Danville State Hospital

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Danville State Hospital
Established April 13, 1868
Construction Began August 26, 1869 (Rebuilt: 1881)
Construction Ended 1879
Opened October 1872
Current Status Active and Preserved
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Architect(s) John McArthur Jr.
Location Danville, PA
Peak Patient Population 2,918 in 1947
Alternate Names
Danville State Hospital for the Mentally Ill


The following is from a 1916 report[edit]

By an act of the Legislature approved April 13, 1868, a commission was appointed to select a site and erect a hospital for the insane for the northern section of the state, composed of the counties of Monroe, Carbon, Pike, Wayne, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Luzerne, Columbia, Montour, Sullivan, Bradford, Lycoming, Tioga, Clinton, Center, Clearfield, Elk, Cameron, McKean and Potter. Dr. J. A. Reed, superintendent of the Dixmont Hospital for the Insane, Dr. John Curwen, superintendent of the State Lunatic Hospital at Harrisburg, and Dr. Traill Green, of Easton, constituted this commission. After visiting a number of localities a farm of 250 acres was selected at Danville, Pa., at a cost of $26,600 of which the citizens of Danville had generously contributed $16,123.12. This farm was situated on the north branch of the Susquehanna River, about one mile east of Danville.

The commission appointed as superintendent of construction, Dr. S. S. Schultz, well known for his thorough knowledge of the treatment of the insane from his connection for many years with the State Lunatic Hospital at Harrisburg, his superior attainments as a physician, drawn from his experience of several years in the army and in private practice, and his excellent business qualifications.

The plan adopted by this commission, devised by John Mc Arthur, Jr., of Philadelphia, was the so-called Kirkbride system of connected wings, with a central administration building, 1143 feet in length, three stories in height, with three transverse wings on each side four stories in height, giving a capacity of 350 beds for each and accommodation for the necessary employees. The outer walls were constructed of stone procured from a quarry adjoining the property, stuccoed without, hand trowelled lime finish within, **ith brick partitions, hard-wood finish of Georgia pine, and slate roof, the construction being of the so-called slow-burning type. The building was fronted by a lawn of 45 acres, eventually laid out by Donald G. Mitchell, and, being on a slight eminence, overlooked the Susquehanna, which latter supplied the water and received the sewage.

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It was determined to erect so much of the building as the appropriation would complete ready for occupancy. The administration building, with one wing and a transverse on each side, capable of accommodating 200 patients, with the necessary adjuncts of water, gas, heat, sewage, laundry, etc., was contracted for and building operations were immediately begun. The corner-stone was laid August 26, 1869, by Governor Geary, and an address appropriate to the occasion was delivered by Dr. Isaac Ray, of Philadelphia. Recognizing the need for further accommodation, there being but one other institution for indigent insane in the state, construction was proceeded with as rapidly as appropriations could be secured, and the section mentioned above was publicly announced to be ready for patients in October, 1872, while the carpenters were still engaged in the administration building. The first patient was received November 6 of the same year. The remaining two wings of the male department were completed in 1876, and those of the female department in 1879, and immediately occupied.

Upon March 4, 1881, fire was discovered in a dust flue of the female section adjoining the administration building. This flue, unfortunately partly a studded partition, opened from the basement to the roof and allowed the fire to advance until it destroyed all of the female department, the administration building, and one-third of the male wing. Out of 392 patients in the institution, the majority were in attendance upon a chapel exercise and were removed from the building to the laundry and other outhouses without casualty. A few of the men escaped and were either returned later or remained at home. The women were subsequently transferred to the Harrisburg and Warren hospitals. The remaining two wings of the male department not being damaged, the men, 198 in number, were returned to their old quarters, arrangements being made for a temporary kitchen, offices and living rooms for officers and their families.

The insurance, amounting to $209,000, together with an additional appropriation, was immediately available for reconstruction. In the main, the wards were repaired in conformity with the original design, but large bay extensions to each ward, metal cornices, fire walls between each roof division, separating the roof from the lower structure by the use of iron joists and brick arches, were added.

