The story of a forgotten America.

Lawrence Frick State Hospital

Lawrence Frick State Hospital, later SCI Cresson, is a former tuberculosis sanatorium and prison in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.







History

Andrew Carnegie, who had 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 and gave away enormous landholdings. It was one of those land holdings that was developed into a tuberculosis sanitorium.

Carnegie had selected a site along with the front range of the Allegheny Mountains for a mansion for his mother, but before the house was started, his mother died, and the land remained idle. 4 9 Around the same time, Samuel G. Dixon, the Commonwealth’s first Commissioner of Health, had been scouting locations in the Alleghenies for a tuberculosis hospital as prescribed by the Act of Assembly in June 1910. It was believed at the time that a combination of fresh mountain air, vigorous exercise, and a healthy diet was the best way to manage the disease.

When Dixon approached Carnegie as to his willingness to sell his land along the front range of the Alleghenies to the state for a tuberculosis sanitorium, Carnegie obliged. 4 9 He sold his land holdings to the Commonwealth in 1911 for one dollar.

Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium

Dixon designed the campus of the new sanitorium, which included a central Administration Building flanked by 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 to pay homage toward Carnegie’s heritage.

Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium began admitting patients in December 1912, and despite construction that was ongoing, it formally opened in January 1913. 4 9 By June, work on the cottages and wards was complete.

As the number of children admitted to the hospital increased, so did the need for their education. 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 later built and were ultimately replaced by two four-room buildings.

A training school for nurses was added in 1919, 4 followed by the construction of the Children’s Playhouse in 1921-22. 9 It featured a play space for children and a swimming pool that was used for the treatment of youths that had been 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

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 introducing 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 in tuberculosis rates and deaths in the United States. 1 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. 5 6 The first randomized trial of streptomycin against pulmonary tuberculosis was carried out between 1946-48 by the MRC Tuberculosis Research Unit. It was widely accepted to be the first randomized curative trial. 7 The results showed efficacy against tuberculosis. 8

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

The Medical Services Unit was added adjoining the J and K wards in the East Wing in the fall of 1952. 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.

Lawrence F. Flick State Hospital

In December 1956, Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium became Lawrence F. Flick State Hospital, operated by the Department of Public Welfare and specializing in treating those with severe mental disorders. In 1964, it became the Cresson State School and Hospital after it began admitting patients with intellectual disabilities before being renamed again in the 1970s to the Cresson Center. It closed in December 1982 when plans were announced to convert the psychiatric center into a prison.

SCI Cresson

Work began in 1984 to transform Cresson Center into SCI Cresson, a medium-security state correctional institution, which was completed at the cost of $20.6 million in 1987. 3 The campus incorporated several prototype cell blocks, which were designed to maximize line-of-sight for guards and offer ease of maintenance compared with earlier prison designs. Several of the original tuberculosis-era structures were left intact and repurposed, while the wings that extended from the Administration Building were torn down. The director’s residence was relocated to the road leading to SCI Cresson and remodeled to serve as the superintendent’s home.

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

On January 8, 2013, the state Department of Public Welfare announced that SCI Cresson would close because of the costs of maintaining the complex, with the cost per inmate per day being $23 higher than comparable institutions. 10 13 Potential savings to taxpayers was projected to be $23 million in fiscal 2013-14. 13

SCI Cresson closed on June 30, 11 with all 1,500 inmates ransferred to SCI Benner Township and SCI Pine Township. 13 Cresson Secure Treatment Unit, which operated independently from SCI Cresson, shut down in August 2016 because of low usage. 12

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

On December 22, 2016, the former SCI Cresson and Cresson Secure Treatment Unit property was sold to Carl Weaver for $600,000. 14 Lauren Freeman and her husband, K.C., engaged in a lease to own agreement with Weaver to provide space for their hydroponic business, Big House Produce, inside the former Cresson Secure Treatment Unit buildings in 2019. The tightly regulated buildings proved to be perfect for controlled environment agriculture. Big House Produce then opened up the former SCI Cresson property for tours and events.


Buildings

BuildingBuiltDemolished
Administration Building
Inmate Services
1913East and West Wings removed 1984
B Block1984
Children’s House
Unit III
Administration Building
1932
Children’s Playhouse
Surgery Building
Maintenance
1921
D Blockc. 1987
Grace Chapel1914
Gymnasiumc. 1987
I Blockc. 1987
J Block2006
Medical Services Unit1952
Nurses Home (O’Halloran Hall)
F Block
Recreation Hall
Community Hall
1915
Unit I1950
Unit II1950

Administration Building / Inmate Services

The Administration Building, completed in 1913 for Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium, was connected by interior corridors to the Dining Building and East Wing. The Dining Building included a large kitchen and dining hall on the first floor and rooms for nurses on the second and third floors. 4 9 Between 1915-16, the West Wing was constructed and linked to the Administration Building via an interior corridor, while the Dining Building was expanded for additional kitchen and dining space on the first floor and extra rooms for nurses on the upper floors. Solariums were added to the East Wing a few years later. 4

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

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

B Block

B Block, constructed in 1984 for SCI Cresson, was a prototype modular 128-bed General Housing Unit.

