The primary buildings were constructed between 1907 and the mid-1920s, and the newer buildings were constructed between 1940 and 1953.
The facility included over fifty buildings such as male and female dormitories, an infirmary, kitchens, laundry, administration, a chapel, and a morgue. What started out as a working farm for a few unstable patients at a time in 1903 eventually grew into a multi-building campus.
Although it relieved overcrowding from the other mental facilities in the area, the hospital’s population grew so fast that it couldn’t entice enough staff to work there, quickly exceeding its capacity.
A national survey of institutional care of the mentally ill reported that Byberry had over 4,500 inmates, while its rated capacity was 2,500 in 1934, the peak patient population reaching over 7,000 in 1960.
The name of the institution was changed several times during its history being variously named Philadelphia State Hospital, Byberry State Hospital, Byberry City Farms, and the Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases.
Similar to Eastern State Penitentiary, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and the most haunted place in the world, Poveglia Island, the ByBerry mental asylum ranks among the most haunted hospitals in the world.
It was home to people ranging from the mentally challenged to the criminally insane; a scary place where the weird things occurred. Due to the understaffing, there was an extremely low ratio of hospital attendants to patients, and because of this, residents were often left unbathed and naked. Housekeeping fell behind, bedding was unwashed, and floors were sticky with urine. Instead of tending to the patients, staff put them in four-point restraints — sometimes for months at a time.
Several investigations into the conditions at the hospital at various points revealed that raw sewage lined the hallways, patients slept in the halls, and the staff mistreated and exploited patients; inhumane conditions and patient abuse were the main legacies of the Byberry mental hospital. Although some dedicated, caring, and hard-working staff truly cared for the patients, a number of bad employees carried out abuses that remain disturbing.
On December 7, 1987, a press conference was held concerning the closing of the hospital. At this time the media were informed that the hospital was to be closed permanently by December 7, 1989.
Although there are no ghosts wandering, there is something haunting about standing in an abandoned place where thousands of people suffered over the course of many decades. That’s the feeling one gets at Byberry, with its history of riots, abusive guards and medical testing on inmates. It is an unfathomable mystery.