Western State School and Hospital

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Western State School and Hospital
Opened 1962
Closed 2000
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Morganza, PA
Alternate Names
  • Western Center
  • Pennsylvania Reform School
  • Canonsburg Youth Development Center
  • The House of Refuge


The Pennsylvania Reform School, originally the House of Refuge of Western Pennsylvania, opened in 1850 as a reform school for local delinquent children. Originally located on the north shore of the Ohio River, Allegheny County, the school relocated in 1872 to Morganza, an area northeast of Canonsburg, Pa., in Washington County. The school changed its name in 1876 to the Pennsylvania Reform School. The school was the home of youth under the age of 21, many of whom were convicted of crimes such as theft, larceny, rape, and murder. The school often applied strict discipline policies to force adherence to their rules, and students were often contracted for labor in nearby farms. In 1911, the school, attempting to remove the stigma of a reform school, changed its name to the Pennsylvania Industrial Training School. The school changed its name a fourth time in 1960, to the Canonsburg Youth Development Center. In 1962, renamed Western State School and Hospital, a hospital was added for the mentally handicapped and opened its doors on the campus. The Youth Development Center was eventually phased out of existence, and the mental hospital, eventually named Western Center, utilized some the former reformatory buildings. The facility had 37 buildings on 304 acres of land.

The beautiful campus served as a serene setting in Pennsylvania's history of treatment for the mentally retarded although horrid accounts exist of experimental drug therapy, isolation, neglect, rape and dehumanizing treatment to some residents and faculty throughout the years. Western Center, located in Washington County within the Southpointe business park, stopped admitting patients in 1992 and finally closed in 2000. All of the buildings have been demolished. The land under redevelopment, bought for $2M, will serve as one of the first lifestyle centers in PA which will feature a complex of office, shopping, living, and recreational facilities in one centralized area.

The expansive park-like campus hosts the 20 remaining buildings in various states of decay and disrepair. The seven-story dormitory building looms over the site as the dominant feature. On the opposite end of the campus, a tall green tower tops the brick Administration Building - used as a filming location for the movie "The Silence of the Lambs" in 1991 featuring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. Thirty-three flat aluminum gravestones mark the graves of children in the Morganza Cemetery, each echoing the same epitaph "Rest In Peace".

Images of Western State School and Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Western State School and Hospital


  • Here is a video shot by a off road biker showing some of the campus and also on the institution's cemetery:

Links & Additional Information[edit]