San Haven Sanatorium is a former tuberculosis sanatorium in the foothills of the Turtle Mountains, a few minutes north of Dunseith. Thousands of TB patients received treatment here between 1909 and the end of the TB endemic in the 1940’s. Prior to the advent of antibiotics which brought tuberculosis under control, roughly 50 percent of TB patients died from the disease. A common remedy at the time was to surgically collapse a lung. One can scarcely imagine the suffering that took place here.
Years later, San Haven would become a home for the developmentally disabled, and the subject of some controversy — alleged understaffing, mistreatment, and neglect. There is still a vocal group of former employees and regional residents who emphatically deny any mistreatment or neglect ever occurred.
San Haven came under fire like hundreds of other sanatoriums around the country, and eventually closed in 1987.
In exploring San Haven, we felt somewhat on edge due to the atmosphere of the place. There is a spookiness from the extended period of abandonment and natural reclamation of the site. Trees and weeds have gone wild. The formerly beautiful and placid water features have long run dry. Walking paths which were once wide and smooth are now rutted and subject to the infiltration of nature. The stillness of a very large complex consisting of dozens of still-standing structures is occasionally interrupted by wind in the trees, doors banging in the breeze, and the haunting chattering of pigeons echoing through empty hallways. In the children’s pavilion (shown above), birds cackling two floors above can sound amazingly similar to the voices of children.
Looking out from a corner unit in the children’s hospital.
On the top floor, the roof has collapsed over the east wing.
More Photos from Inside the Children’s Pavilion
This is the main building on the San Haven complex. The buildings in the center and on the right are the oldest parts of the building, and the section on the left was added at a later date.
We featured San Haven Sanatorium in our first book.
This is the view from around the back of the main sanatorium building, just off a well-traveled road.
The view looking out from just inside a ground floor archway in the main building. Years after this place closed, a teenager was killed when he fell down an open elevator shaft in the dark.
Tuberculosis patients were frequently prescribed sunshine and fresh air. Above, you can almost imagine the rows of beds lined up in front of the windows.
The view from the roof of the main sanatorium building.
San Haven is arranged on the slope of a hill in the Turtle Mountains, so there are quite a few of these now overgrown stairways scattered around the complex.
There are perhaps a dozen abandoned and crumbling structures on the San Haven Complex.
The entire complex is connected by underground tunnels which allowed staff and patients to travel between buildings without going outside in the cold North Dakota winters, and to easily transport patients who were wheelchair bound. The slab covering the tunnel has collapsed in the photo above.
Get Ghosts of North Dakota fine art prints here.
Stone retaining walls like this still stand in various places on the complex, some of which mark the boundaries of water features which once added a placid mood to the grounds. Today, they are dry and overgrown with weeds and brush.
What do you know about San Haven Sanatorium? Please leave a comment below. Make sure you check out the rest of our San Haven Galleries.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy