Eastern State Penitentiary The Hospital Block's Northern Extension

The Hospital Block's Northern Extension

Restorations to expand access to the cellblock

ESP HospitalBlockNorthWing CaseStatement final 1The failure of the roof over the Solarium, a sunny ward for inmates with tuberculosis, on top of Cellblock 3 wreaked havoc on the structure, ceiling, and walls below. Photo: Sara Jane Elk
(small inset picture)Detail above shows one of the most severely deteriorated sections of the barrel-vaulted ceiling. The wooden sleepers, posts, frames and lath are beyond repair and must be replaced. Photo: Jessica Senker
Cellblock 3 has captivated visitors since the penitentiary reopened as a museum more than 20 years ago. Opportunities to step past the head gate ornamented with a red cross symbol and explore the full length of the Hospital Block have been rare. The few hardhat tours that Eastern State did offer filled quickly to capacity and affirmed visitors' high interest in learning more about the healthcare delivered to thousands of inmates.

Engineers inspected and condemned the mid-section of the cellblock's central corridor in 2011, thereby putting an end to such explorations. The panels of interpretive signage and the brief daily tours into the Operating Room, both developed in 2012, partially address public fascination with Eastern State's medical history. Still, our visitors yearn to step freely through the gate and see the Hospital Block's many distinctive features up close.

Cellblock 3 underwent more extensive and frequent alterations than any other cellblock on site. Early changes in the 1830s and 1850s attempted to address defects in the ventilation, lighting, and heating. Most additions and reconfigurations followed the Civil War as the penitentiary responded to the increased crime that accompanied an expanding national population. Warden Michael Cassidy began a two-decades-long building campaign in 1878 to boost inmate housing capacity.


ESP HospitalBlockNorthWing CaseStatement final 2Six feeding holes survived the 1850s renovation that combined cells to create enlarged spaces for chair-making workshops.
Photo: collection of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

It included adding three new cellblocks, extending Cellblock 1, and adding 20 new cells at the north end of Cellblock 3. Warden Cassidy's addition quickly became known as "the hospital department."

Improving on-site healthcare facilities became increasingly critical as average prison sentences grew longer and more inmates were spending their old age behind the walls. Moreover, diseases spread quickly in the cramped, crowded cellblocks. A rapid succession of renovations in the late 1800s and early 1900s created specialized medical facilities within the block. The earliest changes were alterations to the 20 cells in the new addition. The administration enlarged the doors to the exercise yards so that more fresh air and sunlight reached the cell interiors, which physicians believed important for combating deadly tuberculosis (TB).

The Hospital Block's Northern Extension

By 1907, Cellblock 3 was fully dedicated to healthcare. It had an operating room, a recovery ward, a visitation room, a diet kitchen, laboratories, and a pharmacy Later improvements included a second story Solarium for treating TB patients, an X-ray lab, and spaces devoted to mental health.

A surprising number of architectural features and objects remain in place despite decades of abandonment and decay. We are eager to use them to advance interpretation of the hospital's vast activities.ESP HospitalBlockNorthWing CaseStatement final 3The hospital added X-ray imaging to its services in 1917. By the 1960s, the administration used chest X-rays to screen all inmates and staff for diseases.
Photo: collection of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, courtesy of Norman Maisenhelder’s daughter

ESP HospitalBlockNorthWing CaseStatement final 4Detail of the Psychiatric Department door. Eastern State became known for its sophisticated mental health services in its later years.
Photo: Sean Kelley

 Opening the Hospital Block for further exploration and interpretation is a major component of Eastern State's long-term vision. A series of preservation projects have mitigated the cellblock's profound state of ruin and moved us closer to the day that visitors will be able to experience more of it.

2003 - 2004: The Operating Room and Recovery Room were saved with new roofs and drainage systems thanks to the 2002 Annual Appeal donors.

2009 - 2011: The Solarium and the original section of Cellblock 3 received new roofs courtesy of donors to the 2007 Annual Appeal and a prestigious Save America's Treasures grant.

2012: The Operating Room opened for tours after a conservation project removed 80 tons of debris and stabilized interior architectural features as well as the overhead surgical light. Donors to the 2012 Annual Appeal underwrote this work.

Water infiltration has rotted the barrel vault's framing and compromised, or in some areas disintegrated, 30% of the wood lath and plaster inside the corridor of the 20-cell addition. Lack of maintenance allowed the

edges of the metal roof outside to lift and let water saturate and rot the materials below.

ESP HospitalBlockNorthWing CaseStatement final 6The roof over Warden Cassidy’s addition suffered damage, but significant repairs can salvage it. The tall, arched openings below indicate the cells once used for treating TB patients.
Photo: Elyssa Kane

 ESP HospitalBlockNorthWing CaseStatement final 5Built into an enlarged cell in the cellblock’s earliest section, the laboratory could run sophisticated tests to screen for TB, syphilis, and other diseases.
Photo: Sean Kelley
We must repair the roof and skylights as well as restore the barrel-vaulted ceiling in this section of the Hospital Block. Completing the

preservation will allow visitors to walk the full length of the 365-foot corridor, look into the cells, and envision the bustling hospital it once was.

We must repair the roof and skylights as well as restore the barrel-vaulted ceiling in this section of the Hospital Block. Completing the

preservation will allow visitors to walk the full length of the 365-foot corridor, look into the cells, and envision the bustling hospital it once was.

  Get Involved!

It will take $175,000 to carry out this work and open the corridor to visitors in 2017!

Two early gifts have launched our effort to fund the project. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Keystone Grant program has committed $50,000 provided that Eastern State matches it dollar for dollar. We are grateful to Robert and Deborah Coppola for their generous $10,000 donation toward the match and overall funding goal.

You too can help expand visitor access to the fascinating Hospital Block! We welcome your contribution via www.eastemstate.org/support/donate, by mail, or by phone.

Thank you for supporting the preservation of this National Historic Landmark and for deepening our interpretation of healthcare at the penitentiary.

To discuss other types of gifts, contact Elyssa Kane, Director of Advancement at (215) 236-5111 x 217 or ek@eastemstate.org

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