Western Center

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Western Center
Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare
A map showing the Western Center in Pennsylvania
A map showing the Western Center in Pennsylvania
A map showing the Western Center's location in Pennsylvania
Location Cecil Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, United States
Coordinates 40°16′28″N 80°09′59″W / 40.27436°N 80.16642°W / 40.27436; -80.16642Coordinates: 40°16′28″N 80°09′59″W / 40.27436°N 80.16642°W / 40.27436; -80.16642
Closed 2000
Demolished 2011
Lists Hospitals in Pennsylvania
A view of Western State School and Hospital in 1897, identified a Pennsylvania Reform School (Morganza) in the key.[1] This may not be the administration building seen in The Silence of the Lambs. Note the railroad behind the building.

Western State School and Hospital, commonly known as Western Center, was a state-run mental hospital and reform school near Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. It is best known as an institution serving people with intellectual disabilities. At various times during its existence, it was also known as the Pennsylvania Reform School, Youth Development Center of Canonsburg and The House of Refuge. Locally, it was called Morganza.[1] It was a well-known part of the Canonsburg community, appearing as a stop on tours during community festivals.[2]

The exterior of the Western Center's administration building was used as the setting for Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where Hannibal Lecter was incarcerated, in the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs.

History and closure[edit]

In 1986, the Washington County Redevelopment Authority acquired land around the Western Center.[3] The areas was ideal because of its access to Interstate 79, its proximity to Pittsburgh, and low tax rates.[3]

In 1992, the Western Center was the subject of a lawsuit brought by disability advocates against the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare; the lawsuit resulted in a settlement that permitted the state to move residents to community-based facilities.[4]

In 1993, the Washington County Redevelopment Authority began construction on its property near the Western Center, building what would become Phase I of Southpointe.[3]

The state decided to close the facility in 1998 and began making plans to move its remaining 380 residents to community-based facilities.[4] The final closure came in 2000, with the 56 remaining residents moved to temporary housing before final placement in community-based facilities throughout Western Pennsylvania.[4] The closing, the timing of which came as a surprise, was controversial, especially because the temporary locations were frequently to far-flung locations, including state's Ebensburg Center.[4] The employee's union, residents' families, and the original litigants in the 1992 lawsuit sued unsuccessfully to stop the move.[4] Many of the residents were moved to community-based facilities run by Allegheny Valley School.[5]

The final building, the administration building, was demolished in late 2011. The land around the former center was eventually resorbed into Southpointe, with the actual location of the facility being re-developed with brownfield status[6]

By 2013, Phase II of Southpointe was completed, with the phases totaling 800 acres (320 ha).[3] A third phase is planned for the other side of Interstate 79, to be called Cool Valley Industrial Park.[3]


In 2011, David E. Stuart, a professor at University of New Mexico who had been an employee of the Western Center during the 1960s, wrote a book based on his experiences.[7] In the book, Stuart describes the history of abuse and neglect that the Western Center had become known for.[7] In fact, during the 1950s and 1960s, local parents seeking to discipline their children threatened to send them to "Morganza" if they did not behave.[8]

In 2014, Christopher R Barraclough, wrote a book ,Morganza: Pennsylvania's Reform School, about the history of the reform school. Morganza: Pennsylvania's Reform School is part of the "Images of America" series books published by Arcadia Publishing.


  1. ^ a b Canonsburg, Washington County, Pennsylvania 1897 (Map). Library of Congress. Retrieved October 6, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Canonsburg kicking up its heels for big Perry Como weekend". Observer-Reporter. May 13, 1999. Retrieved October 6, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Barcousky, Len (July 25, 2013). "Industrial parks, communities create productive partnerships". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 14, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Ackerman, Jan (April 12, 2000). "State closing home for mentally retarded amid continued appeals, protests". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved October 6, 2013. 
  5. ^ Rotstein, Gary (April 12, 2000). "Group homes set to receive Western Center residents". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved October 6, 2013. 
  6. ^ "ADMINISTRATION BUILDING - WESTERN CENTER G3CCOQOO" (Database search). Facility Registry System. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved October 6, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Stuart, David E. (October 16, 2011). The Morganza, 1967: Life in a Legendary Reform School. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0826346414. 
  8. ^ "Morganza empty threat to the kids". Observer-Reporter. July 8, 2004. 

External links[edit]