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
An early view from the front yard of the Overlook, showing how the facility got its name. (c1920) Full Size
Another old postcard of the Overlook, which during its heyday was known as a renowned medical facility in western Pennsylvania. (c1924)Full Size