At 2500 feet in elevation, exploring the former Allegheny Tuberculosis Sanatorium is 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 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 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. 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.
Streptomycin began to be administered at Allegheny in 1947. In 1956, with tuberculosis on the terminal decline, the sprawling facility 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.
In 1987, the hospital and state school was reopened as SCI Allegheny, a medium security prison. It closed in 2013 owing to state financial considerations.