In 1862, Dixmont State Hospital for the Insane opened in Kilbuck Township, Pennsylvania, about ten miles north west of the Pittsburgh City limits. The hospital’s property spanned approximately 407 acres, located upon a hill about 300 yards above the Ohio River and what would become Route 65. The original architects, hailed in the late nineteenth century as innovative masterminds, successfully constructed thirty buildings overlooking the river as well as an intricate system of underground shipment and transportation tunnels, one of which actually snaked down the hillside to the railroad tracks along the riverbed. The hospital closed in 1984 and stood dormant for fifteen years before being purchased in 1999 by a local resident looking to expand his farmland. As time progressed, the new owner utilized the farmable property but continued to let the hospital buildings deteriorate. (When refreshing my knowledge of the hospital’s history, one website stated that “time and many fires had left the crumbling buildings useless and local residents showed increasing concern about teenagers dangerously tresspassing on the property on a regular basis.” –I am proud to say I was one of those teenagers. haha)
In 2005, a local developer made an agreement to convert the 75 acres nearest the crest of the hillside that contained most of the property’s buildings into a commercial building site. Demolition quickly began in preparation for Wal-Mart Super Center anchored shopping center (as if the world needs another Wal-Mart).
Even before taking Dr. Pillar’s soil and water science class, common sense told me that Wal-Mart’s demolition team didn’t execute this project correctly. Mistake number one occurred when they uprooted all the natural forestation that anchored the steep hillside lining the highway. Mistake number two may have commensed when the developers chose not to terrace the hillside. And of course Wal-Mart, always in a rush to save a dollar, rushed to break ground and insisted upon beginning to build before the freshly cultivated ground was allowed to settle or stabilize. Now I already can’t stand Wal-Mart to begin with, but the idiocy of this fiasco only perpetuates my hatred. The fast paced excavation obviously destabilized the hillside and subsequent landslides covered Route 65 and the railroad tracks, a dilemma that took two weeks to clear. Wal-Mart suffered numerous lawsuits, being that Route 65 serves as the main route for commuters living north of the city, and the railroad tracks lead to Conway Yards, the nation’s largest rail yards. After numerous complaints by Kilbuck Township residents for fear of another collapse, due to the unstability of the “rebuilt” landslide, Wal-Mart decided not to build on the property. As of September 26, 2007, the land was left to “return to nature” and Route 65 remains restricted to one lane traveling northbound, though the entire area has successfully been cleared of all impending debris.