Embreeville State Hospital

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Embreeville State Hospital
Established Sept 29, 1938 (As a PA State Hospital)
Construction Began 1898
Opened 1938
Closed 2005
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location 1818 Strasburg Road, West Bradford, PA
Peak Patient Population 300 in 1947
Alternate Names
  • Embreeville Complex
  • Chester County Poor House
  • Chester County Almshouse


Original Function[edit]

This facility started out as the Chester County Almshouse in 1798, and was intended to care for the insane, poor, and neglected of the county. The commonwealth would later want counties to construct independent facilities that could provide care for the indigent insane and, beginning in 1898, work began on land where the "new" poorhouse would be located. The facility developed into a working community where able-bodied people earned their keep by performing a variety of tasks from farming to sewing, laundry and related chores. This new site would accommodate the growing need of the destitute in the region. Not far from the original poorhouse was a Potter’s Field, where less fortunate people without a family or means of support were buried. By 1900, patients from Norristown State Hospital were relocated to the new Embreeville asylum, which was functioning as a semi-autonmous hospital. Over time, additional modern buildings were constructed to house a growing mentally ill population. It was officially acquired by the state from Chester County in 1914.

As a State Hospital[edit]

On September 29, 1938 the commonwealth took total control of the facility as part of their new state-wide legislation, known as the "Full State Care Act". The legislature (Act #53) assumed responsibility for eight of the thirteen existing county public mental hospitals, the other five hospitals were closed. This same piece of legislation would transform sites like Philadelphia City Farms into Philadelphia State Hospital. It was designated that Embreeville would serve Lancaster and Chester County in Pennsylvania as part of their catchment area. Embreeville was cited by the American Psychiatric Association as one of three "model hospitals" in the country. Dr. Arthur Hecker, the hospital superintendent, upon hearing this honor stated "We're naturally quite proud to be so honored by our peers... but we're even more pleased about a fact that helped make it possible. We have 100 percent turnover of beds each year."

In 1971, a juvenile detention center was place within a few buildings at the hospital site, before finally moving on to better physical accommodations in Danville in 1992. By 1979, the total statewide state hospital census was reduced to 10,573 patients, and resulted in the closure of several smaller state hospitals. Embreeville was the second state facility in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to close its doors, in 1980, following that of Hollidaysburg State Hospital.

In the wake of its closure, outpatient clinics were established through Fewllowship Human Resrouces in Phoenixville, PA (BSU# 151), Human Services Inc. in Downingtown, PA (BSU# 152), and Creative Health Services in Spring City, PA (BSU# 153). These clinics are largely county funded, and are intended to treatment the mentally ill on an outpatient basis, in lieu of the former regional state hospital.

Fate of the Property[edit]

For the better part of the three decades the site of Embreeville stood abandoned, and the physical site slowly deteriorated because of the commonwealth's neglect. The area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. As of December 2012, Hellings Holdings LLC was awarded the 225-acre former hospital property in for an asking price of $950,000. According to the developer, plans for the land include residential development with some commercial zoning. However, because of the property’s location, commercial development plans call for certain necessary amenities.

The potter's field (now part of the Cheslen Preserve and clearly noted on hiking trails), where impoverished patients were buried, is outside of the hospital grounds, and has a sign marked by the local government. The wooden sign there on the site bears the inscription "Known but to God, respected by us", in clear reference to the anonymity of the graves on-site. Two-hundred and four lonely charcoal grey stone tablets remain there in the field, honoring the lives of the forgotten poor, which left this life unknown to the rest of humanity.

Images of Embreeville State Hospital[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Embreeville State Hospital

Related Links[edit]