Thank you to Dave Bentley of The Dying Light for supplying images for this article.
Located along Old Route 22 in Cresson Township, Pennsylvania sits the remains of a former medium-security, all-male correctional facility. Known as State Correctional Institution (SCI) – Cresson, it first began life as a tuberculosis hospital, before transitioning into a psychiatric hospital and, finally, a prison.
Today, the property is owned by a hydroponic farm, which not only grows crops on the premises, but also holds tours for those interested in exploring the over century-old structures.
Land is donated for a tuberculosis hospital
In 1911, steel-tycoon Andrew Carnegie donated a plot of land in Cambria County, Pennsylvania for the construction of a tuberculosis hospital. The location atop a ridge in the Allegheny Mountains was considered the most ideal, as nothing surrounded it. As well, at the time it was believed fresh air was key to patients recovering from the disease.
Two years later, the Cresson Tuberculosis Sanatorium opened, despite the fact construction wasn’t completed until 1916. The buildings were lavishly designed in the Tudor Revival style, with gargoyles and Scottish crests carved into the sandstone. The latter was a nod to Carnegie, who was Scottish.
While the facility operated as a tuberculosis hospital, cutting-edge treatments were used to treat patients.
Transition into a psychiatric hospital
With the decline in the number of patients with tuberculosis upon the introduction of new treatments and medication, the need for a dedicated hospital began to fade away. As such, in 1956, the Cresson Tuberculosis Sanatorium was incorporated into the Lawrence Flick State Hospital, which was run by the Department of Public Welfare.
Also known as the Allegheny State Hospital, the facility was designed to care for those with mental health issues. It operated until December 1982, at which time it was closed, so the necessary renovations could be completed to turn it into a prison.
The State Correctional Institution (SCI) – Cresson accepts prisoners
The decision to turn the Lawrence Flick State Hospital into a prison was made official under an executive order by then-Gov. Dick Thornburgh. Once its operation was transferred to the Bureau of Corrections, renovations began on the property, to the tune of $20.6 million.
Throughout the renovation process, buildings were torn down and others built in their place. Those that fit the requirements for a prison were renovated and retrofitted with cells and other facilities needed for the institution to run smoothly. Fire safety, security and environmental equipment were also installed.
In the fall of 1986, the activation team was created, and just a year later, the State Correctional Institution (SCI) – Cresson officially opened. Throughout the course of its operations, newer facilities were constructed. However, while the prison looked state-of-the-art on the outside, the actions happening on the inside weren’t so modern.
In the early 2010s, Pennsylvania’s Civil Rights Division (CRD) found that inmates with learning disabilities and those dealing with mental illness were being treated poorly. Instances of prolonged isolation and excessive force were found, all of which were in violation of the prisoners’ rights, leading the CRD to state that their treatment was in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
In January 2013, state officials announced that State Correctional Institution (SCI) – Cresson would be closing down, due to maintenance costs. It officially shut its doors on June 30, 2013, and the property was put on the market.
Conversion into a hydroponic farm
Following its closure, State Correctional Institution (SCI) – Cresson sat vacant for several years. In late 2019, it was announced that Big House Produce would convert the property into a hydroponic farm. Several of the buildings on the premises were updated to house hydroponic equipment, allowing for the growing of hemp.
When Big House Produce purchased the property, the majority of the buildings were in various states of decay. There was no artificial light, and the smell of dampness permeated everywhere. Ceiling tiles had fallen to the floor, paint was peeling off the wall, windows were broken and other hazards were about.
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In May 2021, in an effort to pay for the necessary renovations, Big House Produce began hosting self-guided tours of State Correctional Institution (SCI) – Cresson. Ghost hunters, urban explorers and photographers are invited to visit the site and take it in at their own pace – for a fee.