Abandoned: Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic

Administration Building Early 1900's

Administration Building
Early 1900’s

“Pennhurst State School and Hospital, originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic is positioned on the border between Chester County and Montgomery County in Pennsylvania. Pennhurst was an institution for the mentally and physically disabled individuals of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

“In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the creation of the Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic and a commission was organized to take into consideration the number and status of the feeble-minded and epileptic persons in the state and determine a placement for construction to care for these residents.”

Overhead view of campus

Overhead view of campus

The Superintendent reported to the Board of Trustees that:

“It is without question absolutely wrong to place the feeble-minded and epileptic in the same institution. They are not the same; they are as different, one from the other, as day is from night. They are mentally, physically and morally incompatible, and require entirely different treatment.”

“On November 23, 1908, “Patient number 1” was admitted to the hospital. Within four years of operation, Pennhurst was already overcrowded and under pressure to admit immigrants, orphans and criminals.  Residents were classified into mental categories of imbecile or insane, into physical categories of epileptic or healthy, and into dental categories of good, poor or treated teeth when admitted.

Henry H. Goddard

Henry H. Goddard

Goddard believed that feeble-minded people should be removed from society and placed in institutions such as Pennhurst.  He also published a book based on the heritage of a patient at Pennhurst, convincing readers, parents and doctors that the best place for mentally challenged children was an institution, otherwise the gene pool would continue to break down and all children born would also be feeble-minded and a future criminals.

In the Biennial Report to the Legislature submitted by the Board of Trustees, Pennhurst’s Chief Physician quoted Henry H. Goddard, a leading eugenicist, as follows:

“Every feeble-minded person is a potential criminal. The general public, although more convinced today than ever before that it is a good thing to segregate the idiot or the distinct imbecile, they have not as yet been convinced as to the proper treatment of the defective delinquent, which is the brighter and more dangerous individual.”

In 1968, conditions at Pennhurst were exposed in a five-part television news report anchored by local CBS10 correspondent Bill Baldini, titled Suffer the Little Children. This video is 36 minutes long and 100% heart breaking. 

Bill Baldini reports on the condition of Pennhurst

Bill Baldini reports on the condition of Pennhurst

In 1983, nine employees were indicted on charges ranging from slapping and beating patients (including some in wheelchairs) to arranging for patients to assault each other.

“The Halderman Case, which resulted in the closure of the institution, also detailed widespread patient abuse.  A class-action case was filed against Pennhurst State School on behalf of its patients. The case was heard by U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Broderick, who in 1977 ruled that the conditions at the institution violated patients’ constitutional rights. Pennhurst State School was ultimately closed in 1987. Its 460 patients were discharged or transferred to other facilities in a process known as deinstitutionalization that lasted several years, and included discussion of treatment plans with each patient’s family.”

After a decade of controversy, it closed on December 9, 1987.

Pottstown 1972

Pottstown 1972

As of 2010, the administration building has been partially renovated and reopened as the Pennhurst Asylum haunted house. The attraction has been successful, though controversial among locals and those previously affiliated with Pennhurst.

Penn Organic Recycling LLC currently operates on four-and-a-half-acres of Pennhurst, offering topping, composting and food waste services. The Department of Environmental Protection permitted the composting operation at Pennhurst to maintain no more than 25 tons.

Pennhurst has been featured on the shows Ghost Adventures on Travel ChannelGhost Hunters on SyFyCelebrity Ghost Stories on BIO, The Haunting Of… ‘Beverley Mitchell‘ on BIO, and the self-titled movie ‘Pennhurst’, featuring Beverley Mitchelland Haylie Duff.  (Wiki)

Presently, there are businesses that operate during the day and security paroles the grounds 24 hours a day.  Many of the building are not safe to enter for any reason.  I was told people do continue to trespass at night to “party” but will be arrested if caught.  Just past the Veteran’s Hospital on the right the road began to narrow and eventually became gravel.  There was building after building, decaying in the bright sunshine.

Veteran's Hospital

Veteran’s Hospital

Pennhurst 047

Huge water tower and flag next to the Veteran’s Hospital

The first human I found was working in a leased garage.  I told him I saw all the abandoned buildings and was intrigued to what this area was.  I was nearly certain I was at Pennhurst State School, or damn close to it, but I didn’t want to tip him off.  He said, this was formally Pennhurst, a mental institute. and the big buildings were down the dirt road.  I asked if he thought they would mind if I went down and he said, “I don’t know, just go down and see.”  Sounded good to me!

The mulching company had huge piles of fresh mulch that actually improved the scenery…making it look as though it is building itself a barrier from the outside world.  The mulch worker said he knew a little bit about Pennhurst and told me how eventually the government shut them down.  “We just lease the land for mulching.  The really impressive buildings are down around the corner.”  I was further intrigued and asked him if anyone was back there.  “Oh yeah, they’re getting ready for the Haunted Asylum.  Just keep going left.  I can’t let you get any closer to where we are working.  Actually, I’m surprised no one has stopped you so far.  You know they charge people with trespassing.”

I told him I’ve never been in trouble in my life and didn’t want to start now.  He laughed and said he wasn’t going to call the police and it had been nice talking to me.  “Just keep to the left and you’ll see them working.”  I thanked him and Ying and I went back to my car.

Pennhurst 229 Pennhurst 221

Yes, this sign referring to the mulching process, but really, the entire property is a compost.

Yes, this sign is referring to the mulching process, but really, the entire property is a compost.

