Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered
Newspaper 43

The following story by Justin Eger appeared on January 17, 2013 in the Cresson Mainliner.

                                  SCI closing also bears impact on local history
                                       Location celebrates 100th anniversary this year
                                             By Justin Eger of Mainline Newspapers

Though it’s been just 26 years since SCI Cresson opened its cell doors and began offering jobs to area residents, the grounds on which the facility stands have a much longer history. 2013 makes the centennial anniversary of when the doors were opened on an altogether different kind of facility at the top of Cresson Mountain, a tuberculosis sanatorium that housed men, women, and children from around the state who were suffering from the disease. Despite its purpose, which might have driven some fearful of the disease away, the facility and its patients became a part of the Cresson community, and many of those very patients and staff members returned not two years ago to celebrate the history of “the San” and share their stories. Chief among them was Chuck Felton, who has been chronicling the history of the Cresson TB Sanatorium for the last several years.

“The timing of this is totally strange,” Felton said from his Texas home last week. “Here we are getting ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the facility being opened and here they announce that they’re closing it. I’m glad we had our reunion in 2011.”

It was at that time, Felton related, that he was able to venture onto the prison grounds with a film crew to record an Emmy-winning documentary detailing the history of the San. He and the cameramen explored Grace Chapel, the only building on the prison grounds that remains in its original location, and is still in use by prison population. Along with Felton, local residents with an interest in the history of the San expressed their concerns about the fate of the facility, and in particular Grace Chapel.

“Although the primary concern will be of the economic impact to employees and the municipalities that benefited from the prison population, thoughts go to the future of Grace Chapel on the grounds of the prison,” explained Etta Albright, who helped Felton organize the reunion of San patients and staff two years ago.

Though the TB sanatorium’s “Children’s House” also remains on the grounds of SCI Cresson, Grace Chapel is of particular interest to historians and those collecting stories of the San because, as was mentioned, it still sits on its original foundation, untouched during the renovation of facilities that preceded the opening of the state correctional institution in the late 1980s. This interest became even more pronounced when, just weeks ago, Felton came into possession of news articles from the former Cresson Record dated to 1915 and 1916, articles which detail the construction of Grace Chapel.
“The beautiful Gothic structure, built of stone from the immediate surroundings, is well named,” wrote the Record reporter on the day the chapel was opened. “Under its roof the Catholic structure is separated [from the Protestant section - ed.] merely by a rolling screen from the main audience room. That portion of the building has already been consecrated. In the afternoon, following the dedication of the main room, both places of worship were thrown open.”

But it is an article dated several months previously, from August of 1916, that has drawn fresh attention from chroniclers of the San. Headlined “Cornerstone at Sanatorium Chapel Place in Hands Of the Sub-Contractor,” the article reads, in part, “On last Friday, a copper box with contest was placed in the ands of the stone cub-contractor of the Sanatorium Chapel to be put in the corner stone ... In it was coin of the Realm donated by the two banks, church papers of various Protestant denominations and of the Catholic Church, with a short history of Father Gallitzin ... In the box also will be found when the walls crumble in the centuries to come several articles on the Chapel, and especially a leaflet containing a picture of the Chapel and a part of the Sanatorium, and not least a copy of the Cresson Record.”

“It’s one of those weird, ironic coincidences,” Felton said. “We no sooner find out about this cornerstone and this copper box, then we find out the prison is going to be closed. We had talked about getting a plaque set up to denote the location of the time capsule, but now, since we don’t know what’s going to happen to the facility, we’d like to know if the cornerstone is there. If something is going to be done with the building, we’d like to look for this time capsule and salvage it, if it comes to that.”

The Department of Corrections announced last week that it would be working with the Office of General Services to determine a future use, if any, for the Cresson facility. A press release that accompanied said statement noted that options included the surplus or sale of the Cresson facility and its counterpart in Greensburg. Calls to the Office of General Services for comment were not returned, while Felton’s attempts to validate the presence of either the cornerstone or the time capsule with prison officials have met with little response as yet.

Regardless, a committee related to the history of the Cresson TB Sanatorium is currently in the process of pursuing a historical marker to denote the facility through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The committee has also contacted the commission to apprise them of the new developments surrounding the site, though no response has yet been received. Plans also continue for a program scheduled for August 3, 2013 at the Cresson American Legion, scheduled in remembrance of the formal opening of the San a century ago.

More information about the San, which (for now) houses SCI Cresson, please visit