to be mostly self-supporting by allowing patients to grow their food and raise their livestock.

In 1885, the male reading room was converted into a gymnasium. 7 By 1888, the Main Building was considered to be in poor condition. A minor renovation project was taken on, involving the installation of new carpet in the hallways, repainting of the wards, and the purchase of new furniture. A central dining hall was also added, replacing the ward dining rooms that were then converted into additional dormitories.

The North and South Branch buildings, for 320 disturbed and violent patients, opened in 1886. 7 The buildings were connected to the Main Building via an above-ground tunnel. A new Boiler House and Laundry Building were erected in 1887.

The patient population grew to over 1,000 patients by 1891. 7

In May 1893, an electric light plant was built within the boiler house. 8 Electrical wires were strung in the Main Building, enabling the use of lights to replace gas lamps and clocks.


The Kirkbride Plan began to fall out of favour regarding asylum design by the late 1800’s, as having a central building to house administrative offices and patients was not conducive to proper mental health treatment. Violent and noisy patients were housed with those individuals that had minor mental illnesses.

The Cottage Plan for asylum design began to be used with more regularity, which consisted of individual buildings for specific patient types and sex. Each building was typically less than two stories in height and connected to each other with a series of tunnels.

In May 1893, the state appropriated $100,000 for the reconstruction of the Susquehanna State Lunatic Hospital into a Cottage Plan. 8 The project, estimated to cost $400,000, included the construction of a new Administration Building to replace the Main Building, eight cottages, bakery, dining hall, chapel, amusement hall, nurse dormitory, and other associated outbuildings.

The campus would include a half-acre of ground for each patient, requiring the purchase of an additional 210 acres, and support 1,000 patients. 9 Each building was to be fireproof, include two stairways from the second levels, and be able to be warmed to 70 degrees.

The new Administration Building was built between November 1893 and May 2, 1895, and opened to staff on May 10. 2 Designed by Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton, the first floor contained offices, while the second floor contained apartments for the medical staff. The third floor was home of the superintendent and family. The entire building was later used for offices and meeting space.

Following the opening of the new Administration Building, the centre of the Main Building was carefully removed. 8

In 1897, $150,000 was appropriated for tearing down the Main Building and its wards, and for the construction of new patient buildings. 8 The first set of male and female wards were removed in 1900 when the Infirmary Building opened, followed by the demolition of the remainder of the male departments in 1906 as the new Psychopathic, Convalescent, and Violent Male buildings were finished. In 1910, the female wards were torn down as the new Psychopathic, Convalescent, and Violent Female structures were opened.

By 1912, most of the new Cottage Plan campus was finished. 9 The north side of the campus included four male buildings while the south side of the campus featured four female buildings. The centre of the campus included a chapel, kitchen, and solarium. The rear incorporated the Infirmary Building. The North and South Branch buildings remained in use.

Patients were employed throughout the campus as a form of occupational therapy. 10 They prepared meals for patients and staff in the Central Kitchen, crafted brooms and chairs in the basement of the Chapel, built toys in the basement of the Male Chronic Building and made mattresses, blankets and other wares in various buildings. A tailor shop was added in 1926.

For amusement, residents danced away in the Sun Parlor, saw movies in the Chapel, played musical instruments in the hospital band and orchestra, and listened to the radio in their rooms. 10 A library in the Female Convalescent Building boasted thousands of books and magazines.

In 1921, the hospital name was changed to Susquehanna State Hospital. 10

In September 1938, $927,500 was allocated for the construction of two patient ward buildings, the renovation of the heating plant and laundry facilities, and for the provision for an increased capacity of 200 patients. 21

By 1946 there were 2,441 patients with 437 on parole at the hospital, which had a capacity of 2,019. 18

After World War II concluded, the state began pushing plans for a $17 million improvement program at mental hospitals. 20 Progress was initially slow as the federal government had frozen all building materials and equipment to give preference to housing for veterans. The state sought to have the hospital’s improvement deemed necessary and was given the go-ahead for its plans.

A new ward building, designed by Lawrie and Green, was erected in 1947 at the cost of $375,000. 17  In December, the state allocated $1,747,500 for the construction of a new Admissions Building. 19

In 1950, an additional $3,278,000 was allocated for the development of the Hillcrest Building for female patients and the new Admissions Building, both under construction, and for the modernisation of the service building. 15 Both Hillcrest and Admissions opened in 1951. 10

Contracts were awarded for the Eaton Building, a 200 patient ward building, in December 1957. 16 It opened in 1960.


