Saturday, July 10, 2010

Allentown State Hospital

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare is currently closing the Allentown State Hospital, one of seven state psychiatric hospitals in the state. The hospital serves patients from Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Monroe, and Pike counties. Institutional care for the mentally ill has been replaced by community based care since the Mental Heath Procedures Act of 1976 was passed. Today the usual course of treatment would involve a short stay in a psychiatric ward of a hospital, such as St. Luke’s Hospital. The patient would receive a diagnosis, group therapy and appropriate medication. They would then be discharged to a day program to ease back into the community.
When the Allentown State Hospital opened on October 2, 1912, it was the first homeopathic hospital in the state. It was originally called the Pennsylvania Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane. The hospital was built on 209 acres in Hanover Township, which included the former estates of Robert E. Wright and J. Marshall Wright. The site was equal distance between Allentown and Bethlehem, in an area known as Rittersville.
The ceremony for the laying of the corner-stone on June 27, 1904, was attended by Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker, many state legislators and a large group of “homeopathic” physicians. The guests traveled by trains, trolleys and carriages. Music was provided by the Allentown Pioneer Band and a prayer given by Rev. William D.C. Keiter of Bethlehem. Architect Philip H. Johnson presented a copper box containing the newspapers of the day, assortment of coins, a copy of the Act of Legislature ordering the building of the hospital and a list of all the homeopathic physicians in the state. The Governor then spread cement over the cornerstone and the “time capsule.” After the ceremony, the guests walked to the vacated Wright buildings to enjoy a lunch arranged on long tables.
Due to financial problems in the state there was a delay of eight years before the hospital was completed. The institution was built to serve 1000 patients. The Central Railroad ran by the southern end of the property. The Lehigh Valley Trolley Co. ran a line bordering the property on the north.
The hospital, designed by Johnson, was built in a block plan with several buildings connected by corridors. The buildings included; administration buildings, four patient ward buildings, two chapels, dining rooms, operating room, auditorium, kitchen, ice plant, laundry, boiler, and electric plant. An aerial tramway was built between the railroad and the power plant to facilitate the delivery of coal. It was a totally self contained community Land and building costs totaled $1,931,270.
The first Board of Trustees, appointed by Governor John K. Tener, were Harry C, Trexler, president; Edward M. Young, secretary and treasurer; Russel C. Stewart, Archibald Johnston, John J. Tuller, M.D., William A Seibert, M.D., Leonard Peckitt, F.J. Slough, M.D. and George R. Bedford. Henry I Klopp was appointed the first superintendent. The hospital was at near capacity within a year. Norristown and Danville State Hospitals transferred 750 patients immediately, due to overcrowded conditions in those institutions.
The homeopathic treatment for a patient began with a period of bed rest. The patient then received plenty of fresh air, nutritious food, hydrotherapy, exercise, re-education and occupational therapy. The belief was that under proper conditions, the body would heal itself.
A farm was operated on the grounds through the labor of employees and hospital patients. The produce fed the staff and patients. The cost for care for a week of hospitalization was about $5.00 per patient.
In the 1790s, Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann of Germany, created the homeopathic approach to the treatment of illnesses. Homeopathy treats the mind and body together. Hahnemann wrote medical papers on his new treatment and trained medical students in Germany. Because of the high numbers of German immigrants to Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley, many physicians in the area were trained in this method. The first homeopathic medical college in the world was founded in 1836 in Allentown. The college president, Constantine Hering, is considered the Father of American Homeopathy. It is no surprise that in 1901, the state legislature selected a site between Allentown and Bethlehem to build the state’s first homeopathic treatment hospital for the mentally ill.
During the Great Depression, the Public Works Administration contracted with architects Lovelace and Spillman of Bethlehem to design a new dining hall for the hospital. During the 1950s, the hospital was severely overcrowded, reaching the highest patient population in its history of 2012. Today there are 175 patients in the care of the hospital.


  1. I am on and just found out that my husband's great grandfather was an "inmate" at this hospital. Is it possible to find any records of his hospitalization?

  2. I also found a relative that was an inmate and possibly died there. Where were the people buried that had no families left to bury them?

    1. I don't doubt it. It wouldn't surprise me if they dug-up the property what they would find..

  3. I was unfortunate enough to be put there in the early 70's. It was a hell-hole. Shortly after my arrival I was medicated, striped naked and in isolation. what followed was- more medication, straight-jackets, wet-sheeting, beatings and electro-shock therapy. To this day I do not remember how long I was there. I made it out alive, but I pity those who did not.. These people were cruel, heartless and uncaring. I feel sorry for those who lost their souls and minds there.

    1. My mother was sent to an asylum somewhere between 1973 and 1974, and I think, but I do not know for sure, that it was to this one. We lived in Bethlehem, PA. She was diagnosed incorrectly, and then, lawyers used this against her to put a restraining order on her so that she couldn't see my sister and me. I was only 3 or 4 at the time she was sent away. I'm writing a novel about my life without her. Later, I found out that she, like you, went through shock therapy. I think she was only in there for two weeks, but I can't be sure, because nobody has ever told me the truth. SO VERY SORRY FOR YOUR EXPERIENCE; hoping you have a wonderful life, now

  4. Where were the patients buried in the 1900's

  5. My great uncle, Edward R. Hyde died there in 1957...I was wondering how I get his records or information as to what his condition was at the time of his stay? I know he was a WW veteran and served time in France...figure he may have been unable to hold it together when he returned from the war....I know he was married to a woman named Ellen and had a daughter Joanne Finkbeiner; he was divorced and then owned and operated Hyde's Restraunt in Easton PA abt 1940 to ? I do hope someone out there willo respond to me.