Philadelphia State Hospital
|Philadelphia State Hospital|
|Established||Sept 29, 1938 (as a PA state hospital)|
|Opened||1903 (as a city farm)|
|Closed||June 22, 1990|
|Building Style||Cottage Plan|
|Location||Southampton Road and Roosevelt Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19114|
|Peak Patient Population||Over 6,889 in 1959|
Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry (PSH) was a psychiatric hospital in northeast Philadelphia, first city and later state-operated. During its tenure as a psychiatric hospital it was known by several names- Philadelphia State Hospital, Byberry State Hospital, Byberry City Farms, and the Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases. However, most of the local population referred to it simply as "Byberry". Like many state facilities of the period, it was designated to care for individuals with various cognitive and psychiatric conditions, ranging from intellectual disabilities to forensic pathologies. When operational, it was located on a large sprawling campus within the Somerton neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Byberry stood in operation from 1903 until 1990, when it became nationally infamous for patient abuse, warehousing of human beings, and extreme neglect exhibited towards its many residents. At its zenith in the late 1960's, it was the largest state hospital in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and held a clinical population of over seven thousand psychiatric patients. Today, much of the physical site of the former state hospital has been demolished, and the land has been sold off to local redevelopers, who have transformed much of the campus into a residential community for seniors. Many of the former patients were discharged to: local boarding homes, community rehabilitative residences (CRR), long-term structure residences (LTSR), community living arrangements (CLA) and outpatient community clinics (BSU's). Acute patients from Byberry were transferred to other state psychiatric facilities, such as those at Norristown State Hospital and Haverford State Hospital. However, a large portion of those patients discharged had no disposition at release.
- 1 History
- 2 List of Superintendents of Philadelphia State Hospital
- 3 Images of Philadelphia State Hospital
- 4 Books
- 5 Videos and Brief Films
- 6 News Articles about PSH
- 7 Additional Information & Links
- 8 References
Origins as a Byberry City Farms
In 1903, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted the "Bullitt Bill", which required each county to build an maintain a facility exclusively for the care of the insane of the area. Private facilities, such as those at Friends Hospital and the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital had existed for some time. Regional state facilities, like Norristown State Hospital, were active and standing, but were found to be overcrowded and unable to accommodate the growing need. In response to this, the City of Philadelphia purchased farmland in the northeast section of the county, in a rural district then known as Byberry. There, as a measure of expanding the public welfare, they established a city-funded, inmate run farm, known simply as "Byberry Farms". This facility was intended to supply food for other public institutions in the city, such as Eastern State Penitentiary and the Philadelphia Almshouse (then known as Old Blockley Almshouse). Shortly after the purchase of the land, six inmates from the overcrowded Blockley Almshouse in the city were chosen to work at the agricultural facility. This program was done in cooperation with the physicians at Blockley Almshouse, then headed by Dr. Jeffrey A. Jackson MD, and would thereafter become known as the "colony plan". The site of Byberry was originally intended for patients suffering from Consumption (Pulmonary Tuberculosis), who would be sent from Old Blockley, and thus free additional space for patients suffering from chronic and undifferentiated insanity. As it happens, this medical dogma coincides with the early 20th century perception that Consumption could be treated with "fresh air" and exercise.
By 1906, Byberry Farms had expanded through $261,000 in city grants, allocated by Philadelphia Mayor John Weaver and the administation of Philadelphia Almshouse. The site itself sat on 874-acres, and consisted of fifteen small wooden farmhouses serving as temporary dormitories, or "colony houses", for the growing patient population. The city was successful in purchasing a number of local farms, one by one, and incorporating them into the new civic facility. The Keigler, Mulligan, Kessler, Jenks (a relative of Thomas Story Kirkbride), Grub, Tomlinson, Osmund, Carver, Alburger, Updyke, Comly, and Carter families all had no qualms about the sale of their property to the city. Many of whom sought financial refuge from the increasing tax hikes of the consolidated county of Philadelphia. Additioanlly properties were obtained by the same means in 1911 and 1913. At this time, the site of the city farm housed approximately thirty patients, all of whom had been moved from the heavily overcrowded wards of Old Blockley, to the rural atmosphere of Northeast Philadelphia. The city and general public promoted this notion, of sending some of the local "undesirables" out of site into an agrarian atmosphere. Particlarly, the administation of Philadelphia Mayor Samuel Ashbridge, who politically benefited from hiding the rising social iniquity in the city, by removing the neglected poor and insane out of the public's peripheral vision. After a visitation to the site, Dr. William Coplin, the first Director of the Pennsylvnaia Department of Public Welfare, said that Byberry:
"...is splendidly located, well suited to farming and possesses a surface contour adapted to the erection of buildings for the reception of the insane at present crowded into the insufficient space afforded by antiquated buildings long out of date and no longer capable of alteration to meet modern requirements."
As Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases: 1907-1938
After a brief civil inquiry, Byberry City Farms was selected as the new site of the "Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases" shortly after its founding. Before the hospital's public opening in 1907, the first officially accepted patient, William McClain, was admitted for alcoholism.
A contract was awarded to architect Philip H. Johnson in 1904, to design the original buildings of the hospital, in a cottage plan layout, in a colonial revival style. Construction became a slow process, as it commenced in 1907, and was not fully complete until the late 1920's. Plans for the east campus (male group) consisted of six dormitory buildings, an infirmary, a laundry building, an administrative building and a combination kitchen/dining hall and power-plant. The utilitarian and banal structure of the power-plant was the centerpiece of the campus and the first officially constructed building. The east campus, which held the "incurable" males, was largely completed in 1912. Following the partial completion of the east campus, construction for the west campus began in 1913. Like its parallel on the east campus, the west campus was designated to the "incurable" females patients of Philadelphia. These buildings were more architecturally ornate and consisted of ten identical dormitory buildings, a dining hall/refectory building, two buildings for the treatment of tuberculosis, a laundry building, an administrative building, and a medical infirmary. Unlike the east campus, the west campus had above ground patient hallways with large illuminating windows, connecting all of the buildings on campus.
With the start of World War I, construction was halted until the final armistice of the German Empire in 1919. When work resumed on the west campuses power plant, which unlike the east campus, was built at a distance from the campus it served. Construction fully resumed on both east and west campuses in 1922, and was completed by 1928. Heavy criticism of the hospital's condition led to the construction of an additional medical infirmary, exclusively for female patients, as the last of the original buildings on west campus, being completed in 1935.
The hospital was in need of a separate unit to house adolescents, which would in time, became its south campus. Construction began on this additional expansion in 1926, and consisted of six cottages, a patient cafeteria, a small administrative building, and a small playground. The campus itself only took a year to complete, and was in active use by 1927. By the 1930's, Byberry had become severely overcrowded, and the buildings were in almost constant need of repair. Allegedly, the hospital was so substantially insufficiently funded by the city's budget, that during the depression some patients were naked year round because there were simply no clothes or shoes for them to wear. Since the salary for attendants was meager at best, hospital administrators were forced to hire: drunks, ex-felons, former patients, the outright abusive, or pretty much anyone off the street who was willing to accept work. Often after being arrested on a minor charge, petty criminals were offered the choice of jail time or employment at Byberry.
As Philadelphia State Hospital
In 1936, a Philadelphia Record photographer Mac Parker, disguising himself as an attendant, snuck in his camera onto the hospital grounds and took some very revealing photos of life inside Byberry. His photos, revealed what it was like inside of the "snake pit", and caused a sensation of negative public opinion. In 1938, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania intervened, and absorbed Byberry into the state hospital system. With new state funds, a comprehensive new building plan was instated to alleviate the overcrowding of the site, as well as hire qualified and empathetic staff. In 1938, George Wharton Pepper Jr. was hired as the new primary architect of the campus, as the former, Philip Johnson, had died in 1933.
The "Workers Building" also known as S1, opened in 1942, also housed a new recreational section for patients that contained: a gym, bowling alley, a swimming pool, basketball courts, a library and a spa. As S1 was opening, work began on the N6 and N7 buildings which were large dormitories that housed patients who suffered with senility. The commonwealth also renamed the site at this time, from the former "Byberry Hospital for Mental Diseases" to the more familiar "Philadelphia State Hospital".
