Exploring the Abandoned Cresson State Prison in Cambria County

See inside the abandoned SCI Cresson in Cambria County PA

If you love exploring abandoned buildings and/or historic structures, the abandoned Cresson State Prison (AKA SCI Cresson) seems almost too good to be true!

Razorwire and Tudor-style architecture at the former Cresson STate Prison in Cambria County.
Razorwire and Tudor-style architecture at the former Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.

And now thanks to new, private ownership, you can LEGALLY explore this maze of buildings, some dating back more than 100 years.

Inside the Grace Chapel at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Inside the Grace Chapel at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Let me reiterate: THE PRISON GROUNDS ARE NOW PRIVATE PROPERTY – YOU MUST SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT TO VISIT!

Inside a control room at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Inside a control room at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Brief History of the Abandoned Cresson State Prison

What began as a tuberculosis sanatorium when it opened in 1913 morphed over the years into a state hospital and finally a state prison (SCI Cresson).

Looking out a barred window at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Looking out a barred window at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

SCI Cresson opened in 1987 as a medium-security correctional facility for male inmates.

A rather non-sympathetic sticker on a lamp at the former SCI-Cresson in Cambria County.
A rather non-sympathetic sticker on a lamp at the former SCI Cresson in Cambria County

SCI Cresson closed June 30, 2013, with the State citing the antiquity of the prison and rising costs of maintaining it as the primary reasons for the closure.

Control panel in A WIng at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Control panel in A WIng at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Now SCI Cresson sits mostly abandoned on a parcel of land just off of Route 22 between Altoona and Ebensburg.

Aerial view of the former SCI-Cresson near Altoona.
Aerial view of the former SCI Cresson near Altoona.

I said mostly abandoned because at least part of the former prison grounds is now being used by a new company for a new purpose.

Hydroponic Life sign reflecting the name of the current tenants of the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Hydroponic Life sign reflecting the name of the current tenants of the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Hydroponic Life took over the SCI Cresson campus in late 2019 with plans to build hydroponic equipment, grow hydroponic produce and hemp, and develop sustainable energy projects on the property.

Approaching the Grace Chapel on the grounds of the former SCI-Cresson in Cambria County.
Approaching the Grace Chapel on the grounds of the former SCI-Cresson in Cambria County.

Though the day-to-day focus of Hydroponic Life is on growing crops and building equipment for other hydro farmers, they began offering photographers and explorers a chance to tour portions of the former prison in May of 2021, as a way to help offset the costs of restoring vandalized infrastructure more quickly. 

Inside the Grace Chapel at the abandoned Cresson State Prison near Altoona.
Inside the Grace Chapel at the abandoned Cresson State Prison near Altoona.

They plan to continue offering events throughout 2021 while simultaneously remodeling, cleaning, and protecting the historical buildings at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.


What You’ll See at the Abandoned Cresson State Prison

The portion of the prison grounds graciously made available for tours by the folks at Hydroponic Life (AKA Big House Produce) is MASSIVE!

Aerial view of the abandoned Cresson State Prison complex.
Aerial view of the abandoned Cresson State Prison complex.

Visitors should read the ground rules before visiting, so that you are prepared to safely explore the former prison grounds.

Gated entrance at the former Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.
Gated entrance at the former Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.

The tours are self-guided and self-paced, and there is really no right or wrong way to make your way around and through the various structures.

Hallway in one of the cell blocks at the former SCI-Cresson prison in Cambria County.
Hallway in one of the cell blocks at the former SCI-Cresson prison in Cambria County.

You definitely WILL encounter flaking paint, broken glass, dark corridors, and other hazards typical when exploring abandoned buildings, so dress appropriately and come prepared – a dust mask and flashlight are prudent items to bring with you.

A cell at the former Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.
A cell at the former Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.

By voluntarily exploring this location, YOU assume the risk of any personal injury or damage to personal property, and shall not hold the author liable for any injuries, losses, or damages that may occur while visiting.

A policy and procedure manual at the former SCI Cresson.
A policy and procedure manual at the former SCI Cresson.

Exploring the Cell Blocks at the Abandoned Cresson State Prison

The cell blocks in the various housing units at the former SCI-Cresson were built in several different eras.

One of the most-recently built cell blocks at the now-abandoned SCI Cresson in Cambria County.
One of the most-recently built cell blocks at the now-abandoned SCI Cresson in Cambria County.

There is no artificial light in any of the buildings, leading to some dramatic natural light and shadow combinations.

Natural light illumintaes a cell block at the abandoned Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.
Natural light illuminates a cell block at the abandoned Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.

Some of the older cells have an enormous amount of peeling paint coming off the ceiling and walls, thus my recommendation to bring a dust mask along.

