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Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Historic Harrisburg State Hospital Treated the Mentally Ill

The Historic Harrisburg State Hospital in Pennsylvania

The Harrisburg State Hospital opened its doors in 1851 as Pennsylvania's first institution built to care for the mentally ill. There are several buildings on the property, the main hospital building, a chapel, cottages, office buildings, other treatment buildings, etc. The entire property is surrounded by the feel that it's out in the middle of the woods, while being in a metropolitan city. 

My maternal grandmother worked for over 20+ years at the hospital as a registered nurse before her passing. She loved working there and helping to treat those in need. In front of the main hospital building is a historical marker that gives you a lot of information about the hospital. Here's the historical information contained on it.

The Historic Harrisburg State Hospital in Pennsylvania

First known as the "City on the Hill," the Harrisburg State Hospital was opened in 1851 as Pennsylvania's first institution built for the care and treatment of the mentally ill, and one of the first such facilities in the United Sates. 

By the 1840's, it became clearer that the country's "poor houses" and jails were not conducive to giving proper attention to those with emotional and mental disturbances. After meeting with success in Massachusetts, mid-19th century social reformer Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) brought her case to Pennsylvania by convincing the state legislature to authorize the establishment of an institution just for the psychologically disabled.

Consequently, the hospital, originally known as the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Asylum, was founded by an Act of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1845 and grew as a community onto itself with beautifully landscaped grounds and farmland for the self-sufficient production of food. It was the philosophy that such an idyllic setting would protect, rather than incarcerate, the patients from the disruptive influences of the outside world.

The Historic Harrisburg State Hospital in Pennsylvania

The hospital would grow from its original 130 acres to over 1000, and to include in excess of 70 buildings, the most significant of which were designed by noted Pennsylvania architects. The campus attained further significance as it represented an important transition in hospital design from the "Kirkbride" plan where patients were housed in one large structure, to that of the "Cottage" plan where smaller buildings served as patient residences thus reinforcing the sense of home and open space.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Harrisburg State Hospital, which has been the site of at least one major motion picture production, continues to well serve those in need. 

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