With its golden sandstone and rows of windows marching relentlessly across four stories, the main building of this hospital has a rather Dickensian appearance, making it easy to forget that this structure was a breakthrough in the humane treatment of the mentally ill. The building was constructed thirty years after Dr. Thomas Kirkbride began exhorting the state legislature to build hospitals rather than prisons for the treatment and study of mental illness. Today the state has nine mental health hospitals, three in western Pennsylvania ( VE11).
John Sunderland, the contractor and supervising architect at Warren, earlier oversaw the building of the Philadelphia Hospital for the Insane in 1856–1859 under architect Samuel Sloan. Sunderland is listed in the Philadelphia directories as an architect after 1883. Only three years before construction on this building commenced, H. H. Richardson began designing the Buffalo State Hospital approximately seventy-five miles to the northeast, with landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted. That hospital site was also outlined by a creek, and the grounds included a farm; farming was thought to be therapeutic for the mentally ill.
The Warren building's layout is relatively simple. The pedimented central section with flanking twin towers was constructed between 1876 and 1880. Two recessed fourteen-bay, three-story sections to the north and south are joined to the central wing by gable-roofed, four-story sections. While the stonework is carefully finished, its details are nearly lost in the massiveness of the building. The Olean conglomerate stone was found in two creek valleys nearby.
From 1898 to 1913, Green and Wicks designed various additions to the hospital, including the porte-cochere on the main building, Nurse's Annex, and North and South annexes. The firm's former employee, Edward A. Phillips, took up the commissions after 1906. A report in 1902 urged the state to expand the types of buildings available on the hospital campus to allow different buildings for various types and stages of mental illness. By 1913, Phillips had designed at least five additional buildings: Men's Annex; Men's Hygea; Employees' Building; J. Wilson Greenland's house, “Fairacre”; and a house called “Roseland” for the business manager. All were brick and finished with hipped roofs. Some
Built between 1927 and 1930, the Rufus Barrett Stone Building “for acute cases” was designed by Eric Fisher Wood, who consulted with New York architect Sullivan Jones. Patients built the tunnel connecting it to the main building. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, federal funds were used to add several buildings to the campus, including the Mitchell Building by Walter T. Monahan and George Wesley Stickle architects. Between 1950 and 1952, the Pittsburgh firm of Palmgreen, Patterson and Fleming designed an X-shaped Admissions and Diagnostic building, now called the Curwen Building. Also in the early 1950s, Meadville architects Hanna and Stewart designed a patients' auditorium that was added to the rear of the main building. The Israel building by Pittsburgh architects Celli-Flynn Associates was constructed between 1967 and 1969 as an institute for geriatric research. The brick, hexagonal Interfaith Chapel, conceived in 1964 by Dr. Arland A. Dirlan, was dedicated in 1973 with an altar made of a five-ton sandstone block found on the property. It contains three worship spaces: Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish.
Two farms were affiliated with the hospital. “Farm Colony,” north of the facility, has been demolished. The second, “Cranbrook,” is two miles to the northeast, at the intersection of Hatch Run Road and Conewango Avenue Extension. Today, several rebuilt barns and outbuildings remain, but they are no longer owned by the hospital.
Since most of the staff was required to live on the campus, eighteen small brick houses dating from 1906 to the 1960s ring the grounds facing State Street. Buildings are distributed throughout the 470 acres owned by the hospital, with seemingly little regard for aesthetic placement. All are now occupied by commonwealth or county agencies and institutional lessees, lending the campus an air of purposefulness. The patient population has dropped from a high of roughly 3,000 to 200 today.