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 Institutional care for the mentally ill has been replaced by community based care since the Mental Heath Procedures Act of 1976 was passed.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.

28 comments:

  1. I am on Ancestry.com 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?

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  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?

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

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  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.

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    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

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    2. I wrote a reply here a few years ago, which has since been removed. So I'm going to somewhat recreate it. I worked at Allentown State Hospital for a few years as a psychiatric nurse and much of what you said simply did not go on. They did not utilize "straight jackets" and they did not do electroshock treatments onsite. Patients were sent to a medical hospital if shock treatments were deemed necessary. Nobody was beaten. You would only be stripped and put in a seclusion room if you were actively suicidal or a danger to others. The lack of material was there to keep you from killing yourself by hanging. There was a staff person stationed right outside the door that you could call on if you needed assistance. Since psychotropic meds at that time basically consisted of Thorazine and Haldol (still used today for severe psychotic symptoms), a "wet sheet bed pack" treatment was used. The treatment idea was that your body heat would act as a tranquilizer. Allentown was one of the few hospitals in the state that still used that treatment in the early to mid 70's, as times were changing and it was considered abusive. (Now it is used at spas and people pay foe it.) I may be one of the few people in this country that has actually participated in that particular psychiatric treatment. Again, it was only done for people who were an immediate danger to themselves or others. Although there were many unsavory characters that worked at the hospital (both high and low) the nursing and nursing aid staff were 95% good, caring people. Fortunately, it wasn't much longer until long term, involuntary commitments were deemed illegal and the rules reformatted. This change in policy had nothing to do with concern for the patients. It was strictly a political/financially motivated change. State hospitals were expensive to run and maintain. It is accepted today that the nationwide emptying of mental health hospitals to save money and move the responsibility to the communities was not successful.

      Please don't have anymore of my comments deleted. It's called free speech.

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    3. Sweetiepie, I'm Tim Darragh at The Morning Call. Please contact me at 610-820-6691 or tdarragh@mcall.com. Thank you.

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

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. No patients were buried on the property. They were buried by their family or by the county coroner.

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  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.
    Thanks
    kimberlylprice@yahoo.com

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    1. HIPPA means you can't. Consult a lawyer.

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  6. What I find weird is why after so many years the old building still stands behind the newer one. and why as soon as you start driving up the long driveway security comes driving up to you asking what your doing.. I drove up the way to show my daughter all the deer that hang out on the land, guy comes down from the top area , pulls next to us, right away I was like uh oh, he was pretty cool though just told us to turn around when we were done. But my question is, what's up there yet? Hmmmm, anyone?

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    1. IT IS SECURITY'S JOB TO STOP ANYONE WHO ENTERS THE PROPERTY. IT IS STATE PROPERTY AND THE BUILDING IS USED FOR POLICE k-9 TRAINING. IT IS UNSAFE FOR MANY REASONS FOR THE PUBLIC. NOT TO MENTION I WOULD NOT CONTINUE UP A DRIVEWAY WITH SEVERAL SIGNS THAT SAY YOU ARE TRESPASSING ON STATE PROPERTY.

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    2. IT IS SECURITY'S JOB TO STOP ANYONE WHO ENTERS THE PROPERTY. IT IS STATE PROPERTY AND THE BUILDING IS USED FOR POLICE k-9 TRAINING. IT IS UNSAFE FOR MANY REASONS FOR THE PUBLIC. NOT TO MENTION I WOULD NOT CONTINUE UP A DRIVEWAY WITH SEVERAL SIGNS THAT SAY YOU ARE TRESPASSING ON STATE PROPERTY.

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    3. there is a non profit organization on the campus by the name Community Services for Children. If you come up during the week day and during the day, you will not be stopped because that business is open. If you come on the weekend or after hours you will be stopped.

