San Haven

San Haven Sanatorium 2012

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, was 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.

Order Book Two

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.

Order the Book

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.

The refectory.


Order the Book

The tuberculosis cross is shown on the chimney of this building.

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.

Order the Book

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
Writers/Bloggers: Ghosts of North Dakota intellectual property and photo use guidelines can be found here.

Comments
53 Responses to “San Haven Sanatorium 2012”
  1. If we’d like to visit this place do we need to get into contact with anyone so I’m not trespassing? I’m an avid photographer and would love a good at getting some pictures, editing them and submitting them for everyone here to see.

  2. Bruce says:

    The solitude only adds to the beauty of this place. Considering all the sadness related to these buildings it is still beautiful and peaceful. Looks like a roadtrip next fall. Thank you both for bringing us all of the great pictures and history!

  3. Paula Clark says:

    I remember going there with a youth group or school class in the late 60′s. I grew up in Bisbee. I have no recollection what group or why we went. My memories are of closing my eyes and hanging on to the person ahead of me as we passed rows of beds with people in various stages of illness. It was one of the most horrifying things I have ever experienced. I don’t know who thought that was a good thing for teenagers to go and gawk. As awesome as the place once was and still is beautiful in it’s own way now I could never set foot there again.

    • Tom Masa says:

      I was there as part of the team that inspected the place before it was closed. It was pretty bad as stated before. There was a golf course there. I wonder if it used or if is overgrown like the rest of the place

  4. Sharon Klemm says:

    Something sad in these photos yet, at the same time the setting is beautiful. The rooftop vistas of the plains are breathtaking. The vandals and their spray paint always get there, eh?

  5. Sharon Klemm says:

    @Paula, I cannot imagine this experience. I would have been scared too, esp. at that age. And to put extremely ill persons on display like that? I wonder what they thought? I agree, who would have considered this was a good idea? The best I can guess is that it was maybe ?? supposed to educate and teach compassion? I wouldn’t be able to go back either had I been in your shoes.

  6. Holly says:

    Amazing shots, while I agree some of these shots have a sadness to them, others are simply breathtaking. Great job as usual guys!!!

  7. Lois Schneider says:

    Nice work capturing the photos and the stories.

  8. Jane says:

    I remember visiting there as a senior in high school as part of a field trip related to a Health Careers class I was taking. At that time the place was already underutilized. The one thing I remember quite clearly was seeing a couple of babies who had very severe hydrocephalus. I guess now days, parents are expected to care for these severely disabled children at home. I did have an older cousin who had Downs Syndrome and attended “school” there except in the summer, when her brothers and sisters could help care for her at home. She did very well there, and loved living there. So no, I don’t think it was all bad and sad there.

  9. Peggy says:

    Wow , you were lucky to get in and get these photos, I live 10 miles from here and I have taken many outside and a few peeking in the window. I love this place, My mother in-law was a patient for many years here and still remembers what room she was confined too. So sad and yes so many stories in the wall. I will go back one day and get more photos. I would also like to leave baby teaddy bears for the little ones spirits that still there as there have been reports of babies crying under the building. Thanks again for sharing

  10. After my grandfather sold Shelver Drug in Dunseith and retired in 1972, I would accompany him occasionally on his rounds to San Haven while he continued to work as a part-time pharmacist. I enjoyed time with my grandfather, but was always uncomfortable visiting San Haven as a pre-teen child. That being said, San Haven brought so many different and eclectic peoples and cultures to the Turtle Mountains that had a positively profound and lasting impact on the history of Dunseith. It is very sad to see what San Haven has devolved into, but de-regulation in the 80′s had a severe and negative impact in Rolette County.

    • Matt Rothchild says:

      Wait, de-regulation? It was a court order that closed San Haven and all those facilities like it in the ’80s. If anything, this was an increase in regulation.

      FYI, the court order commanded that institutional settings like San Haven be closed in favor of “community-based” care environments. This led to the group home setting we now see today.