The administration portion was entirely rebuilt upon a new design and made practically fireproof. An amusement hall was added, the general kitchen, a one-story structure, connecting in the rear, and beyond this a two-story structure, the basement containing a refrigerator, bakery and employees' dining room; the second story a sewing room and general store room. This reconstruction was completed and the first woman patient was received January 23.1883

By an act of the Legislature approved May 8, 1883, the committee on Lunacy of the Board of Public Charities was created and given jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to the indigent insane, and, subsequently, by an act dated June 13, 1883, this committee was empowered, through the aid of the courts if necessary, to remove the indigent insane from almshouses and private residences to the state hospitals for the insane. Pursuant to this authority admissions to state institutions rapidly increased and in April, 1885, this institution was filled to its maximum, and since that time to the present has suffered from excessive overcrowding. Having reached a maximum of 901 patients, the first relief was gained by the removal of 135 patients from Philadelphia to the Norristown Hospital upon its opening in August, 1880; 113 patients were transferred to Blockley Hospital, Philadelphia; 35 patients were transferred to Harrisburg Hospital, properly belonging to that district; 50 women were transferred to Blockley Hospital, Philadelphia; 19 patients were transferred to the almshouse of the Middle Coal Field Poor District, by direction of the Committee on Lunacy; 128 patients were transferred to the Institution for Chronic Insane at Wernersville in 1894; 171 patients to the Retreat, the county insane hospital for the Central Poor District, Luzerne County, in 1900, and 371 patients to the State Homeopathic Hospital at Rittersville in 1912 and 1913. Notwithstand1ng these exceptional discharges, the greatest number resident on any one day reached 1727, an increase above the normal capacity that necessitated the use of many temporary beds. Enlargement of the plant in every department became a very evident necessity and an effort was made to secure additional buildings in 1890, which did not bear fruit until 1896, when a one-story wing, with a capacity of 50 beds, was erected at a cost of $20,000, to be occupied by infirm men. This rendered possible the first proper segregation of helpless, bedridden, terminal cases, although individual care had been attempted for a number of years in one of the main wards. The central building and an adjoining ward for a similar purpose were completed and occupied in July, 1900. An additional story was added to this building in 1909, making a total capacity of 230 men,

A nurses' home for women was completed in 1900. By removal of the nurses to these new quarters, 30 additional beds were secured for patients.

During 1904 the lavatory system was renewed. Four four-story fireproof buildings, erected outside the general line of the building, and connected with the wards by a 12-foot passage, with fixtures of a sanitary type, accommodated this department. By establishing dormitories in the rooms vacated by the old lavatory system, 164 beds were gained. Estimating the value of the added room at $500 per bed, the net cost to the state of this change did not exceed $12,000, but the sanitation secured and the abundance of room alone fully compensated for the outlay.

During 1906 the heating and lighting systems were completely renovated. The high-pressure gravity system of heating was changed to a low-pressure vacuum system. A new boiler house and electric light plant were built, four 330 horse power water-tube boilers were installed, ventilation was effected by electric-driven exhaust fans in the attic, three Thompson-Ryan dynamos were installed, and the building and grounds were wired for electric light. In addition, the electric power was utilized in many instances for mechanical purposes.

During 1909 two buildings for the treatment of acute cases, one for each sex, were constructed. These buildings, faced with buff brick, are two stories in height. The first floor, designed for acute and observation cases, is divided into a dormitory of 30 beds and 15 single rooms, with rooms for continuous bath, a complete hydriatic room in the basement, and a sun parlor and dining room. The second story, designed for epileptic cases, is divided into one large dormitory of 60 beds, seven single rooms, a day room and dining room, with the usual toilet rooms. The object sought was to have epileptic patients under surveillance night and day.

There was also constructed an infirmary building for women, two stories in height, containing five dormitories, sun porches, day rooms and dining room, with a capacity of 150 patients. The basement contains a kitchen to serve this building and the adjoining acute building. In the third story of the central part is located the operating room, with necessary adjuncts, and seven single rooms, now occupied by the night service of nurses.

These several additions have increased the normal capacity from joo to 1450 patients, or more than double the original capacity. The criterion of 100 cubic feet air space per patient is not the only essential in estimating capacity, but the rapidity with which the air can be changed to keep it pure. If this be taken into consideration, the capacity of the institution may be stated as 1600.

There have been provided also a dormitory of 46 rooms, reading and billiard rooms for men employed upon the grounds, and a series of four dwellings for heads of departments.

