For the most part, the appearance is pure 21st century.
A brand-new baseball field, built specifically to accommodate children with special needs, greets visitors as they park their vehicles. On the other side of the lot is a multimillion-dollar recreation building that sets the standard for such facilities across the nation.
Viewed from the vantage points of the Miracle League Field of the South Hills and the Upper St. Clair Community and Recreation Center, the red brick barn nearby is a striking anachronism; some might consider it a downright eyesore.
For those who feel that way, don’t worry: The last remnant of the 900-acre farm that once served Mayview State Hospital soon will be nothing but a memory.
Upper St. Clair Township plans to advertise for bids to demolish the century-old barn, and the task is expected to take place in the fall. Efforts to preserve the structure have fallen short, despite pleas from members of the community who respect its historical significance.
For decades, the barn and some of its outbuildings sat unused on property that now is Boyce Mayview Park, across Chartiers Creek from the Mayview hospital, which closed at the end of 2008.
For much of its existence, Mayview was self-sustaining, with patients helping to work the farm, and its produce also going to other state hospitals.
A 2009 article in Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine draws substantially from the recollections of Edgar Krug, who managed the farm for the 20 years before it closed in 1981.
“The main reason for the farm in those days was to keep (the patients) busy and occupied so they could sleep at night,” Krug is quoted as saying. When the farm was shut down, they weren’t particularly happy:
“A lot of them would come to me because they were angry and say, ‘Why can’t I come out to the farm?’ And they blamed me. I’d tell them that was the law, that the social service people just believed they shouldn’t be made to go out and do labor, but it upset many patients.”
In a video produced for the Washington Observer-Reporter, former Upper St. Clair commissioner Preston Shimer, a longtime proponent of saving the barn, talks about its place in history.
“There is no question, that barn will be the last opportunity we as a community, Upper St. Clair and southwestern Pennsylvania, have of documenting and placing a marker that talks about the mental health and way that poorer people were handled in the last century. That’s an important part of history. It’s worth remembering.”
Shimer still was on the board of commissioners when it voted in December to demolish the barn, citing prohibitive costs of restoring and maintaining the structure. He cast the lone dissenting vote.