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Located in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania at an elevation of 2,500 feet, this building has a long and varied history as a tuberculosis sanatorium, state hospital, and prison.
The Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium officially opened in January 1913 on land that was previously owned by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. The buildings, constructed in the Tudor Revival style, were adorned with Scottish clan crests and gargoyles on the Administration Building tower to honor Carnegie’s heritage.
Treatment for tuberculosis initially included exposure to fresh air, a nutrient-rich diet rich in vitamins A and C, and bed rest. Eventually, pneumothorax treatments were developed to allow for the partial or complete collapse of a lung through the introduction of air into the pleural cavity, allowing the lung to heal. The introduction of the drug streptomycin in 1947 at Cresson led to a significant decrease in tuberculosis rates and related deaths.
In December 1956, the Lawrence F. Flick State Hospital was renamed as the Cresson State Hospital, which specialized in treating individuals with severe mental disorders. In 1964, it began admitting patients with intellectual disabilities, and as a result, it was renamed the Cresson State School and Hospital. However, in the 1970s, it was renamed again and became known as the Cresson Center. The Cresson Center closed in December 1982, and plans were announced to convert the psychiatric center into a prison.
SCI Cresson, a medium-security state correctional institution, was opened in 1987. It featured several prototype cell blocks that were designed to improve visibility for guards and make maintenance easier compared to older prison designs. Some of the original tuberculosis-era structures were preserved and repurposed, while the wings attached to the Administration Building were demolished. However, SCI Cresson closed in June 2013 due to the high costs of maintaining the facility compared to newer ones. The Cresson Secure Treatment Unit, which was separate from SCI Cresson, closed in August 2016.
The former sanatorium-prison complex, which is now home to Big House Produce, an indoor hydroponic business, is open for tours and events today.
Explore additional photos and information about the evolution of the Cresson facility, including its history as a tuberculosis sanatorium, Lawrence F. Flick State Hospital, Cresson State School and Hospital, Cresson Center, and SCI Cresson.