There were buildings everywhere.  Some were small barns, greenhouses, towering mansions and huge industrial buildings.  I photographed everything I could see and checked out the inside of every building that looked safe enough to approach.  As I was walking around, a truck passed me and I waved.  They nodded and kept going, I guessed they worked for one of the companies on the property because they had no interest in a woman walking a dog with two cameras around her neck.

I finally came to the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum and found a working crew, just as the mulch guy said.  There was probably at least ten people working to be ready for the 2013 scaring season.  I began speaking to just one person but after awhile there was a large group chiming in on the history of Pennhurst and the Haunted Asylum.  I absolutely could not go inside their “staged” mansion and take pictures and I was fine with that.  I was offered a guided tour on a golf cart and that sounded better than a Carnival Cruise at the moment.

I stayed with the “Asylum Group” taking every moment to get photos.  I learned three people own the Pennhurst property but very little, other than the two building being used for the Haunted Asylum, are being renovated.  My guide said some are just to far gone to rehabilitate.  The history of this place is so ugly, it would be good to see more buildings used for something positive.  There is controversy about the Haunted Asylum.  Some people believe it is wrong to use any building on this property as an amusement attraction.  My opinion, this place has such a horrific past for children and young adults, any positive experience here would not be blasphemous, but healing.  The attraction is fictional.   There was never a “torture chamber” or “prison” in the administrative building.  But, I’m sure there are other buildings that held rooms just for that purpose.  I can’t get past the clip in the YouTube video where the doctor admitted  to giving a patient a painful injection of no medical use, solely to torture him for injuring another patient.  That is just WRONG.  No doctor should ever be injecting a patient just to cause them pain.

A collection of historical Pennhurst images, mostly courtesy of J. Gregory Pirmann, former special assistant to the superintendent at Pennhurst.  These video pictures are from far better days at Pennhurst State Hospital.

The first building was used by the union workers as a small office and work area.  The middle and back half of the roof of this building has collapsed.  Union paperwork and even a checkbook was laying in the office area.  A crushed wheelchair was at the front door, that someone pried open, only to find there was no way to get past the roof.

To best enjoy, click on the first thumbnail of each gallery to open the photos to full-size.

Very few of the greenhouses still have glass in the windows.  Plant life had no problem taking over, and now trees grow through the tops.  I disturbed a cat but he was so fast, all I caught was his butt.  Outside the greenhouses were random piles of trash, chairs and furniture, havens for bugs and snakes.

The foundation and cement around this house was so bad I didn’t want to walk up to it.  The sidewalk was being swallowed up by the ground.

Pennhurst 131

Pennhurst 126 Pennhurst 127

Pennhurst 128

Behind these houses was a small, dingy house.  The smell of the house was bad but the backyard was even worse.  Ying and I investigated (I was betting something nearby was dead) and I found an old wagon filled with scummy water.

A large stone house looked like it wasn’t built in the early 1900’s.  It had a modern look with porch and wooden columns rather than stone.  The house was impressive and had a green hue due to the mold, moss and foliage.  If the foundation of this house is solid, it would be a great rehab project.

View from a distance.

Pennhurst 111 Pennhurst 155

Hello deer

Hello deer

This interested Ying more than the buildings.

This interested Ying more than the buildings.

Darling Fire Hydrant

Darling Fire Hydrant

The lights on the property look out of place.

The lights on the property look out of place.

Large brick building with bolted metal doors.

Large brick building with bolted metal doors.

The windows were busted out so I did my best to catch what was inside. There was very little sunlight making it inside to brighten the room for photos.

A fire takes out a portion of roof.

A fire takes out a portion of roof.

Pennhurst 207

Pump House maybe...

Pump House maybe…

Pennhurst 234

Pennhurst 241

Administration Building 2013

Mayflower Hall-said to be haunted!!

Mayflower Hall-said to be haunted!!

Pennhurst 244

Rear Administration Building (Pennhurst Asylum)

Rear Administration Building (Pennhurst Asylum)

Steeple on Administration Building

Steeple on Administration Building

Pennhurst 249

Industry Hall

Pennhurst 242 Pennhurst 246 Pennhurst 247 Pennhurst 248 Pennhurst 250 Pennhurst 251 Pennhurst 252 Pennhurst 256 Pennhurst 257 Pennhurst 258 Pennhurst 259Pennhurst 264 Pennhurst 266

brick rubble

brick rubble

Pennhurst 268 Pennhurst Admin Building

Philadelphia Hall

Philadelphia Hall

The last building I stopped at was a former house.  The trees in front of the porch grew through the spouting, forcing it to separate from the porch.

My road trip was a complete success and while I would love to be inside some of the building farther out on campus, I can’t imagine trying to “sneek” into them.  Now that I know the people that work here and the names of the owners of the Pennhurst property, maybe I can get permission to take photos at the pool, the hospital and the campus housing.  I had a great day, stepping back into a place in history that most people have never heard of.  Pennhurst may be closed but it will never be forgotten.  God Bless all the children who lived there in unfit conditions, and to the staff that tried their best to care for patients with what little the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave them.

In the past, and now through the Halloween season, Pennhurst continues to cause nightmares and screams.

~P.

Pennhurst Asylum employees were SUPER nice!

Pennhurst Asylum employees were SUPER nice!

Comments

  1. Bonnie Moritz says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’m sure there are still places where people like this are still abused. Horrible!!!!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    wonderful to see what else you posted thank you for great thing s

  3. Thank you. I recently found out I work about 10 mins. for here and went for a road trip at lunch. There was security all over so I only made it to the power building. I find the remains and the whole Pennhurst story fascinating. Thanks again for the pics of what I couldn’t see.

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