At 2,500 feet in elevation, exploring the former Allegheny Tuberculosis Sanatorium was a delight. With heavy fog blanketing the campus in the early mornings, perpetual overcast days, and cooler temperatures even in the dead of summer, its location along the Allegheny Mountain front in Pennsylvania was ideal.
It was also an ideal location for those battling tuberculosis. Initial treatment for tuberculosis included fresh air daily, a diet high in ascorbic acid, vitamin A, and protein, and bed rest. 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.
The formulation 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 Ph.D. student in a laboratory at Rutgers University as part of a research project funded by Merck and Company. 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 randomized curative trial. The results showed efficacy against tuberculosis.
Streptomycin began to be administered at Allegheny in 1947. In 1956, with tuberculosis on the terminal decline, the sprawling facility shifted roles to focus on the treatment of those with severe mental disorders and became the Allegheny State Hospital. It later became the Allegheny State School and Hospital in 1964 when it began admitting patients with intellectual disabilities.
In 1987, with the state school and hospital closed, the grounds were repurposed as SCI Allegheny, a medium-security prison. It closed in 2013 because of state financial considerations and a drop in inmates.