Angela Harris, Chief Social Rehabilitation Executive at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County, spoke to the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium’s survey committee about Torrance’s centennial in 2019 and their plans to open a historic museum in the former superintendent’s house.
The commemoration will take place the week of October 7, 2019, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week. Thus far, plans include an open house, a panel discussion that covers the changes in mental illness treatment through different eras, and a timeline exhibit. A written publication is also under consideration. Historical societies in Derry and Blairsville have contributed historic materials. A committee at Torrance has been meeting since 2014 to plan the 100-year commemoration.
Committee members recommended a few resources to aid in Torrance’s planning and preservation efforts:
- Torrance is already gathering oral histories from former employees; Consortium survey committee members suggested avenues to find former patients to get their stories as well.
- Emily Ruby, curator at the Heinz History Center and Consortium steering committee member, and Sierra Green, archivist at the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives and Consortium steering committee member, offered to meet with the Torrance committee to offer advice on how best to preserve the facility’s artifacts and archives, which includes photos, postcards, programs, newsletters dating back to 1955, a wooden wheelchair, and much more. Their collection also includes items from Dixmont, Mayview, and Harrisburg, former state hospitals which closed as people moved out of institutions and back into the community.
- Consortium members noted the Pennhurst Preservation History Panels as a resource. The Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance has used the history of the now-closed Pennhurst State School and Hospital in eastern Pennsylvania to tell the story of deinstitutionalization and the historic struggle for civil rights by and for people with disabilities.
- Consortium members suggested possible grant sources that might help fund the preservation work the Torrance committee is doing.