Children’s House / Unit III / Administration Building

In April 1932, the 122-bed Children’s House and associated nursery were opened to serve adolescents under the age of six at Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium. 4 9 The children’s department was discontinued in August 1950, and it became known as Unit III, an adult dormitory. It served as the Administration Building under SCI Cresson.

Children’s Playhouse / Surgery Building / Maintenance

The Children’s Playhouse was constructed in 1921-22 and featured an open-air play space for children on the top floor and an indoor swimming pool below it that was used for the treatment of youths that had been crippled by polio. 9 The second floor was covered in 1950 and converted into a surgical ward. It served as a maintenance shop under SCI Cresson.

D Block

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

Grace Chapel

Initially, religious services at Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium were held in the patients’ dining room, but the need for a dedicated chapel was soon apparent. Grace Chapel was built in 1914, remodeled 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. It continued to be used under SCI Cresson.

Gymnasium

The gymnasium was built circa 1987 for SCI Cresson.

I Block

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

J Block

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

Medical Services Unit

The Medical Services Unit, adjoining the J and K Wards in the East Wing, was added in the fall of 1952. 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. The building continued to be used for medical services under SCI Cresson.

Nurses Home (O’Halloran Hall) / F Block

The Nurses Home was constructed to serve as a dormitory for nurses and later named O’Halloran Hall after Alice O’Halloran, the first director of the Bureau of Public Health Nursing. 4 Under SCI Cresson, it was renovated to serve F Block, the Special Needs Unit.

Recreation Hall / Community Hall

The Recreation Hall was built in 1915 and included a large multi-purpose room for movies, dances, talent shows, and musicals. It was functionally replaced with Community Hall in 1925. Community Hall was renovated in 1951 with new stage curtains and theater seats.

Unit I / A Block

Unit I, completed in 1950, served as a women’s dormitory for Flick State Hospital. It was renovated for A Block, a General Housing Unit under SCI Cresson.

Unit II / C Block

Unit I, completed in 1950, served as a men’s dormitory for Flick State Hospital. It was renovated for C Block, a General Housing Unit under SCI Cresson.

Other


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Further Reading


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.
  13. Mellott, Kathy. “Cresson in shock: Prison closing jolts town.” Tribune-Democrat [Johnstown], 9 Jan. 2013.
  14. Byers, Joshua. “Explorers from all over flock to former Cresson prison for tours.” Tribune-Democrat [Johnstown], 8 Aug. 2021.

6 Comments

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[…] Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium formally opened in January 1913 on lands that steel magnate Andrew Carnegie once owned. Most of the early structures were designed in the Tudor Revival style. The Administration Building received the most adornments, with gargoyles on the tower and the crests of Scottish clans cut into the sandstone to pay homage to Carnegie’s heritage. […]

I READ YOUR STORY ABOUT THIS SANATORIUM WITH MUCH INTEREST. MY NAME IS CHUCK FELTON AND I WAS A TB PATIENT THERE IN 1955-56 WHEN I WAS 17 YEARS OLD. I RECOVERED AND AT AGE 82 HAVE HAD A FULL LIFE WITH NO COMPLICATIONS FROM MY BOUT WE TB. IN 2009 I PUBLISHED A SMALL WEBSITE ON THE INTERNET DETAILING MY EXPERIENCES THERE AS A PATIENT. I SOON BEGAN HEARING FROM OTHER PATIENTS WHO SENT MY THEIR PHOTOS AND STORIES WHICH I ADDED TO MY WEBSITE. THIS ULTIMATELY LED TO A WEEKEND REUNION IN 2011 IN CRESSON PA. PBS STATION WQED WAS THERE TO VIDEO THE EVENT AND PRODUCED AN AWARD WINNING DOCUMENTSRY ABOUT THE SANATORIUM. I’M SO GLAD I CAME ACROSS YOUR SITE.

MY WEBSITE IS AT THE FOLLOWIING LINK:

http://www.feltondesignanddata.com/cressontbsanatoriumremembered/

Thanks for sharing. I was reading this and thinking, “there must be people still around that remember this place.”

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