In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the creation of the Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-minded and Epileptic. A commission was organized to determine how many feeble-minded and epileptic people were in need of specialized institutional care.
Construction began in 1903 on hundreds of acres of Crab Hill in Spring City, Pennsylvania. It officially opened on November 23, 1908. However, additional buildings were added throughout its years of operation. The lower campus buildings include Philadelphia, Quaker, Franklin, Nobel, Devon, Mayflower, Whitman, Wilson I and II. Upper Campus are Pershing, Buchanan, Audubon, Keystone, Capital and Horizon. A tunnel system connects twenty-six of the buildings. The Pennsylvania Railroad created a Pennhurst Station to deliver coal and other supplies. The tracks had since been removed but are currently being recreated.
In 1908, "Patient number 1" was admitted. Four years later, Pennhurst was overcrowded and under pressure to admit immigrants, orphans and criminals. Residents were divided in to various classifications: 1) mental - imbecile or insane; 2) physical - epileptic or healthy; 3) dental - good, poor, or treated teeth. Children who were admitted to Pennhurst had conditions such as mute, paralytic, blind, imperfect prehension, deformity of face, head, limbs and/or feet, and offensive habits. Residents were assigned to various branches of industry including mattress making, farming, laundry, sewing, baking, butchering and painting. However, in 1913, the Commission for the Care of the Feeble-minded believed every feeble-minded person was a potential criminal and should not be mixing with the general public.
A lawsuit was filed against Pennhurst State School and Hospital by former resident Terry Lee Halderman siting violations of her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments in 1977. The complaint included carious allegations of unsanitary, inhumane and dangerous conditions and staff used cruel and unusual punishment methods. Psychotropic drugs were allegedly used to restrain patients. Seclusion rooms were used to punish aggressive behavior. Patients were left in metal cribs for days at a time. Physical restraints were used due to staff shortages. Patients were raped, physically assaulted, thrown across the room, hit by a belt. Patients were witnessed by family members having bruises, scratches, welts, bites, broken bones, missing teeth by the hands of themselves, staff or other patients. Outbreaks were common due to minimal cleanliness. Some patients walked around partially dressed or completely naked.
Halderman's lawsuit was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court stating federal courts cannot order state officials to comply with state laws due to the Eleventh Amendment. However, the facility was forced to close in 1986 due to the allegations of abuse. Today, it is in the process of being renovated and is not opened to the public.
There are numerous paranormal reports associated with Pennhurst. Witness have seen partial and full bodied apparitions (including a woman in white and a young girl with blonde hair), doors slamming, screams, voices, banging, feeling of being watched, shadows, dragging sounds, piano playing, and items being thrown by unseen hands. Others have seen apparitions peering around corners and out windows, being pushed, whispers, and footsteps.