During the Second World War
Like many state hospitals during World War II, their was crippling manpower shortage. Young men were recruited into the military, and many former commercial and industrial jobs were placed in the hands of women and the elderly. Civilian Public Service Unit, Camp No. 49, was brought to Byberry in August of 1942 to fill in. The unit was operated by the 'American Friends Service Committee', which remained active on site, until it withdrew in April of 1946. These individuals, most of which were men, CPS-49 worked as orderlies and ward attendants for the hospital's many buildings. They came from a background of conscientious objectors, who's religious or personal beliefs made it impossible for them to engage in the war. However, in lieu of military service, they worked civil service jobs for the state to satisfy the need for limited manpower.
At the time the CPS unit was established, Byberry had one hundred ten vacancies in a male attendant staff, of their one hundred seventy-three positions. According to Charles Zeller, Superintendent of Byberry, the ratio of attendant to patients was one attendant per shift for one hundred forty-four patients. After the attendants arrived, usually one to four attendants worked with three hundred fifty patients in the “violent” building. When the unit grew to nearly one hundred thirty-five attendants, usually six to seven attendants worked during the early day shift in that ward, while five attendants staffed the 2 pm to 11 pm shift. The hospital paid attendants room and board, laundry, and a personal maintenance fee, originally $2.50 per month. That was later increased to $10-15 per month.
For the women’s wards, staff shortages were even more severe. One attendant staffed a two-story building housing two hundred forty-three patients; two attendants covered the first shift of a semi-violent ward of over two hundred fifty patients, and only one attendant staffed each of the second and third shifts. Women attendants worked for $66.50 per month, plus room and board, including laundry for a fifty-four hour work week. CPS wives also received that wage as they were not subject to Selective Service regulations.
Expansion and Decline
Post World War II, Philadelphia State Hospital continued to enjoy enormous physical expansion. In 1946, the new kitchen/dietary building, ‘N-5’, was opened for clinical use. The following year ‘S-2’ (twin to the ‘S-1’ building), a building for patients engaged in occupational therapy, was completed. By the 1950’s though, its original purpose was almost forgotten and the building was converted into a regular patient dormitory to keep up with the overcrowding that was common to that period. In 1948, ground was broken for a new building called ‘N-3’, the Active Therapy Building, which was the first steps towards aggressively treating acute patients.
In 1950, ‘The Active Therapy Building’ was completed and opened for clinical use. One half of it consisted of the typical patient dormitories and day rooms, while the other half of the building was filled with lab equipment, a staff library, an auditorium, a large and efficient mortuary, the hospital’s autopsy department, and a training center for staff. The same year ground was broken for the new tuberculosis building N10, but the architect George Pepper died in 1949. Even though Pepper had already completed layout, the state contracted out the remaining buildings to various firms which resulted in subtle differences between buildings N8, N9, and N10. The new tuberculosis building, also known as N10, was opened in 1951. This was the largest building, housing its own full sized cafeterias and kitchens, plus a dental office, x-ray rooms and an ER. Ironically, seven years later, medical science found a cure for TB. N10s original purpose was no longer being needed, it became the medical/surgical building.
A change in the 1950's that occurred due to state control was a re-designation of the building titles. The north campus was split into the north and west groups; N3, N5, N6, and N7 were changed to W3, W5, W6 and W7. The female buildings were now classified as the C buildings or "Central Group", as they were located between the south and north groups. The south and east groups were renamed to the first letter of the group, so the east group was now the E buildings and the south group was now called the S buildings.
In 1955, at the time of his death, a new auditorium was constructed in honor of Furey Ellis, who was partially responsible for Byberry's turn around. The Furey Ellis Hall improved public relations, being equipped with modern film projectors and accommodations for up to 400 patients.
The children's unit was demolished and the children were transferred to the C4 and C5 buildings. With the rise of transportation the staff buildings were no longer needed and the south unit buildings were demolished by the 1970s. With a small amount of remaining staff who still chose the option to live on the grounds, W7 was re-designated, bricked off from the connecting tunnels, and turned into staff housing as well as staff offices and make-shift lounges.
With the beginning of de-institutionalization, Byberry began its downsizing process in 1962, releasing almost 2,000 patients to mental health centers, other hospitals and the streets between 1962 and 1972. The E buildings began transferring their patients to the north and west groups in 1954, and were completely closed off by 1964. Significantly dropping funds forced the hospital to stop accepting admissions and continue transferring patients to other facilities in the mid 1970s. In the early 1980s the C buildings became mostly vacant, and administration was moved to the W3 building. The last remaining forensic patients were housed in ‘N-8’ after it received a thorough interior makeover in 1985.
