Throwback: Mayview Today

By Beverly Pini

Fall 1998 cover; Cover illustrated by Susan Castriota

Throwback with TODAY

Mayview Today By Beverly Pini

Fall 1998; pages 14, 16 & 77

Where is the best view in all of Upper St. Clair? No question. The view from Morton Road by Baker School into the valley below wins hands down. I spend quite a bit of time enjoying this view, as it is my route to work and also where I walk my dogs.

Mayview State Hospital

Sometimes in the morning, the clouds of fog in the low-lying areas are so think that it becomes a huge, puffy lake with little islands of treetops. The panoramic sunsets, with every color of the evening sky on display, end the day in a spectacular fashion. The blaze of autumn and the blush of spring most certainly have their appeal as well. But, strangely enough, it is the night view that is most intriguing to me. Take a drive up there some night and you will see what I mean.

Sitting in the middle of the valley is the "city" of Mayview State Hospital. Squint your eyes and tell me that it doesn't look like some mystical Kingdom of Oz! For several years I have looked down upon this complex, at all of the buildings, the smokestacks, the fields and toads, and wondered just what went on there. As a child (and quite honestly, as an adult) I thought of Mayview as a "spooky" place where things happened that no one talked about. I decided that it was time that we find out more about our very large, and very mysterious, neighbor.

A call to the hospital put me in touch with Tim Stevens, Director of Volunteer Resources, Father George DeVille, Chaplain and historian, and Ed Balog, Director of Plant Operations. These three gentlemen were anything but mysterious and certainly knew how to make this writer feel very welcome. I explained to them that in our Spring of 1998 issue of UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY, we were treated to Phyllis Bombassaro's history of the Mayview Farm property, but what I wanted to know is just what is going on there in 1998. To do so, some historical perspective is necessary, and Father DeVille , who has been Chaplain for the state hospitals since 1964, was gracious enough to allow me to quote his History of the Pittsburgh Home and City Hospital at Mayview.

Mayview is the second largest state mental hospital in Pennsylvania. The property sits in a U-shaped peninsula surrounded by Chartiers Creek and the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks and backed by Mayview Road. Originally, in the mid-1800s, the city of Pittsburgh acquired 927 acres of land in Upper St. Clair and South Fayette Townships to relocate the Pittsburgh City Home and Hospital from Oliver Avenue near Wood Street in downtown Pittsburgh.

In 1939, the property was expropriated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the state officially took over the operation of the hospital on June 1, 1949. During the intervening years most of the acreage has been transferred back to the two Townships and the property now consists of 130 maintained acres and roughly 100 acres of buffer area, only a few of which are in Upper St. Clair.

In 1939, the property was expropriated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the state officially took over the operation of the hospital on June 1, 1949. During the intervening years most of the acreage has been transferred back to the two Townships and the property now consists of 130 maintained acres and roughly 100 acres of buffer area, only a few of which are in Upper St. Clair.

There are over 40 buildings on the property. The first was constructed in 1892 and the most recent, the maintenance building, was constructed in 1968. The majority of the buildings are no longer occupied, with only five housing patients at this time. The blue smokestacks you see from the hilltop are a part of the Mayview steam plant, which provides all of the heat and hot water for the physical plant. Mr. Balog has a large staff that includes plumbers, carpenters, electricians and other skilled workers who maintain the buildings, grounds and vehicles. The 16-man security force also patrols the grounds 24 hours a day.

Today there are approximately 452 mentally ill adult patients at Mayview and about 50 mentally retarded citizens under the care of the Department of Mental Retardation. The average length of stay in 1964 was ten to eleven years. The average stay in 1998 is 420 days.

Ideally, a patient comes in, is evaluated, treated and discharged within two to three months. However, if the patient needs further treatment at that point, he or she will remain in the facility until such time that a discharge is recommended. As in all state-mandated mental health programs, the treatment goal for mentally ill patients is to maintain them in the least restrictive environment where they, and the public, can be safe. In 1974, Mayview opened the Forensic Center with 71 beds for those in the Criminal Justice System who require evaluation for competency to stand trial. These patients generally have a very short stay.

According to Father DeVille's history, in the early 1900s, the "spooky" things one associates with "asylums" were all a part of the therapies used to treat the mentally ill - ice water sheets, insulin shock, lobotomies, convulsive therapy, electro-shock and strait jackets. These therapies were considered progressive at the time. It wasn't until the 1950s when tranquilizers and psychotropic medications were introduced that remarkable progress was made in the treatment of the mentally ill. The new, sophisticated drugs available today have revolutionized their treatment once again and have made it possible for many people to return to productive lives within the community.

With a staff and patient population of approximately 1500, there is a ready market for items sold in the volunteer-operated Trifles and Treasures Shoppe. Most items in the store are new, but many are also used items in good condition that have been donated or purchased by the volunteers. The Trifles and Treasures Shoppe also takes handwork on consignment. A list of items that would be gratefully accepted is printed with this article.

I met several patients during my visit to Mayview. They were very pleasant and their candor was refreshing. My perception was that they say exactly what they think with few social or politically correct filters on their words. I enjoyed meeting them. The day I visited was Flag Day and Mr. Stevens and Father DeVille had just come from the ceremonies where two patients, who were veterans, spoke eloquently of their wartime memories. Mr. Stevens commented on the fact that the patients were a significant part of the ceremonies, stating, "If we want our patients to be accepted in the larger community, we have to accept them in our own community first."

There are many opportunities for volunteers at Mayview and many generous residents of Upper St. Clair already share their time, talents and resources there. The Board of Trustees President and former Volunteer Board President, Virginia Hester, is a resident of USC. The Volunteer Program began 45 years ago, and today there are over 400 volunteers with more needed all the time. Should you be interested in participating, some of the volunteer opportunities have been listed for your information on page 14.

I enjoyed by visit to Mayview very much and hope to return soon. Once I got off of the hill and actually walked the grounds, the mystique of Mayview was not quite so mysterious after all. I found, instead, a thriving community of staff and volunteers eager to help those in their care. They would welcome your company, your talents, your gently worn clothes (especially large sizes), your donations and your good wishes.

Some interesting historical facts about Mayview:

*In 1892 a railroad station named Marshalsea was erected and most travel between the hospital and the city was via the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad. It wasn't until 1916 that the name of the hospital was officially changed to Mayview.

*Henry Phipps donated a greenhouse in 1893 that is still used as a vocational training center for patients today. Plants are sold to the staff and public. The hours are 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

*A school of Nursing was established in 1915 with a three-year program, graduating the last class in 1935.

*A coal mine was opened in 1017 on the property and the coal was used to run the power plant until 1956 when power was purchased from West Penn Power.

*In 1911, a tuberculosis camp was opened on the hill across from the main hospital and operated until 1943, at which time most of the patients were relocated to Woodville State Hospital.

*In 1934, there were 4,300 patients at Mayview with a staff of only 450 to care for them. During World War II, the census was 3,100 with 128 staff departing for military service. In 1955, the populations was 3,837 at a cost per patient per day of $2.38.

*in the 1930s, the Mayview Bus made two trips each day into Pittsburgh to pick up the sick and mentally ill, the last stop being the Number Once Police Station where often the patients were brought to Mayview in handcuffs.

*In 1958, Allegheny County opened the 2006-bed Kane Hospital in Scott Township to house indigent physically ill patients, including those from Woodville and Mayview. It was at this time that Mayview became a hospital for only mentally ill patients.

15241 TODAY logo.png