Then and now: History of Mayview State Hospital

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Old photos of Mayview State Hospital show austere bedrooms, a huge laundry operation and a metal detector that was in use there years before anyone decided the machines were needed in Pittsburgh's City-County Building.

At one time, large state hospitals such as Mayview were the linchpin of the nation's mental health system. Founded in the late 19th century, Mayview was a case in point, encompassing 80 buildings on more than 1,000 acres. It had 4,000 patients, a farm and a coal mine. Patients' family members arrived by train for weekend visits.

PG graphic: Former Mayview State Hospital
(Click image for larger version)

Mayview even had a post office and put its own postmark on letters mailed from there.

The facility already had shrunk a great deal by the time state officials in 2007 announced the hospital's closure. In 2010, Aloe Brothers LLC purchased what was left -- 170 acres and 39 abandoned buildings -- for $505,500.

Advocates for people with mental illness had hoped for a much higher sales price because of officials' promises to put the proceeds into mental health services. But that didn't pan out, partly because the decades-old buildings contained asbestos.

Aloe still is demolishing the buildings, which contained 1.3 million square feet of space. The process, Aloe project manager Dennis Regan said, is "like taking down a small city."

The company proposed putting an upscale business park on the site, but Aloe, whose owners have a background in the coal business, first would like to remove millions of tons of coal. South Fayette Zoning Hearing Board rejected the request, but Mr. Regan said Aloe is scheduled to go before the board again Wednesday.

The township still hopes to buy 68 acres from Aloe to expand the township's Fairview Park. Those talks are continuing.

After Mayview:
A special five-part series

Sunday, Sept. 22:

Overview and portrait of former Mayview State Hospital patients.
Monday, Sept. 23:
Community hospitals struggle with mental-health caseloads.
Tuesday. Sept. 24:
Police, courts improvise to manage ill offenders
Wednesday. Sept. 25:
Housing a weak link in mental-health system
Sunday, Sept. 29:
The future of mental-health treatment

Some mental health professionals opposed Mayview's closing, believing that despite the state's push for community living, state hospitals still have a role in the continuum of care. The closing also rattled some residents of Baldwin Township, who successfully opposed a plan to house some of the patients in a one-time home for seniors there.

Alan Axelson, a psychiatrist who treated Mayview patients and now treats some of the former patients in community settings, said he would like to create a historical exhibit to remember Mayview and the people who lived there. Dr. Axelson raised the possibility of locating the exhibit in the Upper St. Clair Community and Recreation Center.

In 1987, officials of the state Department of Public Welfare, which operated Mayview, dedicated a monument there to patients who had died in the hospital's care. Mr. Regan said the state removed such artifacts when the hospital closed.

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Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.


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