At the turn of the 20th century, hydrotherapy was used to treat or alleviate anxiousness or excited patients. 10 Some patients were wrapped in wet sheets and lay on a table for long periods of time. Others were put into rain baths, submerged in large tubs, or be put through colonic irrigation. In the 1930’s, Susquehanna began using insulin and electric shock therapy for residents. 10

During World War II, many of the male staff members were drafted into the military, causing a massive shortage of attendants. 10 At the lowest level of employment, the hospital had a ratio of one nurse to 166 patients. In June 1945, only 26 of the 92 attendant positions in the male wards were filled.


Psychotropic drugs were introduced at Susquehanna in 1952 and 10 in 1966, a law was passed that directed each county in the state to establish a county mental health program. 11 The combination of newly introduced medication and community mental health services lessened the need for additional structures at Susquehanna. The process, deinstitutionalisation, was born out of a socio-political movement for community-based services and open hospitals. 1 Susquehanna’s resident population was gradually reduced by releasing stabilised patients, shortening inpatient stays and reducing admission and readmission rates. Programs were implemented to mitigate reinforcement of dependency, hopelessness and other maladaptive behaviours.

In 1969, Susquehanna modified how patients were housed. 11 Previously, patients were housed in separate buildings by their type of illness, but a “unit” system was adopted in which all patients, regardless of illness, were placed in one building according to the county they were from. There were four “units” by 1971, along with geriatric, adolescent, and alcohol rehabilitation units.

A federal patient bill of rights was instituted in 1972, which fundamentally changed how the institution was run overnight. 11 For instance, patients could not be subjected to lobotomies, electroshock therapies, or other unusual treatments without their consent. Patients could also refuse to perform labour that involved the operation and maintenance of the hospital unless it was voluntarily and compensated by the minimum wage. State hospital farms, which once made many institutions nearly self-sufficient, were left fallow.

The unit system was also disbanded in 1972. 11

By 1992, Susquehanna had only 450 inpatients, and only those who had repeated admissions to a county mental health centre were referred to a state institution. 11 Of those admitted, the average stay was just six months. By 2005, the hospital had only 148 residents.

In January 2005, the state announced plans to close Susquehanna State Hospital by January 2006. 12 Money earmarked for the costly residential treatment programs would instead be shifted to cheaper and less restrictive community programs. More than half of the residents would be moved to community treatment centres, while about 120 of 250 patients would go to Danville State Hospital and Wernersville State Hospital.

Susquehanna State Hospital closed on January 27, 2006. 11 14 After the closure, about 35 patients remained under the care of individual counties and contractors. 13 Some buildings were reused as office space for state agencies, while others were mothballed, awaiting reuse or demolition.



Administration Building

The Administration Building was built from November 1893 to May 2, 1895, and opened to the staff on May 10. 2 Designed by Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton, the first floor contained offices, while the second floor contained apartments for the medical staff. The third floor was home of the superintendent and family. The entire building was later used for offices and meeting space.


The Chapel was built from 1911 to 1913 and opened on February 15, 1914. 5 Designed by York architect John Dempwolf, the building was host to religious services every Sunday and for theatre. The upper level contained a pipe organ and two movie projectors.

Cold Storage Building

The Cold Storage Building was constructed from August 1903 to 1904. Designed by Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton, the single level structure served as an addition to the kitchen. It featured an electrically cooled storeroom with room for 20 carcasses, a butcher shop, and a bakery. 6

Female Convalescent Ward

The Female Convalescent Ward was built from 1908 to July 1910 and opened in October 1910. 4 Designed by York architect John Dempwolf, the buildings were used to house patients. The first floor included a recreation room and a library, and a “rain bath,” or an enlarged shower, on the second floor. Each patient room was 8½ × 15 feet in size and held two residents.

Kitchen and Cafeteria

The Kitchen was erected from 1902 to September 17, 1903. 6 Designed by Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton, the central facility prepared food for all of the patients and staff at the hospital. It also featured a dining hall for patients who were able to leave their ward.

In 1937, a significant addition was completed to serve as a new central kitchen. 6 The circa 1903 building was re-purposed as a canteen.

Male Violent Ward Building

The Male Violent Ward, also known as Cedarcrest, was constructed in 1904 and opened in 1906. 3 Designed by Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton, it housed the most mentally challenged male patients. A centre courtyard provided fresh air and recreation.


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