Isolation Station: Part One
Due to the complex history of this location, I have decided to split this post into two parts. In this section I will be covering the early history of this location, which was built and used originally as a tuberculosis sanatorium.
Consumption. White Plague. These were alternative names for tuberculosis, the epidemic that plagued America in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the beginning of the 1800s this disease had killed one in seven people who had ever lived, making a tuberculosis diagnosis almost synonymous with death. Once tuberculosis was discovered to be contagious in the late 1880s, the stigma and fear surrounding the infection heightened. Those with the affliction were sent to sanatoriums for treatment – exiled, in a sense, from their own societies.
In 1905 a new Commissioner in this state’s Department of Health was appointed, and he set out on a search for land on which to build the first tuberculosis sanatorium. An elevated location was believed to be ideal for recovering tuberculosis patients. He discovered that a local philanthropist owned 500 acres of land in the mountains. The philanthropist had plans to build a home there for his mother, but she passed away and in 1911 he donated the land to the state for use as a sanatorium
Although the hospital didn’t officially open until January of 1913, its first patients were admitted in December of 1912. These patients stayed in the kitchen and dining room until the completion of the building’s construction the following June. Patients traveled to the sanatorium by railroad and were met at the train station by the sanatorium workers, whose primary transportation consisted of a wagon or sled drawn by two mules. Even after the hospital acquired vehicles, they still occasionally used the mule-drawn sled during the harsh, snowy winters.
Like most hospitals at the time, this hospital was a standalone community. It had its own schools, chapel, community store, and even a post office. The medical staff started out small but grew as time went on. In 1919, the sanatorium opened a school for practical nurses to assist the registered nurses who were already employed there.
Tuberculosis was considered a disease of youth for quite some time, as those affected were usually under 30. This also inspired another nickname for the disease, “the robber of youth”. A grade school opened on campus in 1915, where a patient who had been a teacher before becoming ill educated the children there. Eventually additional school houses and even a playground were built.
When the sanatorium first opened, religious services were held in the dining hall. The chaplain, who was also a reverend of a local church, began a drive to raise money to build a chapel for the hospital. A wealthy woman who owned a summer home in the area heard about the chaplain's mission and gave a generous donation, which resulted in the chapel’s construction in 1914. Eventually these services were broadcasted across the campus so everyone, even those who were confined to their beds, could participate.
This particular sanatorium even had its own community store, which originated from one patient who would walk around the wards with a basket full of his own belongings and sell them. Eventually a woman took over this man’s “business” and hired assistants, who were compensated with 10 cents for each delivery made. In 1919 the woman gave up this business and the decision was made to create a community store.
Before radio and television existed, sanatorium patients were entertained by the “Social Nights” held once a week in the Community Hall. Those who were well enough could come play cards and enjoy refreshments together. A social committee was even formed to plan activities for the patients, which included Halloween parties and movie nights.
In 1912, treatment for tuberculosis consisted of fresh air, rest, and diets high in ascorbic acid, Vitamin A, and protein. There were pavilions where patients would “take cure” in “cure” chairs for several hours a day regardless of weather, even during the frigid winters when temperatures often dropped below zero. Many of the patients had been exposed to tuberculosis at home and believed that receiving these treatments could help prevent them from developing the disease themselves. Treatment could last for years, and many patients died during their stay in the sanatorium.
This sanatorium stayed up to date on the latest technologies and treatments for tuberculosis. In 1947, the drug streptomycin was first used here to treat patients. This drug, along with others that were later discovered, drastically improved the prognosis of tuberculosis. The average age of tuberculosis patients increased, and in 1950 the children’s department of the sanatorium closed. As the prevalence of the disease continued to decline in America, so did the need for sanatoriums. This facility transitioned into more of a general hospital, and in 1956 it was renamed a state hospital.
The facility served this purpose until 1982, when it was closed and plans were announced to convert the hospital to a prison. The renovations began in 1984 and cost $20.6 million. In 1987 the facility was reopened as a medium security prison for men. However, as seen in the photos, many of the buildings from the facility’s tuberculosis era remained.
Make sure to stay tuned for the second part of this post coming mid-May, detailing the facility’s most recent use as a prison!
As always, I have omitted details to protect the location.
First Posted 04/30/2019