Seventeen years after the opening of the first public state hospital in Harrisburg, legislation was passed by the General Assembly to establish the third state hospital in Pennsylvania. The new hospital was to help alleviate the over crowding problems at Harrisburg and cover the northern area of the state, which included 20 counties. Act 49 of April 13, 1968 directed the building commissioners to erect a "Kirkbride Building" in accordance to the construction standards of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane. The men and women that made up the commissioners were among some of the most distinguished people in their respective fields. John Curwen, who was the current superintendent of the state hospital in Harrisburg, Governor John Geary, Senator Russell Errett, Doctor Thomas Kirkbride, Dorothea Dix, Doctor Isaac Ray, who was a well known medial writer, John McArthur Jr., who would be the architect of the hospital, and Solomon Shultz, Danville's future first superintendent. John Curwen, who spent perhaps a bit too much time away from Harrisburg during the construction of the hospital, was charged with making a preliminary survey of the district and recommended a list of possible locations to the rest of the commissioners. The commissioners visited several farms and towns before finally deciding on the town to Danville for the new hospital. During a meeting in Harrisburg in early July of 1868 the commissioners decided the perfect location was on a 250 acre farm about 100 feet from the river, just outside of Danville. The farm was originally owned by the founder to Danville, Daniel Montgomery. The farm included an orchard and a good

source of spring water. The site was also conveniently located next to a railroad and the ground provided ample amounts of clay, stone, lime, and rock, all of which were needed to construct the new hospital. In 1968 the population of the town of Danville was only 3,600. Iron ore was mined in hills west of the town, and there were iron mills, blast furnaces, and rolling mills operating in the area. Though the area was rural, the town was not short on wealth. This was evident when the town citizens contributed $16,123 towards the purchase of the land that the hospital would be built on. The final price tag the state paid for the 250 acres was $26,600.

The first building constructed on the newly purchased property was to be the hospital's Main Building. Also known as "Block Building", it was designed and built following the strict guidelines established by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. "Kirkbride Plan" hospitals, as they came to be known, were very common in the United States during the late 19th century. By the time Danville State Hospital was established in 1868, Pennsylvania already had two other Kirkbride Plan hospitals, one in Harrisburg and one in Dixmont. The Kirkbride Plan was so popular that the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane had even adopted the Kirkbride plan as their standard for all new hospitals for the insane.

A Kirkbride Plan building can best be described as a "bat wing". They typically consist of a center section for the hospital administration and living area for the superintendant and his family. Behind and to either side of the administration section are patient wards. The patient wards staggered out and back from the administration section. From the air the building would look like a "V" or a "bat wing". Chapels, auditoriums, libraries, and kitchens were often built directly onto the rear of the administration section. This was a convenient central location for these facilities since the male and female patients resided on opposite sides of the building. The Kirkbride Plan allowed for many other advantages as well. It allowed for maximum amounts

of light and ventilation into the patient wards. It allowed for easier arranging of patients by type, typically the noisier and more uncontrollable patients were placed in the wards farthest from the administration section. The Kirkbride Plan also allowed for easy expansion of hospitals. Additional wards could be built onto the ends of the existing building without disrupting daily life at the hospital. Kirkbride Plan buildings tended to become large, imposing, Victorian-era institutions, between 3-5 stories tall, built on large extensively manicured grounds which often included farmland.

Designed by Philadelphia architect John McArthur Jr., construction started on the original Kirkbride Plan building at Danville on August 26, 1869 with the laying of the cornerstone. Among the attendees for the cornerstone laying was Governor John W. Geary. Three years later, the still unfinished building opened on October 18, 1872. At the time of opening only the majority of the south wing and the administration section were completed. Work continued on the north wing through 1875. The finished building would come to a total of 1,143 feet in length. The four story (not including the attic, tower or basement) administration section contained seventy rooms. Including a library, chapel, auditorium, kitchen, dining room, sewing room, as well as administrative offices and a home for the superintendent and family.

