Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered
Newspaper 45
The following article, written by Sean Sauro, was published in the Johnstown Tribune Democrat on July 21, 2013.   Click the following link to go to the newspaper website:


                             Marking century of ‘San’
Sean Sauro

After its doors were opened in 1913, Cresson Sanatorium served as a rehabilitation center for countless sick, mentally disabled and societally unfit individuals.

And, while many may have gone through hardships during their time spent at the sanatorium, others see the importance of recognizing the historical significance this facility played in improving their community.

To honor the 100th anniversary of the sanatorium’s formal opening in 1913, former sanatorium employee Etta Albright said she and a group of historians dedicated to remembering and honoring the sanatorium have organized an anniversary reunion set for Aug. 3.

“It’s a dinner program in recognition of the formal opening of Cresson Sanatorium,” she said.

Though it was only one of three Pennsylvania facilities treating and rehabilitating tuberculosis patients, Albright said it was the first to be set up under the then newly formed Department of Health.

“It was commissioned under the first Department of Health Commissioner Samuel Dixon,” she said, adding that its location and architecture were chosen to combat the disease.

“He actually planned the sanatorium,” she said, explaining that he was concerned with airflow, lighting and elevation.

“He took this all into consideration when he built the sanatorium,” Albright said. “It has the highest elevation of all three Pennsylvania sanatoriums.”

The land where the sanatorium was built was donated by Andrew Carnegie with hopes to make an impact in the community, Albright said.

Because tuberculosis is highly contagious, hospitals were reluctant to accept patients who were sick with the disease, Albright said. Sanatoriums were set up to isolate tuberculosis patients from the rest of the population, she said.

“Sanatoriums had a significant role in that effort because they realized that children did not have the immunity that they once thought,” she said adding that not only those sick with tuberculosis were isolated.

“Cresson Sanatorium was what we like to call a free standing preventatorium,” she said. “They also took in people who may have been exposed or were at risk around people that did have it.”

The isolation of these people drastically reduced the tuberculosis death rate in the surrounding area until anti-tuberculosis medicines were developed, Albright said.

“They were places where the wealthy would go to heal themselves. Many families couldn’t cope with that,” she said.

In addition to improvements in medicine, redeveloped sewage and water systems coupled with improved nutrition almost eliminated tuberculosis, and sanatoriums began to close, Albright said.

“Cresson Sanatorium closed in 1964,” she said. “That’s when the last patient left.”

Shortly after it closed, the sanatorium reopened to serve as a center for developmentally disabled patients, Albright said. She began working at the facility in 1966.

However, as society became more accepting of disabled people in the community, Albright said the need for the sanatorium disappeared once again.

“That’s when the prison took over in the mid ’80s,” she said.

The sanatorium, under the new name SCI-Cresson, existed as a penitentiary until it was closed earlier this year.

“I’ve made a proposal for that facility to be considered for a residential brain and cognitive resource research center,” she said.

“As a citizen who respects the facility for its history and the intention of Andrew Carnegie that the land be used for the good of the community, I think that this facility being available is an excellent opportunity.”

Until the future of the facility is decided, however, Albright said she is focused on the anniversary reunion.

This year’s celebration is to be the second reunion honoring the sanatorium in three years, she said.

Albright said there was some concern about surviving patients’ health.

“During our planning a question came up about the health of the people and their ability to travel, and we said, ‘Why wait?’ ”

So, a pre-anniversary reunion was held in 2011.

This year’s reunion, to be held at the Cresson American Legion, is to feature showings of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “Cresson San Remembered,” and a presentation from a Pitt professor.

The program, which begins at 4 p.m., is open to the public for a fee of $15.