Pennhurst State School and Hospital was originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic. Constructed and opened in 1908, the institution covered 120 acres and could house over 10,000 patients.
Pennhurst was one of the largest institutions of its kind in Pennsylvania, at the time of its establishment. While some of the residents were committed by court order, others were brought by a parent or a guardian. The staff included a board of trustees, medical and dental staff, as well as specialists in psychology, social services and various fields of education. The grounds of the institution included a 300-bed hospital that had a full nursing staff and surgeons.
The buildings were named after towns in Pennsylvania, such as Devon and Chester. The original buildings were designed by architect Phillip H. Johnson, and all of the institution's electricity was generated by an on-site power plant. In later years, many of the buildings had security cameras to monitor movement of the patients and prevent them from escaping. Pennhurst was often accused of dehumanization and had a history of staff difficulties. A case filed against the institution by a former resident led to its closure, after which the complex fell into complete ruin.