When the building opened in 1872, the patient capacity of the hospital was only 250. The first patient didn't arrive at the hospital until three weeks after the opening. Over the following year 210 more patients were admitted, some of which were transferred from Harrisburg State Hospital to help alleviate their over crowding problem. By 1875 work was finishing up on the north wing, which once opened, would increase the patient capacity of the hospital to 750. The completed building featured state of the art amenities, including mechanical ventilation, fire hoses in every ward, and an ice chamber which was located in the basement for storage of meats, butter, milk, and fruit. Other store rooms in the basement housed bread and other provisions. The laundry featured new steam drying rooms. Each ward had it's own bath room and water closet. The exterior of the building featured a stone administration section with two large towers that rose above the main roof line. The wards were made of brick and covered in stucco. The floors were made of hardwood and the roof was covered in slate. On the roof of the wards were large cupolas, which assisted in ventilation of the building. The building was lighted by gas and heated by steam, both produced by a power plant located on site.

The first superintendent of the hospital was Solomon S. Schultz. Solomon had served as the first assistant to John Curwen at Harrisburg and had also been a surgeon at several Civil War hospitals. He served the hospital as superintendent for 23 years. During his time at the hospital he created Danville into a fine example of what a Kirkbride hospital should be. Not only was the building constructed according to Dr. Thomas Kirkbride's standards, but his attitude and the way Solomon regarded the patients was everything Dr. Kirkbride had strived for in his therapeutic methods. Treatment for patients at the new hospital consisted of rest, wholesome food, occupation, and diversion, with limited amounts of medicine. Early recreational activities were largely controlled and dependant upon the hospital staff. Some of the amusements for the patients consisted of concerts, reading, dances, picnics, carriage rides, games, trips to the county fair and theater, the showing of slides, and an in house library. There was a limited amount of occupational therapy in the hospital's early days. Female patients would make crafts and other items that would be sold, that money would then be use to purchase things like instruments, books, and sheet music. Picnics on the front lawn of the hospital were common in the early days of the hospital. As many as fifty to eighty patients would spend the afternoon outdoors. The picnics would consist of beef and ham sandwiches, rolls, butter, fruit spreads, pickles, peanuts, ice water, coffee, ice cream, and cake. After lunch the men would be allowed cigars and the women would receive a pinch of snuff.

Nine years after the new hospital opened it's doors to patients it experienced a large scale fire which completely gutted the interior of the administration section, all of the female wards, and part of the male wards. The fire happened on March 5, 1881, between 8 and 9pm on a Saturday evening. Reportedly, the fire was said to have originated from an explosion of gas in one of the rooms on the second floor of the female wing. It appeared that one of the matrons entered a gas filled room with a lighted candle. An alarm was quickly sounded and great effort was made to rescue the patients. At that time there were between four to five hundred patients at the hospital, most of whom were gathered in the auditorium when the fire broke out. The fire spread rapidly among the wooden interior of the building. Sunbury, Williamsport, and Milton were telegraphed to forward all possible aid to the hospital. Fire companies were dispatched to the scene immediately, but upon their arrival there was little they could do because of the lack of water. It was reported that 220 male patients escaped during the fire, but were returned a few days later. Patients were cared for in out buildings until they could be transferred to either Harrisburg or the new state hospital in Warren. Though the outer, stone and brick walls of the hospital were for the most part in tact, the interior was completely destroyed. Rebuilding the hospital would take another five years. During the rebuilding the male wards that were not damaged by the fire remained open. Reconstruction of the Main Building followed closely to the same plans that were used in 1969 with a few modifications and improvements. One of the most noticeable changes

made during the reconstruction was to the administration section, it now had only one central bell tower rather than two towers. Other improvements included a six inch water pipe that encircled the exterior of the building, feeding fifteen new fire hydrants. A new 600 seat amusement hall was built on the fourth floor of the administration section. Large bay windows were added to the front of each patient ward, these windows opened into a dayroom. When the reconstruction was finished in October of 1886 the Main Building had eleven wards for men and eleven wards for women and the patient capacity had risen to 800. As a result of the fire, the hospital maintained a ready and well equipped fire department made up of staff members. Fire drills were also held periodically for patients and staff. In 1896 the hospital got its first motorized piece of fire apparatus and by 1934 the hospital had a modern chemical truck and a ladder truck.

