Former Dixmont State Hospital

40°30'57.0"N 80°06'44.0"W

Emsworth, PA

Status: Former Insane Asylum; Formerly Abandoned; Completely Demolished

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History

In 1853 the Western Hospital of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh – after a full year of operating - was quickly realizing that their 16 bed ward for the mentally ill was not serving the population. The Pittsburgh area needed an institution dedicated to the needs of the mentally ill.

The hospital received a grant of $10,000 (just over $380,000 in 2024) from the State to construct a new facility. They wanted to build it in Pittsburgh but the mother of care for the mentally ill Dorothy Dix vetoed that idea and the site northwest of the city on the Ohio River was chosen.

The cornerstone of the foundation was laid on July 19, 1859. A time capsule was included in the cornerstone which included a letter from Dix and a study on the mentally ill. It was retrieved before the hospital was demolished but the bottle it had been sealed in was broken the artifacts were all but destroyed.

The hospital opened in 1861 and 113 patients were transferred from the Western Hospital in the city. The campus was 420 acres (18,000 square meters) of farms and parklands. The hospital was completely self sufficient with a staff of everyone from cooks to electricians to pipe fitters.

By the start of the 20th century there were between 1,200 and 1,500 patients at the facility.

In 1907 the hospital became completely independent separating itself from the Western Hospital and using the name Dixmont.

After World War I the patient population exploded – as it did in other asylums - with soldiers suffering from PTSD. It even became closed to new patients for a time when even the hallways were filled with beds.

In the 1920’s the facility began to suffer financial difficulties which resulted in them being absorbed by the Pennsylvania welfare system in 1946. Once the State took over the inhumane treatments that are associated with the treatment of the mentally ill began: including lobotomies and electro-shock therapy as well as the use of restraints.

By the end of the 1970’s the era of the giant asylums was coming to an end with the invention of anti-psychotic drugs. The population of the hospital began to drop and the State – like governing bodies worldwide – began plans to close the institution.

A number of outlying buildings were demolished and even the main Reed Building had empty floors and wards. The facility began to deteriorate and there was no money to complete the needed repairs.

In July of 1984 the State formerly closed Dixmont and transferred all remaining patients to other institutions.

The original plan was to convert the campus into a geriatric facility with housing for independent seniors all the way to those needing full time medical care. As heels were dragged the buildings deteriorated further and eventually that plan was abandoned.

The State then decided to convert the site into a County Jail but the residents living in the area quickly put a stop to that plan.

By 1999 vandalism, nature and fires had damaged the buildings so severely that converting them had become an impossibility; that and, despite the almost 20 years of abandonment, not all the lead and asbestos had been removed.

In 2005 the State sold the section of land with most of the remaining building to a private developer. The developer quickly demolished the buildings and tried to flatten the land – which caused a landslide that covered both the highway and the rail line – and courted WalMart in hopes of building a new shopping center.

Although WalMart would choose another location the buildings were demolished – even though Reed Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places – and the area is now being reclaimed by nature.

Only 1 building remains now – once known as the Cammarta Building – which was built in 1971. It was the last building used for housing patients before the hospital closed. Heavily renovated in 1999 it was used as a Montessori school from 2001 to 2012.

One website claims there was a morgue in the basement of this building.

Due to Pennsylvania Law stating land used as cemetery can never be sold the facility’s cemetery – used until 1935 – still exists north of the hospital site. The old cemetery has stories of the paranormal like the ones at the old hospital site.

 

Paranormal Activity

The removal of the buildings may have taken away some of the more interesting features – and the environmental dangers – but it seems to have little effect on the paranormal activity.

Reports of encounters with the paranormal have dropped somewhat but, let’s face it, people expect ghosts in an old dilapidated insane asylum but not so much in an open field.

There are also rumors that the tunnels under the hospital were never filled in – which is pretty much par for the course where any asylum once stood – and can be accessed if you know the right place to dig in the field. Urban legends aside this is private property and permission would need to be gained by the owners.

The most commonly reported paranormal activity both when the buildings were standing and now are apparitions of former patients and staff; unexplained sounds including disembodied voices, laughter, screams etc. and feelings of not being alone.

There are numerous photos and videos of purported paranormal activity that can be found on the net.

Other reported activity: shadow figures; time and dimensional slips; light anomalies; unexplained mists and other visual phenomena; feelings of being watched, being followed and not being wanted; touches, tugs and pulls by unseen entities; warm and cold spots; phantom footsteps; objects moving on their own and vortices.