With the hospital being completely understaffed, many patients were neglected and abused. The lack of help had increasingly allowed many patients to escape, as well as to be raped, murdered and allowed to commit suicide. In 1987 Governor Bob Casey had the hospital thoroughly searched and observed. The conditions that he discovered made headlines around the country.
Closure and Aftermath
Casey placed a gubernatorial order that the hospital should be closed immediately, with the scheduled date of September 30th 1989. However, this was not directly implementable, as Byberry still had a population of 594 in 1987, and disposition was difficult with the limited resources that the state was willing to provide. There was initially a moratorium placed on discharges when two former patients committed suicide following being discharged from Byberry- Tyrone Gainey, age 37, and Joseph Gutgesell, age 31. However, transfers resumed in full in the fall of 1989, following a number of brief investigations. Closure of the site was done slowly, in several phases, building by building, until there were only five patients. The last building closed at Philadelphia State was ‘N-8’, which housed the last patients, who were released by June of 1990.
The dwindling of institutionalization had little impact on the patient population of Byberry. Hospital administrators had transferred 79% of their clinical population to other state facilities, such as Norristown State Hospital and Haverford State Hospital. During the initial round of discharges from Byberry, over 2,500 patients were let out onto the streets of Philadelphia to fend for their own welfare, where many of them remain. The aftermath of the human tragedy of Byberry is still pending, as the City of Philadelphia is still attempting to address the long term consequences of its closing. In the wake of the closure of such a large facility, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also developed a number of community outpatient clinics for the psychiatric care of the poor in the city. These clinics are still operational, and remain exclusively funded by the City of Philadelphia. They are: Interac CMHMR (BSU# 6A), Northwestern Human Services (BSU# 6B), WES Health Center (BSU #6C), PATH CMHMR(BSU# 7B), Community Council MHMR (BSU# 4), Northwest CMHMR (BSU# 7A), COHMAR (BSU#), John F. Kennedy CMHMR (BSU#1), Hall-Mercer CMHMR (BSU# 2A), CATCH CMHMR (BSU# 2B), Consortium CMHMR (BSU# 3), WES Health Center (BSU# 5A), and Northwestern Human Services (BSU# 7C). It is of note, that the funding initially promised in good faith by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to these clinics following the closure of Byberry, never materialized. Governor Casey proposed $30 million dollars from the state’s budget in 1990. However, only $19 million was actually provided for these Philadelphia clinics. What is more, as of 2013 many clinics operate with significantly limited funding, following large budget cuts made on the part of Governor Tom Corbett.
In the fall of 1991, demolition started with the ‘E’ buildings. Most of their materials had been stripped away prior, and they were all shells of former aesthetic glory. One of the earlier 20th century buildings was salvaged and refurbished, Building ‘E-6’, which still stands today, and is visible from Southampton Road, housing an active outpatient drug rehabilitation clinic. The calculated removal and cleanup of the former state hospital campus amounted to somewhere between $13-16 million, not including the demolition of the physical structures. For the following decade of demolition, the commonwealth decided to leave a number of the more precarious buildings standing, and hired additional security to watch the grounds from potential vandals. In 1997, the warehouses were demolished, followed by ‘C-6’ and ‘C-12’ in 2000, and the laundry building in 2004.
By the late 1990’s the conditions at the former campus had shifted significantly, many of the buildings fell into terminal disrepair. Further, the grounds became an open agora for: building scrappers, the homeless, and angsty teenagers, who further damaged the property. Both local police and campus security were found to be ineffectual at handling the growing illegal traffic taking place on the property. This phenomenon was the exacerbated by the widespread exposore, largely through internet websites, often describing the ruins of the former state facility being "haunted". Consequently, a hoard of "ghost-hunters" and assorted types descended on the site for the sake of this asinine quest.