In 1004 a mechanical filter, with building to contain it, was installed for the purification of Susquehanna River water. Two :ilters and a settling tub, with necessary pumps, met the first requirements, but later two additional filter tubs were added.

Additions to the laundry building have been made upon three different occasions and modern machinery added as the requirements of the increasing population demanded.

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During February, 1904, an effort was made to obviate the contamination of the Susquehanna River by sewage from the institution through its disposal by broad irrigation upon the fields. It was collected in a large basin and pumped through a long line of d1stributing pipe by an air-compressor pump. This system proved inadequate and was pronounced insanitary by the State Department of Health, and a system comprising sedimentation tanks, sprinkling filters, and final treatment by hypochlorite of lime was substituted. This required a new line of sewers to separate the sewage from storm water. Electrically driven rotary pumps operating in series now convey the sewage to the filter beds, the effluent being discharged into the Susquehanna River. Since its completion, April 23, 1910, weekly analyses have been made, showing perfect bacteriological purity.

Later acquisitions to the hospital include a cold storage plant, an industrial building for the use of men, an addition to the dairy barn, the enlargement of the reservoirs, a fire main and hydrants reaching the more important points, a railroad siding and coalstorage bins, coachman's, pumpman's and gate houses, etc.

The dairy barn has been twice burned by fires, presumably of incendiary origin, and rebuilt out of the proceeds of insurance.

To insure a better service, a training school for nurses, the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, was instituted in 1889. In its incipiency lectures on nursing and kindred subjects were given for a year and a half. Later the curriculum was reorganized to include lectures and bed-side recitations, each topic to be followed by examinations, the classes to be divided into a junior and a senior year, and the course was made obligatory. The first class graduated in 1893, and the total number of graduates is now 345. An advance in wages and positions of greater trust are given these graduates, of whom 108 remain in the service of the hospital.

With the better care made possible by the educated nurse, the proper segregation of patients, a more individual supervision and the advent of hydrotherapy, a new era has been achieved in the treatment of mental disorders. Seclusion is almost unknown, restraint reduced to a minimum, noise and confusion abated, death from acute exhaustion a rare occurrence, and the whole environment is rendered more normal. The bed-treatment of disturbed cases was begun tentatively in 1895 by the use of a ward entirely of single rooms usually occupied by refractory patients, and ill suited for the purpose. With proper facilities for carrying out this regime, the best good has been accomplished. An adequate force of reliable nurses is essential, and constant surveillance; the patient is given the greatest possible amount of rest, with hyper-nutrition, as long as any physical or mental necessity exists.

Since 1905 a dentist of Danville has visited the institution onehalf day each week to care for the teeth of the patients. Latterly these visits have been increased to two half days. Three surgeons of repute and an ophthalmologist are available when the necessity arises.

The card-index system of registration and clinical sheets, with folders, has been adopted, and an additional stenographer is employed to assist in the work. This system has proved advantageous because of its convenience and the resulting fuller and more accurate clinical histories.

One feature of the management is the retention of married graduated men nurses who have their homes in the adjoining town. They have leave of absence when off duty and at night. About one-third of the men nurses have availed themselves of this privilege and in this way competent men have been retained in the service many years, whose services would otherwise have been lost to the institution. As no nurses' home for men has been provided, it is proposed to start a village upon the hospital grounds, to give them buildings with more sanitary equipment and easier access to their work in the event of emergencies. A small appropriation has been secured by act of Legislature in furtherance of this object.

At the call of the president of the Board of Trustees, a number of representative trustees and superintendents convened at the hospital in October, 1903, to consider the organization of a society interested in the welfare of the insane. The organization effected is known as the Association of Trustees and Medical Superintendents of the State and Incorporated Hospitals for the Insane of Pennsylvania. The membership also includes the Committee on Lunacy and officers of institutions for the feeble-minded. Semiannual meetings are held at the various institutions, the program □eluding inspection of the hospital, the reading of papers and discussions pertaining to the scientific and economic care of the insane, ind a better acquaintance of those associated in this work.

