Mystery Ride in Western Pennsylvania

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Sunday I decided to take a quick ride to Tionesta. As often happens, one thing led to another and I never actually made it to Tionesta. During my travels I did come across a mysterious town. Since I am all about adventure, I decided to explore this town. Hopefully somebody will know the story of this place and fill me in.

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In the picture to the left you can see what appears to be the main building in the town. It appears to be very old but it is in very good condition, as are most of the buildings in this town.

The grounds are maintained like a golf course, but there was absolutely no sign of life.

There must be times when the place is very busy because there were pavilions ond chairs everywhere, just no people to be seen. It was actually a little bit creepy.

There were a lot of busses and passenger vans parked all over the town, but they had no markings on them to identify them.

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As you can see in the picture the streets are all named and there are also streetlights.

Here are some pictures of the many buildings in this town. Notice how abandoned everything seems, but at the same time it is all so well maintained.

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Another interesting thing I found was a very large generator.

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The buildings mostly seemed to be pretty old, and a lot of them had fallout shelter signs.

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There was some activity, because a noise was coming from this building and smoke was coming from the smokestack.

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Here are some more pictures:

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OK, now you tell me. What is this place? A secret government facility? A religious cult? A college?

I have no idea what it is, but I hope someone out there does know!

Category: Ride Reports

43 comments on “Mystery Ride in Western Pennsylvania

  1. Damn, that looks cool as hell. So, I take it there were no signs as to the name of the place? Where is it located?

    I know somewhere in Pennsylvania there is a town that had to be abandoned some years ago due to an underground coal mine fire. I doubt this is it though.

  2. The town with the underground burning mine is Centralia. I have a ride planned for mid May to check it out!

    This place is near Polk, PA.

  3. I looked up Polk Pennsylvania on Google Earth and there were two pictures on it. Both were titled “Polk Center” and they show the same building as in the first picture, the one with the tall steeple like thing with clocks on all sides.

  4. Some further searching shows it is some type of huge health care complex. It has a large home for the mentally retarded.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=polk+center+pennsylvania&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    • I was there too, its is very strange place, I believe it was mental
      facilities, but they had school bus, and residential building.

  5. I followed some of the links from the google search in Jim’s comments. They’ve had some trouble there in the past. The link that showed their audit findings in 2006 was interesting. Wow it costs a bunch of money per person to run a place like that. I wonder if they just recently shut it down if it looked abandon but well maintained. Looking at the style of the buses the first one can’t be more than a couple years old. The county next to us that has a place like this abandon is trying to revive it for other uses. I was involved in a tour there last winter. It’s interesting how those places were set up and what all they had there for the residence to do. Very similar to this one.

  6. Yes, mystery solved. Here is a link to the report:

    http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/Reports/Performance/SO/stoPolkCenter110906.pdf

    I wonder if it is still operating?

    • This is Polk Center. It is for the physically and mentally handicapped. Some of the buildings are closed but there’s a few open. They are taking in mental patients from other mental hospitals they are closing down. They are threatening to close it though. I’m retired from there.

  7. it is polk center…i work for the PA conservation corps and we go there to hold education meetings…it used to be a hospital but it is now under the care of PA. the inside of the building doesnt suggest anything creepy, infact there are still permanent and temporary residents which recieve special care but not too many. it is also a facility for small state projects…

  8. I’ve just happened across your site. I grew up in Polk, PA. The facility you visited was originally “Polk State School for the Feeble Minded”. It was built in 1897. I lived there during the 1940s and 50s. It was then “Polk State School and Hospital”. My great-grandmother was among the first employees hired to work there. My father was the head gardener, so we lived in a staff house on the grounds. It was a wonderful,vibrant place. It was almost completely self-sustaining. 800 acres of fields, orchards, dairy herd, cattle, chickens and hogs for food. It had it’s own bakery, butcher shop, carpentry shop, etc. When I lived there there were about 3,000 patients. About 1,500 staff. In the early 1970s, patients began to be transferred into group homes or released to live on their own. Nowadays with advanced medical care, relatively few people are institutionalized. I’m not sure what’s being done there now. The photos that you took are wonderful. I hope you don’t mind if I save them for my own photo files. I’m 65 and have lived in Virginia for over 30 years. Those photographs bring back endless, happy memories.

