Mark Berton covered Dixmont State Hospital for several years during his tenure with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and he spends his free time photographing asylum architecture. His access to Dixmont and those who were part of its history provided a unique perspective in the life of a functioning mental health facility and its demise.
Dixmont State Hospitalby Mark Benton
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Pittsburgh natives have recognized Dixmont State Hospital by its towering boiler house smokestack that stood prominently along busy Route 65. It has been a topic of curiosity, urban exploration, ghost hunts, and historical research; but prior to its closing in 1984, Dixmont State Hospital stood as a refuge to the mentally ill for three counties in western Pennsylvania. A majestic study in the Kirkbride design of asylum architecture, Dixmont was originally built by the Western Pennsylvania Hospital in 1859 as a private venture before being bought by the commonwealth. It was named for famed mental health care reformer Dorothea Dix, who was instrumental in choosing the hospital's site--a site chosen for its tranquility and its view of the Ohio River. Dixmont was completely razed in January 2006 to make way for a multi-parcel commercial endeavor. But for those who spent time there, Dixmont was a vibrant community within a community. Through historic photographs, Dixmont State Hospital opens up this world that was off limits to the general public but was alive with festivals, celebrations, and the successful treatment of patients.
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