In the middle of the 20th century, Woodville State Hospital faced a problem.
It was really, really crowded.
The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph ran a photo in 1952 showing the men’s ward dormitory so full that men had to go to bed in shifts so that staff could squeeze beds together once their occupants settled in for the night.
By the early 1990s, it was an issue the hospital’s management wouldn’t have minded to encounter again. In 1991, Gov. Robert P. Casey announced his plan to close the facility. A year later, it was empty.
There was frequent jockeying in the 1930s and ‘40s over how much state funding the hospital and others like it received. In those days, it — like the County Poorhouse and nearby Mayview — was county owned. Newspaper accounts often referred to its successful management on a “shoestring budget.”
Many of the Woodville staff in that era had long careers. In the late 1940s, when Woodville and Mayview were sold by Allegheny County to the state for $2.5 million, more than 30 employees had been there for 20-plus years, The Pittsburgh Press wrote.
Who was treated there? The aged and mentally ill, as well as stroke victims and those in need of physical rehabilitation from accidents, including paralyzed patients. People entered Woodville in the 1950s with the expectation that they would recover to the point of being able to manage for themselves or with the assistance of family or an aide. In other words, because of the crowding issues, there was an expiration date on their stay at Woodville State.
For many years — until funding priorities shifted in the 1990s and everyone had to move out — it remained a sound strategy.
Today, it’s a redeveloped area. PennDOT built a large office there. The Villages at Neville Park subdivision dominates the former property along I-79 — with placid street names like Juniper Lane and Marigold Court.
And none of it feels at all crowded.