    • Dear. Nancy. Any history of mesothelioma at Polk?

    • Nancy, my great uncle was a resident there in the 30s & 40s, maybe longer. Your memories of the place gives me confidence that my uncle was happy there & well-treated.

      Thank you,
      Nancy Kendall Kruse

  9. I’ve worked with former residents who now live in group homes.Some real horror stories out of this place. Some former patients actually said it was OK.A guy I cared for is deaf, autistic, he had a real hard time. His mom hated to take him there when he was 10. She said they wanted to put him in a cage. She wouldn’t allow it. He was in a four point restraint alot lf the time. In the group home, he would ask daily if he would have to go back. He had terrible flashbacks. He got out in 1990 and it took years for him to calm down. I can’t imagine what his life was like there. There is a cemetary to the left of the bldgs., through a cornfield, past a sign that says “keep out”. Sad place, think bodies were creamated. Glad those places are gone but alot of those folks wound up in prisons. What’s better?

    • I work at polk center now and the people who live there are treated better than you could imagine. It is a restraint free facility and they live long past their life expectancy and thats a direct result of the great care they get. Feel free to become a volunteer and see for yourself!

  10. HI

    Interesting pics- I worked there as volunteer while I was at Clarion State (now Clarion U). NO horror stories then (1972-76) ANyone know what is happening there now? I was told all ‘residents’ went to group homes. Was well run opearion when I was there- but hear some pretty grim stories of why some older residents were sent there! Curious what is happening to the place now?

    GEOF

    • I did 9 weeks of internship in 1984, at what was called Polk Center. It was part of my college program a Clarion Univ of PA. At that time it was a majority elderly, mentally impaired residents, with a few younger more severely impaired residents. I remember one of the residents passing away from cancer while I was there. They held a memorial service there, which I attended with the elderly ladies that resided there. I know they are gone by now, but there are still two of the women I worked with that I still think of to this day. I loved them. The sad thing is, they seemed normal. My mom told me that they probably were, because years ago, children were abandoned there, and that was where they remained.

      • My grandmother died there in 1960. Doing family tree research I saw her last passage, from Italy, in 1947 there was a notation on the ship manifest “demented”. Each, and every, family member I’ve mentioned this to is in denial. I appreciated your comment. You are a kind person with a special gift.

  11. I work at Polk Center now. About 304 individuals still live there full time. Alot of total care, not being able to do anything for themselves. Some are very independent and are able to move about the grounds freely. They work doing different things and get paid accordingly. Some go out into the surrounding communities to work and get paid. ALL residents go out and about doing different things such as shows, shopping and out to eat on a regular basis. They are all very well cared for and the staff that work there genuinely cares for each and every person that lives there. It is an old place and it shows its age. But…we have the most up to date equipment and supplies to care for our people and try to make them as happy as we can.

    • I worked at Polk in 1967. I don’t remember the name of the building but it was the first one when you entered up the side road. I was young (20) and had purposely gone there for a job because I wanted to work with mentally handicapped. I came from a town near New York state line and eventually worked in group homes in Pa that took in some Polk residents. I saw some pretty horrible things as well as good things while there. Some staff members were mean to the residents and of course some caring and compassionate. We were so understaffed, two staff per 50 women, mostly violent. I think supervisor of mine from the group home eventually went to work at Polk.I would love to know what happened to him. I loved seeing the photos.

    • Hello, Doing family research is there anyway to get any information on family that was there? My Great Uncle was there for 3 years, 5 mos and 4 days. He ended up dying there in 1923 at the age of 17 yrs 5 mos and 12 days. Just curious, Thank you

      • Dear Tara,
        Just ran across your post from 2014 while doing some family research about an great aunt of mine who had epilepsy and died there in 1923 at the age of 15. Was wondering if you received any help or further info as a result of your inquiry? My mother was wanting to find out where her aunt was buried. It was supposedly an orphanage, but I do know that these hospitals were used for various ailments. Please feel free to email with any insight you may have. Thank you

  12. hi
    funny you ask. I’ve been doing work there lately.
    what you found is a mental campus.that use to hold over 3500 patients.
    as they died off,they have not been replacing them.they only have i believe a couple hundred. rumor has it
    that when the group gets small enough,and we are done with the renovation,mainly energy related they will be making this whole campus into a prison for special care inmates that are to old or need special treatment.
    but yes there still are patients there yet,and as you can guess this place can get very creepy as it gets dark.
    and yes, there are alot of stories from the employees, and the contractors about weird stuff in some of those buildings

  13. Stories, scary stories?

    Looks like a fun ride Tank.