In March of 2006, the Westrum Development Corporation purchased the remaining 106-acre Byberry site. They were pressured from Somerton residents, as well as the city, to end the "Byberry problem". Westrum moved quickly. By June 7th, there was a chain link fence surrounding the tattered ruins of the property. A week later, truckloads of trees and other natural growth clinging to the buildings was removed, and discarded. On Wednesday, June 14th 2006, a celebration was held in front of ‘C-7’ Building. This was the long overdue ending and renovation of the familiar local "eyesore" that Byberry had become. The ceremony consisted of knocking over the overgrown Philadelphia State Hospital sign, a symbol of the sites former activity. In attendance were: Governor Edward Rendell, Mayor John Street, J. Westrum (CEO), and J. Sweeny, CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, the developers of the new buildings to be built on site.  
The single remaining building at the Byberry campus is current being leased to “Self- Help Movement Inc.” (SHM), which has been active on the campus since 1975. They have leased the Daniel Blain Complex since 1983, which consists of three separate buildings, where they currently reside. SHM provides inpatient drug and alcohol treatment, at reasonable costs, for the residents of Philadelphia and it’s suburbs. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania officially sold this piece of the Byberry property to SHM in the spring of 1988. Since that time the complex has been fully refurbished, with most of the Edwardian frills of its original architecture removed.
List of Superintendents of Philadelphia State Hospital
There was no superintendent of Byberry City Farms prior to 1913. However, those superintendants appointed to their office by the city of Philadelphia are unknown. Additionally, following the national media scandal of Byberry in 1987, superintendant Charles Erb was forced to retire and was not replaced by state officals.
- Dr. James Sands 1932?
- Dr. Herbert C. Woolley 1938-1942
- Dr. Charles Zeller 1942-1946
- Dr. Eugene Sielke 1946-1964
- Dr. Daniel Blain 1966-1971
- Dr. Franklyn Clarke 1971-1982
- Dr. Earline Houston 1982-1986
- C. Charles Erb 1986-1987
- Ford Thompson 1987-1990 (acting)
Images of Philadelphia State Hospital
Main Image Gallery: Philadelphia State Hospital
- Byberry State Hospital (Images of America Series) By: Hannah Karena Jones
- The Byberry I-W unit story: Philadelphia State Hospital By: Dorcas Weaver Herr
- The Shame that was Byberry By: William Ecenbarger
Videos and Brief Films
The following is a two part forty minute video about the closing of Philadelphia State Hospital.
- Part 1:
- Part 2:
News Articles about PSH
- Philadelphia State Hospital in house magazine: April 1950
- Alleged Horrors At Byberry
- State Repeats Offer To Move Inmates Out Of Byberry
- Mahmood Ghahramani, 84, psychiatrist
- An Expose done on the hospital by The Oakland Tribune in the Sunday, November 10, 1968 Edition Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4
- Last 5 Patients Leave Byberry
- Byberry Patient Said To Suffer Needlessly
- Bill Would Bar Some Inmates From Byberry
- Byberry Closing Halted After 2 Ex-patients Die
- An article on the closure of this hospital by the The Daily Intelligencer in their Tuesday, December 08, 1987
- Still Too Soon? Unanswered Questions About Byberry Closing
- The Failures Of Our Mental-health System Too Many People Are Overlooked
- A Call For Wider Care After Byberry
- WWII Pacifists Exposed Mental Ward Horrors, December 30, 2009
- Area Hospitals Are Asked To Care For Byberry Patients
- State: Byberry Staff Not To Blame For Dumping
- N.e. Mental Hospital To Be Examined
- Phila. Firm Chosen To Make A Plan For Byberry Site
- State Decides To Shut Down Byberry
- Her Sad Life, Lonely Death At Byberry
- Byberry Patient Seeks Treatment In Community
- Escapee's Kin Sues Hospital Over Death
- Hopes High For Byberry Release Plan
- 6 Plans For Byberry Presented Tonight
- Accord Guarantees Care To Discharged Byberry Patients
- Mental-health Advocates Decry Casey's Budget Plan
- A Mental Ward Exposed- NPR
Additional Information & Links
- Wikipedia on Byberry Hospital
- Opacity Photos of the Hospital
- See Philadelphia State Hospital at HistoricAerials.com
- The Story of Byberry Hospital- Defunct
- With the Best of Intentions: Byberry Asylum
- Self-Help Movement- at Byberry Hospital
- The Philadelphia Almshouse 1854-1908- contains section on Byberry
- Philadelphia State Hospital records available at the Pennsylvania State Archives