The farm has been extended by purchases from time to time and the original 250 acres increased to 663. Thirty-five acres are occupied as a garden and 430 acres by actual drill measurement are used as the farm. A herd of 100 Holstein cows is usually maintained. During the fall of 1914 aphthous fever appeared among steers purchased for slaughter, with resulting contamination of the herd of cows, which were ordered killed by the state authorities. One hundred and ninety-five cows and all the swine were killed, and all infected stabling torn out and disinfected. An appropriation of $10,800 was made for the purchase of new stock and the restoration of stables.

In 1894 Auditor-General Gregg decided that any cash balance on hand must be deducted from the amount charged to the state, and in that year he wiped out a balance of $29,042.57 by deducting said amount from the hospital's claim against the state, thus leaving the institution without a working balance. Remittances are due, both from the poor district and state, at the end of the quarter of the state's fiscal year.

After a brief illness Dr. S. S. Schultz died September 27, 1891. Dr. H. B. Meredith, for 13 years an assistant physician under Dr. Schultz, was elected superintendent and physician, and is the present incumbent.[1]


  • William Field Shay, president
  • William F. Lowry, secretary
  • I. X. Grier, Esq
  • Edward Brennan
  • Olin F. Harvey, M. D.
  • Samuel D. Townsend
  • Herbert T. Hecht
  • Truman P. Reitmeyer
  • Edwin A. Curry


  • Alexander Foster


  • H. B. Meredith, M. D.


  • William H. Krickbaum, M. D. James S. Hammers, M. D.
  • James E. Robbins, M. D. George B. M. Free, M. D.
  • Edward B. Shellenberger, M. D.


  • Ida Ashenhurst, M. D.


  • Reed Burns, M. D. Granville T. Matlack, M. D.
  • H. J. Donaldson, M. D.[2]

20th & 21st Century[edit]

Dr. Robert Gatski, Superintendent for 1955-1977, was the first to introduce chlorpromazine in the treatment of patients at Danville State Hospital. Since then, many new psychotropic medications have been developed. These medications have been successful in the treatment of mental illness and have facilitated the patients' placement back into the community.

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In the 1950's the hospital received full approval of the Central Inspection Board of the American Psychiatric Association for excellence in patient care. The patient population showed a steady increase up to November 1955, when the figure reached 2,801. Since that time a gradual planned reduction has occurred. As a result the census in 1968 was 1,899, and on June 30, 2002, the hospital census stood at 147. This is in keeping with the modern philosophy of treating patients in the least restrictive setting. In 1976, a Long Term Care Facility (Licensed Nursing Home) was opened to address the needs of our geriatric patients who no longer were considered to be in need of psychiatric care. The Long Term Care Facility closed on May 12, 1998. With the state system downsizing and the closing of Harrisburg State Hospital, this hospital’s bed capacity increased to 180. With the consolidation effort, Danville State Hospital facilities are gradually being utilized to meet other community resource needs.

Over the past five years, much emphasis has been placed by this hospital on collaborating with county Mental Health Administrations to return individuals to the community. We work with them and assist them to divert admissions for people who can be served in a less restrictive setting. In addition, our hospital staff provides consultation on special needs populations and a myriad of training programs for community staff and providers.

In 1999, the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, under Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare, began an initiative to reduce the utilization of seclusion and restraint at the State Mental Hospitals. In adopting this initiative, Danville State Hospital has experienced success while continuing to provide a safe, effective, and collaborative treatment environment. On Nov. 30, 2004, Danville State Hospital became the first psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania and the nation to go four years without the use of mechanical restraint. This achievement represents a significant milestone in the history of the hospital and the evolution of mental health treatment. Since 1985 this hospital has had full accreditation from the Joint Commission, Medicare and Medical Assistance. At our last Joint Commission survey, we received a three-year accreditation, which attests to the high quality of care given to all individuals entrusted to our care.[3]

As of Jan. 31, 2008, Danville State Hospital had 163 patients.[4]

Images of Danville State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Danville State Hospital

Cemetery Information[edit]

There is one cemetery located on hospital grounds, it was used between the years of 1882 and 1939. According to old medical records there are 84 grave sites, most of which are unmarked. The sites that do have markers are marked with just numbers and not patient names. In 1987 a project was completed to restore the cemetery and erect a plaque in honor of those buried there. The cemetery is not open to the public. For further information please contact the hospital directly.[5]

Links & Additional Information[edit]