Pennhurst was the battleground in a monumental struggle to secure basic human rights for the last group of Americans to attain privileges assumed to be the natural freedoms of all Americans. Pennhust's historic and beautiful campus is, like Valley Forge and Independence Mall to the east, hallowed ground in the struggle for dignity and self-determination, a western anchor to a freedom corridor, that, though stretching but a few miles, reached all the way around the world.
Made famous by a 1968 NBC expose and ensuing Supreme Court litigation, Pennhurst is a place of international significance and meaning. Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it was listed as one of the Commonwealth's most at-risk properties by Preservation Pennsylvania in 2008.
A hauntingly beautiful and forgotten place, Pennhurst was home to over ten thousand souls over its near-century of operation. Sequestered high upon that hill, they too were often forgotten. Caring families and workers responding to society’s neglect and resulting abuses at Pennhurst changed how the world treated those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Pennhurst's story is a warning about the dangers of defining people as "the other." Ultimately a hopeful tale, Pennhurst's story juxtaposes the infinite sadness of choosing to forget and ignore with an awakening of public conscience to the dignity of all mankind. It is a human story and an inspiring message needed yet today.
Fittingly, Pennhurst was named an International Site of Conscience in January, a full twenty-two years after the last doors closed on the now century-old campus. Sadly, this captivating story is little remembered nor well understood among the populace. We believe remembering and honoring this part of our past--the people, places, the triumphs and tragedies--through preservation is an essential duty of a citizenry responsibly engaged in the crafting of its own future. Even irrespective of the myriad environmental, economic, and cultural merits of historic preservation generally, history will not forgive the destruction of place like Pennhurst.