An older cells at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
An older cells at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

The more modern cells are far “cleaner”, but still not somewhere I’d want to call home!

Two of the more modern cells at the former Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.
Two of the more modern cells at the former Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.

Some of the older housing units are three stories high, while the more modern ones are only two stories high.

Stairwell between cell blocks at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Stairwell between cell blocks at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Corrections officers would have controlled access to the housing units at control panels like this one.

A control panel in one of the cell blocks at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
A control panel in one of the cell blocks at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Inmate phones in the cell blocks were controlled by panels like the one below.

Inmate phone controls at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Inmate phone controls at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Corrections officers kept an eye on the cell block from behind reinforced glass windows.

One of the abandoned cell blocks at the former SCI Cresson.
One of the abandoned cell blocks at the former SCI Cresson.

Although some of that glass has since been shattered at the hands of vandals.

Looking at a cell block through shattered glass at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Looking at a cell block through shattered glass at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Essentially every building at the former SCI Cresson had some form of access control room.

An access control area at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
An access control area at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

This drinking fountain in one of the older cell blocks once quenched the thirst of the medium-security prisoners housed here.

A drinking fountain at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
A drinking fountain at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Grace Chapel at SCI-Cresson

Grace Chapel was built in 1914, as part of the original Cresson Tuberculosis Sanatorium.

Grace Chapel at the abandoned SCI Cresson.
Grace Chapel at the abandoned SCI Cresson.

This might have been my favorite building to explore, as even with the ravages of time and vandalism, it still (fittingly) retains its grace and beauty.

Interior of Grace Chapel at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Interior of Grace Chapel at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

If you visit, be sure to check out the exquisite small details like this rear door to the chapel.

An exit of Grace Chapel at the former SCI Cresson in Cambria County.
An exit of Grace Chapel at the former SCI Cresson in Cambria County.

A painting of Jesus in the foyer still greets visitors to the chapel as it has for many, many years.

Jesus painting in the Grace Chapel at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Jesus painting in the Grace Chapel at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

If you like exploring older churches, you’ll enjoy the fine details that went into building Grace Chapel.

Grace Chapel at the former SCI Cresson.
Grace Chapel at the former SCI Cresson.

The Gymnasium at the Abandoned Cresson State Prison

The hardwood basketball court at the former SCI-Cresson is definitely showing its age, although at one time I’m sure it was magnificent.

Mid-court at the former SCI-Cresson gymnasium.
Mid-court at the former SCI-Cresson gymnasium.

No doubt countless pick-up games were played on this court over the years the prison was in operation.

SCI Cresson painted on the gymnasium floor at the now-abandoned prison just west of Altoona.
SCI Cresson painted on the gymnasium floor at the now-abandoned prison just west of Altoona.

One thing I noticed in here was echos of my footsteps seemed just a bit eerie!

Basketball court at the former SCI Cresson in Cambria County.
Basketball court at the former SCI Cresson in Cambria County.

A weight room off the side of the gymnasium is a throwback to the 80s, when multi-station weight machines became all the rage.

Weight room at the abandoned state prison in Cresson.
Weight room at the abandoned state prison in Cresson.

Service Buildings at the Abandoned Cresson State Prison

Housing a large number of inmates means providing an equally large number of ancillary services.

Kitchen at the abandoned SCI-Cresson in Cambria County.
Kitchen at the abandoned SCI-Cresson in Cambria County.

The kitchen (above) and the laundry (below) are just two of the more interesting service areas I explored while visiting the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Laundry room at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Laundry room at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Exploring the Building Exteriors at SCI-Cresson

The Tudor-style structures dating back to the original days as a tuberculosis sanitorium are some of the more interesting building facades at the abandoned prison complex.

A structure from the era of the Cresson Tuberculosis Sanatorium and later SCI-Cresson.
A structure from the era of the Cresson Tuberculosis Sanatorium, later to become SCI-Cresson.

Contrast that with other areas of the prison where the more modern, industrial-style buildings are prominent features.

Building J at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.
Building J at the abandoned Cresson State Prison.

Almost all of the buildings have either a number or a letter emblazoned on them.

Standing outside Building Two at the abandoned SCI Cresson in Cambria County.
Standing outside Building Two at the abandoned SCI Cresson in Cambria County.

No matter where you look, you’ll see plenty of razor wire and chain link fences.

Entering an area of Tudor-style structures left over from the days of the Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium.
Entering an area of Tudor-style structures left over from the days of the Cresson Tuberculosis Sanitorium.

I enjoyed seeing the contrast of wildflowers juxtaposed against those fences and razor wire throughout the complex.

