New West Mountain Sanitarium Owner Cleaning Up The Place With Plans To Sell

April 3, 2019

RANSOM TWP. — Cold wind snapped across West Mountain where Joe Harris worked alone. He had earbuds in his ears and a commercial leaf blower strapped to his back. He finds solace in the same fresh air that tuberculosis patients sought for healing decades ago when the 37 acres offered sick people escape from the valley’s choking smoke and soot. Joe Harris and his family spend their off days working across the former West Mountain Sanitarium campus after they bought it at auction from its former owner, Peter Sabia, last year for $141,750, according to county records. The old hospital and outbuildings off North Sekol Avenue are gone. The sanitarium closed in 1974. Only shells remain. Layers of graffiti cake the stone and concrete structures still standing, immune to fire and weather. The place had once been a trap for troublemakers, said Ransom Twp. Supervisor David Bird, though not so much anymore. “At one point you could drive right back in there,” he said, explaining how shenanigans dwindled after gates and natural barriers were raised. When Joe Harris, his father Tom and brother Tom III bought it, they found the only intruders to be hundreds of old tires and heavy overgrowth, the kind that made the old roads winding through it barely passable by ATV. The family runs the Roll Call firearms and tactical gear shop off North Keyser Avenue, but says its plans have nothing to do with its other business. Joe Harris heard rumors of all kinds about what his family wants to do. One was that he was building an outdoor shooting range to augment Roll Call’s indoor range at the bottom of the mountain. Others said he’s building hundreds of homes. The Harrises plan none of those things. They bought it as an investment property and hope to sell it some day, Joe Harris said. He hopes someone with visions for a park or other public space will pick it up, he said. For now, they enjoy restoring the land themselves. On Tuesday, he made his way up a cobbled driveway with his leaf blower uncovering curbs, clearing away years’ worth of leaves, exposing the road surface maybe for the first time in decades. They’ve cleared out the trash and heavy growth. They’re filling in the old foundations and plan to restore the concrete and stone structures, including a red brick fireplace and chimney on a spot that offers spectacular views of the Lackawanna Valley. “It’s iconic. Everybody knows about this place,” he said. “By early summer, this thing is gonna look amazing.” Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc on Twitter