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Overlook Sanitarium - New Wilmington, PA

In the early 1900’s, Dr. Elizabeth McLaughry, a New Castle-based physician, had a dream to open a medical facility catering to the needs of those suffering from “nervous disorders.” Elizabeth was born into a prosperous family in New Wilmington, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, in September 1865, had graduated from Westminster College in 1887, attended medical school in Philadelphia, studied nervous disorders throughout Europe, and opened her own practice in New Castle in 1895. She was one of the first (if not the actual first) certified female doctors to hail from the New Castle area.

Her family was very well-known throughout the region and included her brother James A. McLaughry, an educator and attorney who became a longtime judge in Mercer County, her nephew DeOrmond “Tuss” McLaughry, a future college football player and coach who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1962, and her older sister Margaret McLaughry, an accomplished medical doctor in her own right.

To make her dreams come true Elizabeth had a twenty-eight room facility, known as the Overlook Sanitarium, built on her family’s hilltop property overlooking the quiet college town of New Wilmington. The facility opened on June 7, 1911, with Elizabeth serving as its first medical director. She led a small staff that primarily treated psychological disorders, but also dealt with troublesome physical illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. The vast grounds of the sanitarium featured a scenic view and the staff made sure the patients enjoyed the outdoors as a sort of mental therapy. Elizabeth’s sister Margaret, also a part owner of the facility, served as the superintendent.

The facility, which specialized in convalescent care, became a renowned mental health institution in the region and also took patients from all over the country. Elizabeth McLaughry would receive great praise for her work at the Overlook and in the local community. Unfortunately, her sister Margaret took a nasty fall exiting a church in New Wilmington and injured her hip in June 1926. She died of complications from the injury a few months later at the age of seventy-two.

Elizabeth continued her work and oversaw the effort to build an addition to the Overlook in late 1927-28. It was not until 1945, when she was about to turn eighty years old, that she finally stepped down as medical director. Her niece, Elizabeth Veach Hayden, a part-owner and accomplished mental health physician, succeeded her. The elder Elizabeth, one of New Wilmington’s most prominent citizens, continued to stay involved in the community until she passed away on December 7, 1967, at the age of 102. She was buried in Fair Oaks Cemetery in New Wilmington.

In 1968-69, a major two-wing addition, which cost about $400,000, was constructed at the Overlook and increased the capacity to about seventy patients. The new wings were named for Elizabeth McLaughry and dedicated in her honor. At about the same time the Overlook evolved away from the mental health field and became an extended care nursing home. The McLaughry family continues to operate the Overlook to this day.



A few weeks after the Overlook Sanitarium opened in June 1911 a group of physicians from New Castle were provided a tour of the facility. To read about it click on: INSPECTION ARTICLE. To read the obituaries of two well-known local women who died at the facility in 1915-16 click on: OVERLOOK OBITUARIES. To read several short mentions about patients admitted to the Overlook
in 1915-19 click on: OVERLOOK ADMISSIONS SNIPPETS.


The Overlook Sanitarium, led by medical director Elizabeth McLaughry, opened for business in June 1911. (c1917)


Staff members gathered on the porch of the Overlook. (c1915)


A postcard showing the picturesque Overlook building in the summertime. (c1924)


The Overlook Sanitarium. (c1925) Full Size


The back of the previous postcard is inscribed by William McLaughry. It’s postmarked 9/30/25 and appears to mention insurance. The second sentence reads, “You have probably been advised our new rate.” (1925) Full Size


The back of this old postcard has the most handwritten text I have ever seen. It has a handwritten date of October 3, 1921, but is not postmarked. Oddly enough it appears the person who wrote it was traveling from Baltimore up to Atglen near Philadelphia. It reads in part, “ Dear Friend – arrived home last night shortly after 8 o’clock. That old tire Blowed out shortly after I left Kingsville… The folks at home knew where I was before I got home some of your relatives were up here and left the cat out of the bag haha… Your Friend, Ernest.”


Another postcard showing the front of the Overlook. Notice the benches out in the front lawn. The staff at this facility was big on getting the patients to use outdoor activities as therapy.


An early view from the front yard of the Overlook, showing how the facility got its name. (c1920) Full Size


Dr. Elizabeth McLaughry (1865-1967) is one of the most prominent women in the history of Lawrence County. She oversaw the Overlook Sanitarium for thirty-three years until stepping down as medical director in 1945.


The gravestone of Dr. McLaughry in Fair Oaks Cemetery just outside New Wilmington. And yes, she lived until the age of 102! (Jul 2011)


Another old postcard of the Overlook, which during its heyday was known as a renowned medical facility in western Pennsylvania. (c1924)Full Size


The staff of the Overlook used the beautiful grounds of the facility as a sort of soothing therapy for its patients. (c1920)


A modern day view of the Overlook, which is now serving as a extended care rehabilition/nursing center. (Nov 2010)


The sign shows the modern facility is named the Overlook Medical Clinic. (Nov 2010)


A closeup of the main building, which has undergone some remodeling but still looks very similar after all these years. (Nov 2010)


This photo show some of the additions built onto the Overlook in later years. (Nov 2010)


The view from the facility is still as lovely as ever. (Nov 2010)

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Comment

  1. Thank you for putting info on about the Overlook. My beloved great grandmother went there in Feb. 1946, but I still do not know why, nor do any other surviving family members. Nor do I know how long she was there. It looks like just the sort of beautiful place she would have liked. Does the medical center retain all the old records from the Overlook? Thank you again.

    Linda Jemmett · 04/20/2012 02:21 AM · #

  2. do u have these storys INSPECTION ARTICLE. OVERLOOK OBITUARIES. OVERLOOK ADMISSIONS SNIPPETS .all of the Overlook Sanitarium if not do you know where I can find them? thank you

    rochelle · 08/05/2013 05:14 PM · #

  3. (EDITOR’S NOTE) Rochelle, Thanks for your interest. The articles you mentioned have not posted as of yet. I’ll see about getting them posted here soon. Jeff

    Jeff Bales Jr. · 08/07/2013 06:23 PM · #

  4. Like Linda, I have a great-grandmother who was a patient in the early 1940’s and hoped to see her records from her time spent there so I can gather some pieces to that puzzle. Is it possible those records can still be accessed?

    Shannon Giambroni · 09/04/2013 01:19 PM · #

  5. Still looks the same after all these years

    m.miller · 02/16/2016 04:41 PM · #

  6. Looks like it did upon opening. It is a real dump and I am appalled it passes nursing home inspections. I would rather jump in the Shenango river than be sent there. Nursing Home? Looks like it still is for the mentally challenged who are not aware of its run-down condition.

    Barbara Tate · 03/13/2016 06:20 PM · #