Harrisburg State Hospital, formerly known as Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital from 1851 to 1937, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Dauphin County, on Cameron and McClay Streets, was Pennsylvania’s first public facility to house the mentally ill and disabled. The Harrisburg State Hospital was created as the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital and Union Asylum for the Insane in 1845 to provide care for mentally ill persons throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The hospital was the result of the successful lobbying efforts of 19th century social reformer, Dorothea Dix. A nine member board of trustees was empowered to appoint a superintendent, purchase land, and construct facilities near Harrisburg. This board of trustees received no compensation for their work. In 1848, the name of the hospital was changed to the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital when $50,000 was appropriated to begin construction. Patients from all parts of the state would be accepted at the hospital, at the expense of the counties that they belonged; or, if able they would pay for themselves at a cost of $2.50 per week.
This cost included board and medical attention. Originally the hospital only had one building which housed the administration, staff, and patients. Built in 1851, the Main Building was designed following the Kirkbride Plan which was a very popular building style during the late 19th century. The original capacity of the building was 250 patients, but was later expanded with the removal of dining rooms and the addition of the North and South Branch Buildings.