Warren State Hospital

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Warren State Hospital
Established August 14, 1873
Construction Began Sept 10, 1874
Construction Ended Oct 14, 1882
Opened Oct 5, 1880
Current Status Active
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Architect(s) Sessinghouse and Ostergard
Location Warren, PA
Peak Patient Population 2,562 in 1947
Alternate Names
  • State Hospital for the Insane at Warren
  • Warren State Hospital for the Insane


By act of Assembly approved August 14, 1873 (P. L. 333), the Governor of Pennsylvania was authorized to appoint three commissioners to select a site and build a hospital for the insane of the Northwestern district of the state, composed of the counties of Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Venango, Warren, McKean, Elk, Forest, Cameron and Clarion, and for such purpose they were empowered to purchase in the name of the commonwealth a farm or tract of land containing not less than 250 acres. The commission appointed was composed of Dr. William Corson, General James A. Beaver and Dr. John Curwen. General Beaver won distinction during the Civil War, became Governor of Pennsylvania and an associate judge of the Superior Court. The other members of the commission were gentlemen of experience in the state care of the insane. The commissioners entering at once upon their duties purchased three contiguous farms in Conewago township, in the County of Warren, embracing 330 acres, and called to their service John Sunderland, an architect of experience in connection with similar institutions. Meantime the Legislature, by act of May 6, 1874 ( P. L. 117), made appropriation for the erection of the hospital and therein empowered the commissioners to reject all bids for construction "if, in the opinion of the commissioners, the bids are higher than they can otherwise procure the material or do the work." Haying ascertained that an excellent quality of gray sandstone, as well as sufficient beds of brick clay, were to be found on the land purchased, the commissioners accordingly rejected all bids, and proceeded to build the hospital under the direction of John Sunderland as supervising architect and builder. By reason of the failure of legislative appropriations to keep pace with the progress of the work, its completion was considerably delayed and the cost incidentally increased. At the end of a period of eight years, however, the building was completed and the commissioners filed their final report. The entire cost was $872,000, or nearly $200,000 less than estimated, notwithstanding that the cost of fireproofing, amounting to about $100,000, was not included in the estimate.

The hospital structure is composed of a main center building and three horizontal sections on each side, at right angles with the center, and connected by transverse wings parallel with the center, and extending back so that each horizontal section shall be fully open at both ends of the main hall. The center building is of four stories, the horizontal wings of three stories, and the transverse blocks of four stories. There are gas works, a greenhouse and water reservoir. The latter was placed on the hill above the hospital, and has a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons. The floors throughout the building are of Georgia pine, the remainder of the wood-' work being walnut, ash and oak. Connected with the building are a laundry, kitchen, machine shop and carpenter shop.

WSH Vintage 23.jpg

The opening ceremonies were held at the hospital on the 5th of October, 1880. Upon the appointment and organization of a Board of Trustees for the institution, the commissioners, on the 1st day of August, 1881, made a final transfer of the hospital to the trustees, and it was assumed by them.

By the terms of the original act of Assembly the commission was enjoined to select " good, arable land, with an adequate supply of pure water, having large facilities of drainage from the buildings, within a convenient distance from some town and easy access by railroad." Charles W. Stone, of Warren, then a member of the Legislature, who was influential in securing the enactment, was able to direct the commission to a location within three miles of Warren which met the designated requirements. In the rear of the hospital, and through its grounds, are the lines of the Dunkirk and Allegheny Valley Railroad and the Warren and Jamestown trolley system.

Colonel Thomas Proctor, journeying in 1791 under commission from General Washington to confer with the Indian chief Cornplanter, noted in his journals that he passed "the mouth of the Conewago where the government has laid out a manor of 3000 acres," and that up the Conewago, "at an Indian town called Cayantha, or the corn fields, are extraordinary rich lands, of which survey was made by David Rittenhouse, Esq., of Philadelphia, some time since." Not far southward from the site of Cayantha, in the heart of this rich valley, the hospital *« located. The bluffs, or precipitous hills by which the valley is bordered on the east and on the west, rise to a height of about 2000 feet above the level of the sea, and add their scenic beauty to the hospital environment. The great highway, over the trail which the French explorer Celeron followed in 1749 from the Great Lakes to the Allegheny, here skirts the Conewago.

The principal building stands about 1500 feet from the river bank, towards which the land gradually slopes. The building is approached from the east by a driveway bordered with shrubbery laid out and planted under the direction of the landscape architect, Donald G. Mitchell. In addition to the original site, from time to time other lands have been acquired by purchase until the hospital farm, collectively, now comprises not less than 1044 acres, of which about 174 acres lie on the east bank of the Conewago, in the township of Glade, and 870 acres on the west bank, in the township of Conewago. The hospital farm affords the entire milk supply of the hospital, and a large proportion of its vegetable, meat and fruit supplies, and furnishes employment to patients to whom such employment is beneficial. The farmer and herdsman report a profit for seven years of more than $60,000.

