Brownsville was once the highest-occupancy, busiest hospital in the state of Pennsylvania. The main hospital building was completed in 1916, and the associated Horner Medical Nurse’s Home across the street was completed in 1929 (the building in the foreground in the image below, with the hospital in the background), after the campus had outgrown the previous nurse’s home. Responding to high demand, a new Brownsville General Hospital was dedicated in 1965, and the old building became the Golden Age Nursing Home. In the 1980’s, it was federally investigated after complaints of abuse, and found to have multiple “serious violations”. In 1985, as its replacement struggled to remain afloat, the Golden Age Nursing Home in the former Brownsville General Hospital closed its doors for the last time, and the building has been left to the elements ever since.
After several more cycles of closure and crushing financial woes, Brownsville’s replacement, now called Tri-County, closed for the last time in 2009 with little to no warning to its last 15 patients, all of whom would be transferred elsewhere. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
I climbed in, with threadbare curtains billowing in my face, landing on the remains of a plush, springy hospital mattress, blue vinyl on a rusting faux-wood panel frame, an object I was not entirely thrilled about standing on, given the grim history of the place. The top floors had collapsed into the first, leaving a sagging floor filled like a bowl with old furniture. Further into the room, where the floor was still intact, stood a single rusted and surgical-looking light fixture, a lonely beacon guiding me toward the other rooms.
From there, the lobby was visible, with an old, broken wheelchair and a couple more hospital beds. I wandered over that way, but things looked pretty bad. The floor was collapsing into the basement, taking more piles of furniture with it like sinkholes. The furniture, all so retro-stylized, looked straight out of a movie set. Finding pieces that old still in its proper place is super rare and very exciting, especially as nostalgia for bygone eras and vintage industrial/commercial equipment become more popular in modern home decor.
Beneath these piles of furniture and the sagging floor somewhere, there’s a basement-level gymnasium, but I chose to take my last shots upstairs instead. A couple fire escapes were nearby, so I figured I could probably get a bird’s-eye-view upstairs of the collapse without actually having to deal with the stairs, but the first thing I saw at the top was an unbroken, albeit tagged, mirror reflecting a perfectly arranged room, all sitting on an intact floor.
I’d unknowingly climbed up into a different, much more intact section of the building. Every room had a bed, some were still covered in tangled, filthy sheets and blankets. Some rooms had nightstands and more of those cool light fixtures, and even the intensely bright sunset, which kept my friend in the car, totally disinterested, mostly filtered through the vines growing through the windows and seemed to work in my favor in many shots.
I had no idea what I’d started when I impulsively decided I needed an LP from a Pittsburgh musician who played a show this past spring, but this was my third trip to Pittsburgh and the Mon Valley this year and ever. The concert, which led to another day of aimless driving, winding through the hills along brick-paved streets among towering and elaborate antique architecture and fading vintage advertisements, sparked a lot more inspiration and wanderlust than I’ve had in awhile. As usual, I can’t wait to go back.
(Disclaimer: Please don’t visit abandoned buildings alone.)