Flowers blooming between fences and razor wire at the former SCI Cresson.
Wildflowers blooming between fences and razor wire at the former SCI Cresson.

If you can ignore the fences and razor wire, it’s not hard to imagine yourself on the grounds of a grand English manor in the countryside, at least among the Tudor-style buildings.

One of the Tudor-style structures at the former SCI Cresson abandoned prison.
One of the Tudor-style structures at the former SCI Cresson abandoned prison.

Scheduling a Visit to the Abandoned Cresson State Prison

To schedule your own visit to the abandoned Cresson State Prison, contact Hydroponic Life / Big House Produce at this link.

Basketball court at the abandoned Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.
Basketball court at the abandoned Cresson State Prison in Cambria County.

You can find out more about Hydroponic Life / Big House Produce by following their social media on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Looking out over the former SCI-Cresson during a tour of the now-abandoned prison.
Looking out over the former SCI-Cresson during a tour of the now-abandoned prison.

And if ghost hunting is your cup of tea, Ghost Hunts USA offers paranormal tours of the abandoned Cresson State Prison as well!

The abandoned sanatorium at the former SCI Cresson in Cambria County.
The abandoned sanatorium at the former SCI Cresson in Cambria County.

Still not convinced you need to explore the abandoned Cresson State Prison?

Then check out this video!


Looking for even more abandoned places to explore in Pennsylvania that won’t have you running from the law?!

Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike Rail Trail at Rays Hill Tunnel.
The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike Rail Trail at Rays Hill Tunnel in Bedford County.

Then be sure to check out 23 Abandoned Places in PA You Can Legally Visit!

Inside one of the abandoned Alvira bunkers.
One of the abandoned Alvira Munitions Bunkers in Union County.

Road Tripping to the Best Abandoned Places in PA will take you on an epic 379 mile route to seven of Pennsylvania’s most intriguing abandoned places!

a road map to 9 of the best abandoned places in Pennsylvania.

Nearby Attractions

The Allegheny Tunnel (known originally as the Summit Tunnel) in nearby Gallitzin was the longest railroad tunnel in the world at the time of its completion, at 3,612 feet.

A westbound Norfolk-Southern train exiting the western portal of the Allegheny Tunnel in Gallitzin.
A westbound Norfolk Southern train exiting the western portal of the Allegheny Tunnel in Gallitzin.

Completed in 1854, the Allegheny Tunnel is still in use to this day, and the Gallitzin Tunnels Park next to it is a popular spot for railfans to congregate and watch trains enter and exit this historic tunnel.

Tunnels Park and Museum in Gallitzin, PA.
Tunnels Park and Museum in Gallitzin, PA.

The World-Famous Horseshoe Curve was considered one of the “engineering wonders of the world” at the time of its completion in 1854.

Westbound train passing through the viewing area at the Horseshoe Curve.
Westbound train passing through the viewing area at the Horseshoe Curve.

In conjunction with the Allegheny Tunnel mentioned above, the Horseshoe Curve allowed trains to cross back and forth over the steep Allegheny Mountains, something that had been impossible before 1854.

One of the many exhibits inside the Horseshoe Curve Museum and Visitor Center.
One of the many exhibits inside the Horseshoe Curve Museum and Visitor Center.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t understand why with all the homeless ppl here in Pa.
    Why can’t they stay in these abandoned buildings after they are made into very good housing?
    Could be used for some small business in the outbuilding and the main building made into apartments for homeless veterans.

    • The State sold the property to private individuals who are repurposing the grounds into a hydroponic farming operation. The tours are offered by the private individuals who now own the property.

    • Just to be clear – the tours are self-guided, so you go at your own pace and wander around to whatever buildings interest you. There are no “tour guides” per se, nor do I believe any of the current owners worked at the prison when it was still open.

    • Yes I would imagine you have a unique perspective on how it looks now – thanks for checking out the write-up!

  2. I enjoyed the pictures thank you. I was amazed at the rate of decay that happened over the eight years of abandonment! As a 3rd or 4th grader in the mid 60’s our class went there to perform our Christmas show.

    • It really is amazing once you stop maintaining a structure how quickly it can deteriorate, but given how harsh the winters are up along that Cresson ridge, I guess not too surprising. Thanks for checking out the article!

  3. Thanks for the photos and info. My maternal grandfather was treated for TB there , I did not know him. Also as a young child, my neighbor was treated there for TB as well. I remember having to take medication for a few weeks as prophylaxis.
    Planning on doing a tour this fall.
    I enjoy all of your posts.
    Thank you so much.

    • Thanks for the kind words. I also had relatives treated there for TB, so my visit was interesting on that personal level as well. It’s a fascinating place to explore and the folks that run it are top notch.

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