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Dixmont State Hospital in 2005.

Dixmont State Hospital (originally the Department of the Insane in the Western Pennsylvania Hospital of Pittsburgh[1]) was a hospital located northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Construction began in 1859, and opened in 1862 and was in fact not named in honour of Dorothea Dix but Dix allowed the name only as a memory to her grandfather. It closed in 1984. The Western Pennsylvania Hospital at Pittsburgh ended its first year of operation in 1853, and it was evident that there were a greater amount of patients in jails and almshouses than could be provided for in the 26 beds designated for that express purpose at the hospital. Managers of the hospital used a $10,000 appropriation from the state to purchase a large amount of farmland, on a hill overlooking the Ohio River, to the south of Pittsburgh. The land lay in what is now the Kilbuck/ Emsworth Twp areas. They originally wanted to build the institution in the city, but this idea was rejected by Dorothea Dix.

Contents

History

A grand ceremony took place on July 19, 1859, when the cornerstone of the Dixmont Kirkbride building was laid in the foundation. A glass jar was placed in the cornerstone, containing numerous objects, papers, and a letter from Dorothea Dix herself. Also contained was a copy of her 1845 "Memorial", the 55-page county by county study of the conditions for the mentally ill in Pennsylvania, which had a great part in jump-starting early mental health care reform in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the time capsule was recently recovered, only to find it had broken, and most of the contents were unrecognizable.

The Kirkbride building at Dixmont was typical of other Kirkbride facilities with the exception that the outermost wings swept forward instead of to the rear in the typical V-shape. This was to afford a better view of the river valley, and better airflow, which was said to be more calming to the patients, in keeping with the want of a serene setting. It had gas lighting, a central hot air system for heat, and more than ample supply of water from the Ohio River. Construction of the west wing was not complete until 1868, at which time construction of the east wing began. It was named Reed Hall, after the first superintendent of Dixmont, Dr Joseph A. Reed. Behind the Reed Hall was the Dietary Building. This building contained the main kitchen at Dixmont, the large freezers, and storage areas where food was kept. Also part of this building were the loading docks, cleaning supplies, and upstairs were the auditorium, and the cafeteria. To the right of Reed Hall was the Men's Annex, which housed many of the patients who were trusted with work details in he further reaches of the property, which would reach a size of approximately 407 acres (1.6 km2). To the left of Reed Hall was the gym.

Other buildings on the property included the Hutchinson Building, which was the infirmary of the hospital. In this building you could find intensive care, x-ray facilities, a small cafeteria, a barber shop, isolation units, physical therapy areas, and observation rooms, instrument sterilization equipment. Each floor had patient rooms on the ends of the building, surrounding a nurses pod, all separated by half glass walls so the nurses could easily observe all of the patients. Also in this building, were the morgue, laboratory, and autopsy unit. This building is where electroshock therapy, lobotomies, and other medical procedures took place. The Cammarrata Building was built in the early 1950s. This building was the geriatric center of Dixmont. This building has been renovated and is currently home (yet again coincidentally) to the a foundation for the disabled (The Verland Foundation) a private school, (The Glen Montessori School) and offices for the construction company owned by the family that purchased the property.

Dixmont State Hospital was originally named the Department of the Insane in the Western Pennsylvania Hospital of Pittsburgh. The original patient population of the hospital was a meager 113 patients, who were transferred from the Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh. Before the 1800s were out, somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 patients called the hospital home. In 1907, the facility was individually incorporated as the Dixmont Hospital for the Insane after separating from the Western Pennsylvania Hospital system. Dixmont was completely self sustained from the beginning. It had its own farmlands, livestock, rail station, and post office. Also part of the facility was a water treatment plant, a sewage treatment plant, and electricity generating facilities. They had their own butchers, bakers, farmhands, electricians, laborers, pipe fitters, botanists, chefs, and even a barber and a dentist.

Demolition and Wal-Mart

Time and many fires (one that completely gutted the Administration Building) had left the crumbling building useless, and the State sold the 407-acre (1.6 km2) property to a private owner in 1999. In 2005, a local developer made an agreement to convert the 75 acres (300,000 m2) of that land that contained most of the buildings and demolition began in preparation for a shopping center that would be anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Subsequent excavation destabilized the hillside and landslides covered PA Route 65 and railroad tracks on the other side, shutting them both down for weeks. After numerous complaints by Kilbuck Township residents for fear of another collapse, due to the instability of the "rebuilt" landslide, Wal-Mart decided not to build on the property on September 26, 2007, and the land will be left to return to nature.[2] Route 65 remains restricted to one lane northbound near the site for safety concerns, though the entire roadway has since been cleared of debris.

Even if Wal-Mart hadn't bought the property, the Hospital would've likely been demolished anyways, due to teenagers dangerously trespassing on the property on a regular basis as well as the buildings containing both asbestos insulation and lead paint, both of which have since been outlawed for health reasons, and in the case of asbestos, has been getting removed from buildings since the 1980's. In addition, Pennsylvania law prohibits the state from selling grave sites, so the hospital's own cemetery, in which many of the patients were buried with simple stones marked only with index numbers, remains state-owned. The purchasers of the Dixmont property own the log book that identifies the markers with each patient and their number and have made the information available.[3]

References

See also

Coordinates: 40°30′59″N 80°06′47″W / 40.5163°N 80.1130°W / 40.5163; -80.1130

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