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  7. I WORK AS A SECURITY GUARD AT THE STATE HOSPITAL. I WORK NIGHT SHIFT I HAVE HAD NO EXPERIENCE OF PARANORMAL HOWEVER THE ONLY PART OF THE BUILDING THAT CREEPS ME OUT IS THE HALLWAY WITH THE CHAPEL. I INSTANTLY GET A HEADACHE AND IT BECOMES HARD TO BREATHE IN THAT HALLWAY. I ALWAYS KEEP MY ROSARY IN MY HAND WHEN I CHECK THAT BUILDING. THEIR HAVE BEEN OTHER SECURITY GUARDS THAT HAVE SEEN A WOMEN IN THE BUILDING OR FELT SOMETHING TOUCH THEM, THIS HAS NEVER HAPPEN TO ME AND I HOPE IT DOESN'T THE BUILDING IS VERY CREEPY AND OLD. WALKING THE TUNNELS UNDERGROUND IS ALSO VERY UNEASY. HOWEVER THE HOSPITAL IS VERY OLD AND THEIR WILL BE CREAKS. THIS BUILDING IS NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!!AND ANYONE WHO TRESPASSES ON THE PROPERTY WILL BE REMOVED IMMEDIATELY.

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    1. Cheryl Golden relative of a past client of Allentown State HospitalMarch 5, 2017 at 12:58 PM

      I do with you would stop yelling. That is what all caps is yelling. When it comes to this state hospital as in all that are now defunct, people have a natural desire to revisit a place that they had been in or that their relatives were in. I know I have often wanted to revisit to pay my respects to those who were there. I do understand that it is no longer open to the public, but really you should be like the other security whom apparently have some compassion for people. After you are not god, and are allowed to make decisions within reason by yourself.

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    2. would u know who you speak to bout getting permission to walk the grounds?

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  8. my great grandmother was in the allentown state hospital in the 1950's but i don't even know when she died or what her first name was,her married last name was Wendling,my dad told me him and my grandmother used to visit her in there in the 1950's.wonder where i can find this information? if anyone knows please let me know at beegees78990@gmail.com

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  9. I have driven by and know where it is. I had a great aunt that was in that hospital, for 2 years around mid 1930's and then again to stay from 1948 - 1966. She died there. I found her records. She is buried at a church with her parents and family members. For her medical records, I had to go to the Lehigh County Court house, then get a form and get my aunts and uncles (left survivors of her estate) sign for me to have permission to get her medical records. I find the whole thing sad. I believe that the medication used at that time was harmful and she died, at least, in part, from it. The family 'shunned' her. I'd like to write a story. If anyone wants to discuss further offline, I am open for it. Also I'm local and if anyone wants me to do some research for them, I will do it but require the costs paid and something for my time. karendee57@hotmail.com make subject of email Genealogy Allentown....or something noticeable. I have been researching my family history, women's history and the local history for decades, since the 80's. It's a shame if my work isn't shared!

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  10. I just found out that Dr. Abraham L. Kistler (2nd cousin 4x removed) was president of the hospital in 1925. Is there any way someone would have a photo or sketch of him? Just wondering..

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    1. I think you are the one who put his memorial on Find A Grave, but if not, here's the link. What a great find that obit was. I will remember you if I come across a photo in my own geneology searches.

      https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/145600863/abraham-lincoln-kistler

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  11. They are not called presidents, they were called superintendents and they were medical doctors. I spent time there as a child from 1958 until 1967. The place was a horrible and freighting experience for me. I was first in the R.W. building then transferred to R.V. then to C.B. building. They tried to send me to EN 3 and 4 building but I escaped and was never sent back. The place was a living Hell. I am glad it's closed down.

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    1. Can you help me? Through DNA testing we have discovered my grandfather. He died here in 1966. From the records we know he was in EL 1-2 EL 3-4 and FC #3. Can you tell me what that means?

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  12. i am wondering who one would have ask to get permission to walk on the allentown stare hospital?

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  13. Hello , have you ever figured this out

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  14. Contact your state representative. They should be able to find out if that's possible.

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