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. The most 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, like hundreds of other Sanatoriums around the country, closed in the 1980s.
In exploring San Haven, we immediately felt a heavy foreboding due to the atmosphere of a place which harbored so much suffering, amplified by 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.
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.
This is the view from around the back of the main sanatorium building, just off a well-traveled road.
The former parking lot on the north end of the complex.
San Haven is arranged on the side of a hill in the foothills of the Turtle Mountains, so there are quite a few of these now overgrown stairways scattered around the complex.
The view from the roof of the main sanatorium building.
Another view from the roof.
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. The slab covering the tunnel has collapsed in the photo above.
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.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC