Inside Mayview State Hospital

Mayview State Hospital Geriatric Ward

Inside Mayview State Hospital

Pittsburgh in the 19th century was a city that was growing, until the economic panics and recessions led the city to construct a poorhouse for the indigent and mentally ill, along with unwed pregnant mothers, but it was soon overfilled. In 1846, the city purchased 150 acres along the Monongahela River and built a three-level brick poorhouse that housed 300 but it was not long before it too became crammed to capacity.

A new location was sought outside of the city and into the countryside, the belief that those who resided in rural areas were healthier, important to those who suffered medical or mental ailments. In 1893, Marshalsea, named for the London debtors prison, was constructed on the George Neal Farm, which was followed by a new building in 1899 to house the mentally ill. It was not long before Marshsea was known as “a place of sorrow.”

“Poor wrecks of humanity they are – some mental, some physical, some moral wrecks – stranded, at last dependent upon the city for enough to keep a miserable broken body and a poor shrunken soul together. [...] If there is to-day a discontented man or woman in this city I prescribe a trip to Marshalsea. The blood may flee from the face at times and pity clutch at the heart strings.”

-Home Monthly, 1900

Marshalsea was so depressing that even speaking the name of the facility was enough to give people a negative perspective. A contest was held to find a better name in 1916, and Mayview won out – thus renaming the property to the Pittsburgh City Home and Hospital at Mayview.

During the early years of Mayview, there was a coal mine that fueled a power plant and a farm so that the hospital could be as self-sufficient as possible. At its height in 1934, Mayview boasted 80 buildings and 1,001 acres, along with 4,000 patients and 450 employees. In 1946, an observation unit was established, which became a forensic center in 1974. The center provided evaluation and treatment for those in the criminal justice system.

But advances in medicine and treatment for those with mental illness, state hospitals such as Mayview saw their patient numbers slowly decline. The goal of the mental health community was no longer institutional care, but outpatient care, community-based services and treatment options at existing hospital campuses.  In 1969, more than 27,000 were housed in state hospitals in Pennsylvania, but by the mid-1990s, that number had dropped to 4,900 – and less than 2,000 by 2007. Mayview saw its adolescent unit closed in the early 1990s, and many other buildings were closed or mothballed.

On December 29, 2008, Mayview State Hospital closed, and at the time of closure, Mayview housed only 37 patients and employed 259. What replaced Mayview included outpatient mental health services for patients in small groups, long-term residential communities with 24-hour care, and institutional care at nearby hospitals with psychiatric units.

Since its closure, Mayview’s redevelopment plan has been finalized, calling for the construction of a park, office park development and a subdivision. Below are photographs of Mayview, the first coming from two Staff Housing buildings (“H” and “G”), or Building No. 26 and No. 28.

The geriatric ward – Temple Center I and Temple Center II, or Building Nos. 65 and 71, still carried electricity and many items from its past were still inside. Pianos, chairs, dental equipment all remained, along with some awful paintings and signage.

Unfortunately, the historic Mayview State Hospital campus will most likely be bulldozed and converted into another use. There is not much hope in transforming what are mostly institutional structures into other uses, considering many are out of date, compromised or are single purpose. Restoration costs into other uses, such as apartments and offices, are most likely prohibitive, although other historic miracles have been performed – such as with Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. The new potential owner has expressed little to no interest in saving much, if any of the building stock.

Click through to the Mayview State Hospital page for more background information along with many more photographs. Enjoy!

12Comments

  • Marlene Kaiser / 23 July 2011 3:36

    My grandmother spent 16 years in Mayview from 1929 until 1945. Unable to find any information on why? Children placed in foster care until 18 years old then were asked to leave. My grandmother became pregnant there and had her child at Bellvue hospital in Pittsburgh. Rumor has it that a MD at Mayview was the father.

    Mayview appears to be horrible place to spend so much of her life.

    • Julie Luek / 30 May 2013 3:48

      Marlene– If you happen to come back here and read comments, I would love to talk more with you about what your family remembers of your Grandmother. I'm a freelance writer in Colorado who once lived in Pittsburgh and am gathering information about the lives inside Mayview. Thanks– Julie (julieluek@gmail.com)

  • Me / 6 June 2013 6:52

    I was a patient in may view for a considerable period of time. It was influential enough of an experience that after all these years I still wake up crying due to memories. It was a very bad place

    • Hazel / 29 July 2013 2:41

      Hello! I’ve been to mayview quite a few times, I enjoy exploring abandoned places and their histories. I felt an instant connection to this particular one. I’d like to know more about it other than what I can find on the Internet. if would like to talk to me about it you can email me! brandy580@gmail.com

    • catherine mccall / 29 September 2013 7:53

      Hello there. So very sorry of your experience at Mayview. I had a great aunt who was put there but I don;t know by whom or why. I was quite young then and no one would say the reason except my Mom who said she shouldn’t have been there. My great aunt died in the early 1940′s there and i wonder if you know how a person can get information about someone from there and what they said was wrong with her.? I would appreciate hearing from you only if you would like to email me. I am person who cares.. sis

    • Ursa and Caire / 13 November 2013 1:14

      Can we talk to you about your experiences there? We are doing a history project on Mayview and need good information. We are having trouble finding information. Please Contact me at: Ursa.Spear@kentuckyavenueschool.org

    • Julie Luek / 5 May 2014 6:15

      Reading your comment broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes. This is exactly why I’d like to write about this and shed light on what lessons we can learn. If you’d ever be willing to share and talk about your experiences, I would be willing to listen, offer anonymity if you desire, and hopefully sensitively share lessons that still need to be learned. Please contact me at: julieluek@gmail.com if you’re willing.

  • rudy pascoe / 28 June 2013 12:02

    Worked there for 25 years. A lot of memories , some good and some bad. I miss??? some of the patients that I got to know. I hope they found a better life. I’m glad it’s closed.

    • Julie Luek / 5 May 2014 6:14

      Rudy, would you ever be willing to talk to me about your experiences there? If so, and if you ever check back here, I would be interested in speaking with you. My email is: julieluek@gmail.com. Thank you.

  • April Colbert / 23 September 2013 8:51

    I work in the health care field for about 18 yrs. and it’s nothing like it was back in the day. I actually taking care of person who’s mother got pregent in mayview and that’s how she came about. I am all for inproving a person life if they can honestly be help, but these individuals who are being released into the public that are mentaly ill insane need to stay behind the wall of s state hosptial. The workers in all aspects of the health care field are not experienced or got the skills to handle this type of issue. that would still be cheaper to support then runing a whole hosptial.

  • Ursa and Caire / 13 November 2013 1:11

    We are students at a middle school in Pittsburgh and are doing a history project on Mayview State Hospital. We would love to have more information on Mayview. If anyone has any information on the Hospital. If you have any information please contact us by email: Ursa.Spear@kentuckyavenueschool.org or Claire.Schulhoff@kentuckyavenueschool.org

  • Jennifer / 26 February 2014 12:30

    I’m not sure if anyone reads this anymore however, I was hoping to get in contact with anyone who was there when I was. staff or patients. My name is Jennifer, I was on the adolescent Ward when it was there. I was transferred to a different group home after. I still have trauma issues that i seek treatment for today from that place. There were some very good staff that did the best they could during some very bad times, Understanding it now, as an adult & mother, I know SOME did their best. Please feel free to email me. Jreesor1979@gmail.com
    thank you.

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