The lands thus acquired, though in some instances not contiguous, are nearly so, and lie on both sides of the Conewago River, which is here the boundary between the townships of Conewago and Glade. While the buildings now constituting the hospital are separated at varying distances, such of them as are not too remote are connected with the principal building by tunnels. The total area of the land is 1044 acres, costing in all $67,109.25.

The hospital was organized under an act of Assembly approved June 8, 1881 (P. L. 83). It authorized the Governor to appoint nine trustees, under the name and title of the "Trustees of the State Hospital for the Insane at Warren, Pennsylvania." They were given certain powers therein enumerated, but not the general powers of a corporation, and some question having arisen as to their right to sue, a general law was enacted at their instance investing the trustees of such institutions with full corporate powers (act April 24,1901, P. L. 98). The organic act, however, provided that they should have charge of the "general interests" of the institution, and make monthly visitations, either in a body or by committee, appoint a superintendent who shall be a skillful physician, and make by-laws and regulations, with the consent of the Governor, appoint or authorize the appointment of and exercise control over all officers and assistants, and have direction of their duties. It prohibited any change in the office of superintendent oftener than once in five years, but an amendatory act (Act June 25, 1895, P. L. 304) requires an annual appointment.

The first Board of Trustees was commissioned by Governor Henry M. Hoyt and was composed of the following members: L. D. Wetmore, George N. Parmlee, George W. Starr, George W. Wright, James D. Hancock, John Fertig, R. S. Hunt, W. H. Osterhout, and R. B. Stone. Organization was effected by the election of L. D. Wetmore president, and George N. Parmlee secretary.

The commissioners on the 21st of January, 1880, appointed D. D. Richardson, M. D., superintendent and physician. Dr. Richardson was of experience at the Blockley Hospital, and soon after his retirement from the hospital at Warren accepted the superintendency of the State Hospital at Norristown. Entering upon his duties at Warren, Dr. Richardson called to his assistance Dr. Morris S. Guth from a period of hospital service in Iowa and in Ohio. Dr. Richardson, within the year of his appointment, resigned, and was succeeded by Dr. John Curwen, a member of the commission, who, in the exigency caused by Dr. Richardson's resignation, was elected by the trustees at their first meeting. Dr. Curwen, before coming to Warren, had been at the head of the State Hospital at Harrisburg, and, a secretary for many years of the American Association of Medical Superintendents, had attained wide acquaintance with the alienists of this country and was also known abroad, especially among the institutions of Great Britain, which he visited. Somewhat venerable at the close of his service at Warren, he did not long survive his retirement.

Dr. Guth continued in service until his election as assistant physician by the trustees on the 21st of July, 1881, in which position he served until June 15, 1900, when he was elected to the superintendency. Dr. Guth's incumbency was continuous until July 8, 1910, at which time he had been in the constant service of the hospital for a period of 30 years. During his superintendency most of the hospital annexes were erected, and many important features in hospital administration introduced. He acquired a notable reputation as an alienist, and his recent death has been widely lamented.

Dr. W. W. Hawke, who was elected in succession to the superintendency, brought to the office exceptional technical knowledge and a fund of experience gathered at the head of the insane department at Blockley Hospital, but after a short period of service he felt that he could not longer continue in the office with satisfaction, and his resignation was received in the summer of 1911. The vacancy was not immediately filled. The committee named to recommend an appointment finally extended an invitation to Dr. H. \V. Mitchell, then at the head of the state institution at Danvers, Mass., to visit the hospital at Warren, and the invitation was accepted. His unanimous election followed, and he entered upon his duties March 1, 1912. Dr. Mitchell's personal qualities, professional acquirement and experience at the head of important institutions in Maine and Massachusetts give distinct promise of success in his present position.

In the group of 28 buildings and appurtenant domains composing the hospital separate residence is afforded to patients of each sex who are convalescent or slightly affected, to tubercular patients and to the infirm. The buildings for each sex are provided with Turkish baths and with appointments for the amusement, exercise and diversion of patients. Hydrotherapeutic treatment is administered with the most modern equipment. Female patients receive instruction in art, clay moulding, painting, basket weaving and needlework.

This hospital was one of the first to establish a training school for nurses. When it introduced vaccination for typhoid, vaccination for this purpose was not then in use in the hospitals of this country. It sustains a study in psychology and in eugenic records; its pathological department is developing efficiently; it has completed the construction of sewage disposal works, and has equipped the hospital with approved sanitary incinerators. It has acquired three islands in the river, bridged the channels between them, and devoted them to the recreation of patients. It has revised its system of bookkeeping to accord with the best known institutional' examples.

Every department is, however, incidental and tributary to the dominating purpose to heal mental disease through both physical and mental agencies, and to make the environment of the chronic insane both sanitary and comfortable. Daily staff meetings are held, acute cases are considered, assigned for pathological and eugenic report, carefully studied, diagnosed, and reconsidered for treatment, medical, surgical, hygienic or psychological, as may be indicated. Detailed reports filed in each case are made the subject of reference, observation and comparison in the progress of treatment. Every department is under the direction of the superintendent. He is in attendance at all meetings of the Board of Trustees, and is a member ex-offkio of all its committees.

Dr. Guth was the sole assistant physician in the hospital from his election in 1881 until the spring of 1885. The number of assistants has since increased until at present it includes six, besides the pathologist.[1]

From the beginning, the State Hospital was at the forefront of treatment for persons with mental illness. It opened an outpatient clinic in 1885 for people who did not need to be hospitalized and a free clinic was offered two times a month for people who could not pay. At about the same time, a patients' library was established, recreation therapy was instituted and an art teacher was hired. Dr. Curwen retired in 1900 at the age of 79.

Other superintendents continued to make changes. Patients were provided the most current treatments and activities such as fishing, picnics, annual 4th of July outings (which were held on the islands in the Conewango Creek), and an annual Christmas party. A patients' baseball team was formed and it played against local teams. Also, Annual Field Days became a big event for patients in which they participated in a variety of competitive games and events.

The hospital was self-sustaining in that it raised its beef cattle, managed a prize-winning dairy herd, grew and packed its own vegetables. It also had a laundry, bakery and large kitchen. In fact, money from oil, which was discovered on the land, was used to enlarge the farmland. Patients were involved in "Industrial Therapy" and in doing so, provided much of the labor for the farm operations, laundry, cannery, grounds keeping, and cleaning.

In 1901 a school for nurses was opened. In 1903 the first class graduated. The school was closed in 1936. By 1916, the patient population had grown to 1116 patients.

Through the years, the hospital changed with the times. The patient population continued to grow and more buildings were erected to accommodate them. In 1920, the name was changed to Warren State Hospital.

  • Other changes included: A psychiatric residency program, accredited by the American Medical Association, was established and trained many psychiatrists until closing in the mid-eighties.
  • A psychiatric technician program was started to better train direct care staff.
  • Statistics kept by WSH beginning in the early fifties demonstrated that the majority of persons hospitalized at WSH were successfully discharged to community living. These statistics were instrumental in getting congressional funding to start the National Institute for Mental Health.
  • A gymnasium/auditorium, capable of seating 1100, was built for patients.
  • The de-institutionalization movement started by the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 eventually resulted in the discharge of many persons from WSH during the seventies. In 1963, there were about 2600 patients at WSH. By 1980, the number of patients was about 1900 with continued reduction continuing through the eighties, resulting in approximately 600 patients remaining by 1990.
  • A treatment unit was established to meet the special needs of adolescents.
  • In 1970, construction was completed on the Institute for Geriatric Research, which was later renamed the Israel Building, after long-time superintendent Robert Israel.
  • A Forensic Unit was opened to provide inpatient psychiatric care and competency evaluations for inmates in jails across the hospital's catchment area. Today it remains as a 27-bed unit serving 31 counties in Pennsylvania.
  • A research program for geriatric studies was funded at WSH by the Commonwealth for many years. Lead researcher Dr. Phillip Swartz made several important discoveries in brain physiology and pathology. The program was discontinued in the mid-seventies.
  • WSH was the first hospital to erect a building using both state and private monies. This was the Inter-faith Chapel and today both patients and community members worship together at Protestant, Catholic and Jewish services.
  • The hospital was the first one in Pennsylvania to successfully complete a large community-hospital integration project. Ultimately, from 1993 to 1996, approximately 140 patients from Erie County were successfully returned to community living with funds being transferred from the hospital's budget to the mental health budget of Erie County to support their care.
  • The hospital initiated a policy of leasing surplus buildings to community human service agencies, which resulted in nearly 30 such agencies moving onto hospital grounds.

Many changes have taken place at WSH over the past 112 years, but throughout its history, it has been committed to providing the best care possible to its patients and to being a leader in treatment of persons with serious mental illness. Today, WSH has the ability to serve 215 patients in treatment (188 Civil, 27 Forensic) and remains an integral and important component in the continuum of care for persons with serious mental illness who reside in northwestern Pennsylvania. The hospital's service area encompasses the following counties: Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, McKean, Mercer, Potter, Venango and Warren.

Images of Warren State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Warren State Hospital


  • The following is a short silent slide show about Warren State Hospital created by banzura on Youtube.
  • The following thirty-one minute historical presentation of Warren State Hospital was created by Warren County Historical Society.


Warren State Hospital's Cemetery sits just behind the main hospital property on Jackson Run Rd in North Warren.

List of names buried at the cemetery

Links & Additional Information[edit]