Between 1888 and 1890, epidemics of dysentery and diarrhea occurred due to the contamination of the hospital's water supply. At that time the chief source of water for the hospital was directly from the river, about 100 feet in front of the hospital. Reportedly the contamination occurred as a result of floods and not as a result of the hospital sewage being piped into the river. Regardless, when the analysis of the river water returned unsafe for drinking, water was brought from a spring in a wooden tank mounted on a hand-drawn cart. Later a well was sunk on the property because the spring proved to be an inadequate source of water. In 1890 the pipe delivering raw sewage from the hospital to the river was moved 3,368 yards down stream to what was considered a "safe point" to deposit the sewage. In 1904 a water filtration plant was built to filter the water coming from the river. The filtration plant used a new York Continental Jewel Filtration Apparatus with was able to filter 320,000 gallons of water in 24 hours. A sewage plant was also constructed. Sewage was now piped to a 20,000 gallon concrete reservoir and then distributed to the fields by broad irrigation. Later in 1910 the sewage plant was upgraded and was then able to treat the sewage using chloride of lime before passing into a sedimentation tank and eventually to an adjoining stream. During the 1890s, reports commonly showed that beds were being made up in the corridors of the Main Building to accommodate an increasing over crowding problem.

Over the next sixty years the hospital grew by leap and bounds. Many new out buildings were constructed to expand the patient capacity of the hospital. Some of the new buildings were infirmaries for men and women, an industrial building for men and women, a male and female dormitory for outside employees, a male and female tuberculosis building, an annex to the female infirmary, a continued care building for male and female patients, a farm colony building, the hospital building, a laundry building, male and female nurses homes, a gate house, additional farm buildings, a fire house, a butcher shop, greenhouses, a power plant, a pumping station and a sewage disposal plant. Between 1904 and 1906 all the buildings at the hospital were wired with electricity, and new lighting fixtures were installed. This replaced the original gas light system.

Many more additions and improvements to the hospital were seen between 1912 and 1920. Some of these included more fire fighting equipment, upgraded electrical and machine shops, better heating systems were tested, and a laboratory was developed to enable water testing. An industrial building was constructed and used for occupational and vocational therapies, such as shoe repair, broom making, and a tailor shop. The new industrial program also helped to fund a new moving picture machine, which was installed in the hospital's amusement hall. The hospital provided it's own food at farms located on the hospital grounds. Much of the work done at the hospital and the farms was done by patients as part of the occupational therapy program. Patients that were able to work were encouraged to do things like shovel snow, maintain the lawns, plant flowers and trees, and raise crops and livestock. Female patients did much of the cooking, they also worked in the laundry and mended patient garments. This work was thought to give the patients a sense for purpose, it also kept them occupied, mentally and physically. The use of patient labor kept operating costs low at state run hospitals like Danville. At times patients would even help in the construction of new buildings. However in 1968 the "Institutional Peonage Abolishment Act" was passed. The law required that any patients working at the hospital was required to be paid. As a result, occupational therapy programs like farming were soon discontinued at almost all state hospitals in the United States, including Danville. New staff members had to be hired to maintain the grounds and work in the kitchens. This caused operating costs at the hospital to increase dramatically. No longer could excess crops and patient made crafts be sold at local markets. State hospitals like Danville were now forced to rely on state funds only, and there never seemed to be enough. During the peak of the state hospital system in the very early 1950s, Danville had a patient population of around 3,000. And it's annual operating cost was around $900,000.

The need for large state hospitals declined in the late twentieth century as a result of new medicines and methods of treatments. State hospitals all over the United States saw their patient populations fall rapidly through the 1970s 80s,and 90s. Deinstitutionalization, which was a movement to remove patients from hospitals and return them to home care environments also contributed to the falling number of patients at state institutions. Danville saw it's patient population plummet from 2,801 in 1955 to under 200 in 2008. Today (2009) the hospital is still a fully functioning mental treatment facility, focusing on long term care. The main building still looks almost exactly the same as it did over 100 years ago with a few minor alterations. The slate roof has been replaced with shingles and in 2008 the building received a face lift of new stucco to 75% of the exterior of the wings. The cupolas have also been painted and refurbished. Smoking pavilions were built onto the rear of the building during the fifties. All the patients at the hospital are once again living almost exclusively in the Main Building. Vacant wards are being renovated into offices, drop ceilings are being installed and new tile floor is being laid down. The administration section of the building is still almost fully original. The intricate tile and wood work from when the building was first constructed still exists today. Stained glass still accents the upper floors of the administration section and the chapel also looks much the way it did years ago.

 

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