Friday, July 17, 2009

The darker side of Fairview

Winds whipped through the forested canopy as I ventured farther along an unfamiliar gravel path that took me away from the neatly mowed grass of Fairview Park. My daily walks around my neighborhood and nearby park have grown somewhat bland, so Thursday I decided to explore new areas. Rather than navigate the normal "dog run" area that leads to a scenic skyline, I walked east into the shaded forest, where there appeared to be no end in sight. But after a few minutes, I came upon a small locked gate that posed no problem to hurdle.

That's when I stepped into what seemed like another world. Standing before me were several abandoned buildings that appeared to once be a part of a sprawling elementary school campus. Whatever it was, it hadn't been used in years, as high grass grew within the cracks of the pavement and only a tattered rope dangled from the flagpole. It took only a few more steps to realize that this wasn't a school, but rather a branch of the Mayview State Hospital in South Fayette, Pa. A bronze plaque declared this the Haig Temple Center, opened in 1978 and named after a doctor who apparently dedicated his life to helping elderly people with mental illnesses. State cutbacks closed Mayview last year, but this portion of the hospital - settled atop a secluded hill - obviously hadn't been used for years.

I continued to walk down a winding driveway and was stunned when I came upon Mayview's main campus. The place looked like a ghost town, except for a few maintenance workers staring down an unwanted guest in gym shorts and a T-shirt. I turned around and marched back up the road to the Temple Center.

This walk was different than the others, because it made me think about the thousands of tortured souls who called this hospital home. It also made me think about the hospital workers who did everything in their power to "cure" the mentally ill, or at least tried to help them assimilate into this secluded society. But I also couldn't shake the thought of what is happening to the mentally ill now that Mayview is closed. Sure, powerful drugs might ease their transition into society, but are they working?

A few minutes later, I walked back through that forested path and returned to Fairview Park's manicured walkways. Near the entrance of the park, I found a small cemetery dedicated in 1986 to the "Lost Souls" of Mayview from the beginning of the 20th century. Within a white fence sat 27 unmarked gravestones scattered between several oak trees. It was an appropriate conclusion to my afternoon walk.


  1. Hey! Mike, you were a stone's throw from where I work!

  2. That was interesting and well written

  3. To be sure, the patients at Mayview were the focus and rightly so. Cutbacks may be the stated reason for the closing, but undoubtedly there was much more that was part of the decision.

    One other piece of the Mayview story is regarding the volunteers. Some people volunteered at Mayview for decades. This was their outlet for service work to others, work that many others thought too low for them to do. I know several people who were faithful to their duty for many years. From a selfish viewpoint, they were honored to be doing their tasks. Not only did the hospital benefit from their efforts, but the patients did as well. Just as many families of pateints were disappointed that Mayview closed, so too were volunteers. They believed they were an integral part of the operation. And, right they were on their belief.

    I don't recall ever reading a follow up story, or TV news story, about the placement of patients of Mayview. Some of our society now believes these places were a horrible solution to a difficult solution. But, some of the present-day solutions aren't so great either.

    Others were happy to see Mayview close, so that the land could be developed and used for other purposes. The destruction of the adjacent farmland for sports venues, and the new recreation center is an abomination. Others see all the land behind Mayview as a golden opportunity for other development purposes. The days of natural habitat and open space are gone. Unless we can pave part of it over, build something upon it, the land is considered wasteful. What a shame not to have seen the entire complex of property revert to natural states, left for the enjoyment of people, and wildlife. Swimming slides and pitching mounds are more important in 2009.

  4. I always appreciate your comments and insight, Roger. As a taxpayer in South Fayette, I'm somewhat torn about what to do with that site. But after seeing the condition of the Temple Center area, something needs to be done so this doesn't because a haven for trespassers.

  5. Mike, I guess I really don't know what is meant by Temple Center. I drive by the buildings when on Mayview Road. Is this complex of buildings what you mean?

    If so, I do share a great concern about what is to happen with that set of buildings. There are many buildings, and will quickly deteriorate if allowed to sit idle without maintenance. The worst that could happen is to leave them sit, and become targets for vandals and trespassers. People with wrong intentions could make a mess easily, and quickly.

    Despite all the talk about the patients being moved out, I don't recall anything being said about the disposition of the buildings. I think some (many?) of them have been vacant for years. Leaving them all vacant now would be a mistake.

    The barn on the hill, near the new recreation center, is a prime example of a mess. It was boarded up, but will continue to deteriorate quickly, unless something is done. Why was it not razed when the adjacent land was prepared for the recreation center? Surely there is nothing of historical value in that barn.

  6. The Temple Center is on Sunset Drive, which is off Mayview Road next to one of the maintenance buildings. It's has a locked gate so cars cannot drive up there, but it still can be reached by pedestrians. From what I read, the big problem with this area of buildings on the top of the hill is that it contains asbestos, so removal will be expensive. And as you mentioned, this doesn't even include the dozens of other buildings on the campus.

  7. My personal thoughts of Mayview are that I wish it could be restored and saved. It was once a beautiful place. Only a few years ago while researching my family tree, did I find out that my great grandmother had died there at the young age of 38, back in the 1920's. My mom and I are from Indianapolis Indiana and every year since finding this out, we have made the trip to Mayview twice a year, until it closed. I must say it was almost heart breaking. We met so many wonderful people there and made life long friends with the people at the volunteer center. There is a real emotional attachment to this place. I only wish I could have seen it in it's glory! There is a beautiful old tree that sits in front of the Volunteer Center, does anyone know what this tree is?