  14. This is all very interesting. Can anyone tell me where to find more information about this place? Does anyone have any information about a fire at the institution in which patients were killed? My father had a brother in this instituion who supposedly died in a fire there. This was before my father was even born.

  15. It’s still up and running. Our residents are getting older, but no horror stories. Some of the residents went to group homes, but some want to stay in the only home they remember. Those than can, work or attend day programming at various sites throughout the facility. Families visit, and we take them out on outings in the community-shopping, out to dinner, ball games, movies, picnics and bowling, to name a few.

  16. I’m always doing family research and discovered, last week, that this is the facility my grandmother died in (1960). I believe the name change to Polk State Center was 1955. Love your pictures…I’ve never been there. It’s in Western PA…I almost didn’t open your site from Google due to “Eastern PA”. It’s in Venago County 6 miles from Franklin, PA

    On another PA “front”…
    We attempted to find Centralia a couple years ago and kept driving by the signs. Should have stopped at this cemetery where a few people were standing around. How can I locate your Centralia pictures? Our son took some great ones quad-ing on the steamy land up there.

  17. My great uncle lived there in the 1920s – 1940s. He is listed is the Federal Censuses of 1930 & 1940. His name is Dennis Fitzpatrick & was born in 1908 in Pittsburg, PA. My great grandfather & great grandmother appear to have followed him to the area as they are listed in phonebooks of the period.

    I don’t know what happened to Uncle Dennis & wish I did. I am glad to hear that it was a pretty good place unlike Pennhurst.

  18. Ok I live right next to it and I can tell you it’s just a home for mental retardation, but it is very haunted and most of the cottages are abandoned so please stop saying bad things about this place

  19. I live right down the street. For over five years I made birthday cakes for the residents. I made them with love. The Polk area is a valley and a very beautiful one. I moved to this village from South Florida in the late 70’s.

  20. Saw your ? on finding records. I had my grandmother in there in the early 60’s. Somewhere in my house is a note I had with phone numbers etc to get info. Somehow, online, I found her bed number! It was a couple of years ago and I think if you start searching the records for the Commonwealth of PA you will have your start. Good luck and I hope to find my notes someday.

  21. We just came upon the compound while going for a Sunday drive. I seen it from the roadway and was curious. We drove thru and took a few pictures. The grounds are beautiful but as everyone says, there was absolutely no one around. It was a beautiful day and there was a few cars here and there but it was like time stood still. The buildings are gorgeous and a lot look abandoned with some very old swings and things. Quite a few pavilions. I was a little scared thinking someone was going to tell us to leave the property but we drove thru with no problems. My son is a paranormal investigator and I was telling him about it. He has never heard of it but is interested in seeing it. Is it open to the public in some respects? Do they have tours thru any of it? It is really intriguing and I want to visit again.

  22. I worked at this institution (Polk State School and Hospital) from 1976 to 1979. I started to work there in a building called The Nursery. Contrary to the name, it was a building for some of the most severely and profoundly mentally and physically handicapped residents on the grounds. Our patients ranged in age from approx. 5 yrs to 40’s and 50’s. So this was not a building for the babies. While I worked there, the building name was later changed to Murdoch Hall. We had four wards with approx. 22 patients in each ward. I was hired as an aide trainee, where I was trained for six months in care for these patients. We were direct hands on care givers that were assigned anywhere from 4-6 patients per attendant. We responsible for every aspect of these patients life. After training as an aide for six months you were promoted to MRA which stood for Mental Retardation Aide. I continued working at that building for 2 1/2 years. When I resigned and moved to the south. When I left in 1979. Polk Center as it was then called was going through a transition from being a State funded facility to a Federal funded facility. This started a gradual reduction in residents as many of them were transferred out into surrounding communities and group homes. Many buildings there are now empty and falling into terrible disrepair. When I was there, this institution was filled and thriving with activity. There were several thousand residents and employees. It was at one time all a self sufficient community with it’s own farm hospital, store and hospital. The buildings that housed the patients were named Northside (men), Southside (women), Nursery (men, women and children), Lakeside (men), Sunnyside (men), Terrace (women), Gardenside (women), Meadowside (women), Woodside (men) and the Hospital. The tall building with the clock was called Center it was for administration. Vistors had to check in there or at main office in each building. I believe you first had to check in at Center. It was a very enlightening experience for me and still fondly remember my (kids). Working there for any length of time usually would form a bond between many MRA’s and patients. We all had favorites. I miss working at Polk and had many fond and maybe not so fond memories of Polk Center. I have returned several times since I resigned in 1979 and it is sad to see the institution as it stands today.

