Welcome to the quaint little town of Brownsville, Pennsylvania. This forgotten town residing in the rust belt is home to about 2,314 residents, and since the year 1983, seems to continue moving further and further downhill.
Brownsville had experienced a population drop between the years 1990 and 2012, falling from a population of 3,182 in the early 90’s.
Just as any other rust belt town, Brownsville underwent serious debt and financial issues, causing the final days of many local shops, as well as a bank, hotel, apartments, train depot, and railways which used to provide transportation of goods from boats, among many other now vacant locations.
Today, we are going to visit the history of the Brownsville General Hospital, accompanied by the Horner Memorial Nurses’ Home, both of which sit empty today, other than falling rust and decay, which now inhabit the interiors scattered across beds and floors; at least where there is one left.
Hundreds upon hundreds of patients resided through this large structure over the years, fighting illness and disease, broken bones, and more.
I bet you must be asking ‘where did the patients go before the hospital was built?’
Well, in the early days before there were many hospitals all around, especially in a town like Brownsville, patients would see a local doctor in a very small clinic, while others with harsher symptoms were required to travel by rail or boat to either McKeesport or Fairmont, which are nearly an hour drive on today’s roads. Knowing this, I believe we may be just a little bit better off when we are sick.
It was not until the year 1908 when Reverend E.M. Bowman, along with some local citizens and medical professionals had made a proposal for the construction of a local hospital.
In 1908 the charter was issued for this structure, and construction took way. This charter stated, “The hospital is to care for those injured in accidents in the coal mines, coke ovens, railroads, and other industrial enterprises, regardless of race, sect or creed.” In 1914, though the construction was not yet final, the hospital opened its doors to patients.
Multiple fund-raisers were held to raise money in support for construction of the hospital, the first bringing in $10,000. A second fund-raising campaign provided the town with numerous government appropriations along with $32,000. Due to a large need for a medical center, a contract was awarded to the Chaerleroi Lumber Company, stating that construction of the hospital may continue as long as that money remained in the bank account.
Finally completing its construction in 1916, the hospital had already admitted patients for two years prior.
In 1923, a man by the name of Joseph Horner, partner in the Horner Coal Company, had donated over $100,000 in funding towards the hospitals operations. Come 1926, Joseph Horner passed, granting a large sum of money to the hospital; this lead to the construction of a larger nurses’ home beginning in September of the year 1928, directly across the street.
Hundreds of illnesses, deaths, and cures of fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents went on inside these walls. Countless births of children, who would come to grow up in the state of Pennsylvania. Though the town has always been fairly quaint, and quiet, this structure stood healthily serving patients from 1914 until a final closure in 1965, when the hospital had said its final goodbye, closing its doors, while still using part of the property in the nurses’ corridors for obstetrics. The nurses’ corridors remained, along with the obstetrical department, while the rest was converted to the Golden Age Nursing home around the same year.
On August 31, 1976 it had been announced that the hospital would be closing the obstetrical department by the end of the year. The nursing home continued operations for the next 9 years, until finally shutting down in 1985, leaving the entire complex vacant.
So what were the people on 65 supposed to do without a hospital?
On June 5, 1965 an entirely new Brownsville General Hospital was constructed on Simpson Road. During this same year the old property had been purchased by Frank Bock, who had renovated the Horner building into the Golden Age Nursing Home mentioned earlier.
By this time however, Brownsville was in economic troubles, as well as experiencing a population decline due to the collapse of the steel industry and a substantial number of layoffs in nearby coal mines. Due to these situations at hand, it was rumored as early as 1976 amongst people that the hospital was already in danger of closing.
In 1977, as little as 42 beds remained occupied, leaving the other 79 open, while employees were recalled in winter months due to an increase of patients. This however, was quickly followed by more layoffs occurring in 1978.
January 8, 2006 citizens and employees watched as the second Brownsville General Hospital was closed due to financial issues, as well as labor disputes. This left 260 employees out of work until October of 2007, when a non-profit board obtained the hospital due to bureaucracy. The hospital was reopened on May 22, 2008 under the name Brownsville Tri-County Hospital, but had closed once again on Februrary 12, 2009 once again due to financial issues, with $1.2 million in assets and liabilities of over $14.3 million. Fifteen patients remained housed in rooms within the hospital, and were transferred to other facilities.
1985; the year that the town said farewell as the original Brownsville General Hospital and Horner Memorial Nurses’ Home were vacated and entirely abandoned, left victim to the elements. The hospital now sits in ruins, missing floors, entire rooms and hallways, while beds and IV bags remain as if people had just got up, simply walked out and never looked back.
We traversed the hallways of this time capsule full of destruction, scouting various objects, patient records, and whether or not there was going to be a floor in the next place we stepped. Zig-zagging our way between hanging electrical pipe, avoiding pitfalls and questionable debris, we finally reached the stairs. The stairs brought us to the second level, where we were face to face with a community room. The community room was where ill patients would be housed in beds, separated by curtains and tended to by the nurses on a daily basis. Many people, especially back in the times of this hospital, would eventually take their last breath in these beds due to being as sick or old as they were.
From end to end I.V. bags remain scattered, amongst documents and surgical tubing. Moss has begun to grow atop the plastic coating of patient beds, as well as coating floors, while sun glows brightly through the windows, casting warmth and new life into the hospitals rooms.
Our experience adventuring through these buildings was one that brought back the familiar feel of seeing that first big location, the first time you are immersed in the world of exploration. It’s difficult to say that about many locations, as they are far and few between, but this one had a certain spectacular glow to it, with such an untouched feeling it was incredible.
The sun paints many rooms throughout this hospital with the light of a brand new day, bringing a radiant glow to a place of such heavy destruction. Colorful curtain dividers remain hung, torn at their sides and bottoms, swaying in the breeze as it sweeps through open and broken windows. As you walk, you can begin to picture the life that once went on here. The flutter of 1920’s nurse uniforms as they rushed ill patients through the halls to designated rooms, the birth of a child in one room, and death of a grandparent in the next. Children and family members occupy the bedside of a sick grandmother, while doctors enjoy a breakfast, lunch or dinner in the basement cafeteria.
Time seems to have just stopped, while everything was left behind nearly untouched to this day, remaining in the same position since the final nurse walked from the bedside of the hospitals very last patient.
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