    • Did u know a male name Bruce Kitchen?

  23. My brother was a resident of Polk Center from age 7 (1955) until he passed at age 63 (2012). Polk was a big part of my life for all those years as my family visited as often as possible. In later years after my parents passed I had a much closer relationship with my brother and Polk. I have to say in early years it was a horrible place to visit (maybe due to my age at the time) and we read many stories of abuse. In the later years I could not have asked for better, loving care for my brother. In his final hours many employees came by to say good-bye, as in the 56 years he was a resident, many good people had worked with him and developed a relationship. Though severely handicapped and verbally challenged many were able to see his personality come through. I will always feel truly blessed for these wonderful people being in his life.
    Know you are appreciated!

  24. I would love to work for a Neonatologist. I think it would be an extremely fuifllling job! Helping infants who may be critically ill and being a part of resolving their health issues sounds like a challenging yet comforting job. The fact that infants are helpless and completely dependent on us to survive means that much more. I could truly see myself loving every part of helping. I know some cases could be hard to understand how such a small being could be so ill or premature. In the end I am sure looking at how strong they are and how they fight for life from the second they are conceived, it really sounds rewarding. Then being able to send them home with their family to be surrounded in love, a true healing in itself.I could never see myself working for a Podiatrist. Simply put, I don’t like feet. Even though I am aware their job involves much more than just feet, I know given an option it’s not one I would ever veer toward. I can imagine this job could be rewarding as well and am sure those who choose it have their reasons. Not for me I am sure.

  25. It’s called Polk center. It’s a big home for mentally and physically handicapped people.

  26. This was one of the places where Jonas Salk experimented with the polio vaccine (in addition to prisons). I would not consider experimental medical treatments done on unwilling, impaired children, proper. Every Sunday in the 1950s, my parents used to threaten to drop me off and never come back. Even then, I knew what it was.

  27. Still open. I currently work at Polk Center. We are still a state funded facility and never were federally funded. The place could not have been abbandoned when anyone was there seeing as we are a 24 hour facility. We care for our individuals around the clock. There are cars in every parking lot of all the buildings that are up and running at all times. All the pictures I see here are cleverly taken so as to not get the cars in the pictures. As far as being haunted I have heard many stories from my coworkers of ghost stories from there own personal experience. Anyone looking to find records on family members can just contact polk center directly. The number for the scheduling office is (814)4320500. They will be able to transfer you and or give you the number of someone who can assist you.

    • If you knew me you would never suggest that I was clever! Maybe the place is busy and full of people a lot of the time, but the day I was there I saw no signs of life at all.

      I am glad the residents there are being treated much better than they were treated in the past. The people who work in places like this have a very tough job and it takes a special type of person to provide excellent services to these individuals.

      • I worked there for over 24 years in dietary and I cannot even imagine one moment of any day that there were not cars in each parking lot to all the buildings the residents live. There are direct care employees, custodian employees, office employees so I have no clue when especially if it was daylight hours that you would not have seen cars.
        As for “scary” the buildings are old and grant it a couple buildings have had their “haunted” stories but I as a basic rule believe these patients have a good life in this institution.
        I think you “exaggerated” a bit just for a good story which is okay if you put somewhere that your article is your opinion and somewhat satiracle in nature

  28. It’s Polk state school & hospital–an institution that housed developmentally disabled people starting in the late 1800’s. I worked there in 1976-77 while I was enrolled at Clarion State College.

  29. Wonderful place to work and live . I worked there for 25 years and my mother 25 before me .
    The staff care greatly for the clients who live there .
    God bless you all . Cindy

  30. I have worked there for 25 years. The people that reside there are very well taken care of and very loved. They get to do numerous community activities and some have jobs. A lot of them were sent to group homes and returned because the liked Polk Center more.

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