      • The “group-home setting” should be scrutinized. Those who advocated for the disbandment of state-run institutions had a stake (aka investment) in establishing “group homes” to make money from the “disabilities” of other humans. They were republicans.
        The so-called “court order” resulted from the “conservative republican” constituency efforts to dis-establish state run institutions that benefitted those who needed a social safety net. The idea that liberal do-gooders closed state run facilities such as San Haven is a complete and total falsehood, aka LIE. Republican conservatives closed San Haven to make money.

        • Matt Rothchild says:

          Don’t fool yourself with your petty partisan bickering. Everyone who knows anything knows that there wer/are many people on both sides of the false two-party paradigm that benefitted from the court order. Consider the example of the Special Olympics, who filed an amicus brief in favor of shutting down the large institutions in favor of the group home environment. Not exactly a bastion of your so-called “conservative republican” thinking and ideology.

          Why don’t you take off your silly partisan blinders and think for yourself? The constant need to score political points annoys the rest of us who do.

      • Matt Rothchild says:

        Further, those group homes are still state-funded. My wife once worked in a few of these. She has all kinds of great stories.

      • Troy Larson says:

        We turned off comments on previous San Haven posts due to political arguments that got out of control. Hoping we don’t have to do the same thing here.

  11. Matt Rothchild says:

    Wow. How did you gain such access to this site to take all these photos? When I visited back in summer of 2010, there was a very protective member of the tribe (which now owns the property) who showed up to shoo me and another carload of curious visitors away from the site.

  12. Karen Thompson says:

    My Grand Mother was a patient here in the 40′S. I remember my mother talking about it. It is sad that it has fallen as it has, history was made there.

  13. Excellent photo shoot – I am highly envious!

  14. 3meterhigh says:

    I also grew up in the area, and as a person sensitive to paranormal I can tell you that it is crawling with negative energy. I did some construction related work there in the 70′s and I was terrified the entire time. It is a beautiful location, it would make a great location for a remote estate for someone except for the spirits that remain there.

  15. Great pics guys! I ‘visited’ San Haven fall of 2010 and felt very much the same……. it was a somber day full of mixed emotions. I imagined how beautiful it was at one time- vast and manicured grounds and well maintained buildings and so self sufficient! I was upset that it had just been shuttered, and then obviously ‘parted out’ and allowed to deteriorate……. what an amazing ___________ (fill in the blank) it could have been!! I especially loved the stenciled walls and how the cafeteria windows were covered in vines and it was creeping across the floors.
    Thank you so much for doing what you do! Preserving the past in the silent testament of a photo and allowing us vicarious access to the ‘secret places’ that aren’t on the map anymore….. You have no idea how much my ‘wanderlust’ envies your adventures =)

  16. Richert Manjarres says:

    Beautiful pictures that tell a story. Thank you for sharing.

  17. kathy says:

    awesome shots! i remember visiting san haven in the early 1980′s as a class field trips. as a class we walked through the halls, we walk ed through a section where the hallway seemed very small, there were rooms on both sides, with all the doors closed. some of the doors had small windows in them. the person giving the tour stopped in that section and talked about the individuals who lived there and how they had varying degree’s of mental and physical disabilities. we started to move on, and out of one of the windows, someone grabbed my arm and he didn’t want to let go! one of my classmates helped me get away, i was terrified then, but now just wish i knew a little bit more about him, what was his situation was, seemed to be pretty serious issues, but did it make him worse by shutting him in a room? i want toe thank you for sharing these wonderful shots and sharing them with us. i too love taking pictures, and am envious of these shots, but i am also happy that you are taking the time to document this and so many other locations. thank you.

  18. Connie Santwire says:

    My uncle from Maddock, ND was a resident at San Haven as a young man. I never knew that the complex was so large and obviously beautiful at one time. Besides suffering from TB he lived a very troubled, lonely life and became an alcoholic. I believe that he died around 50. He was really a very dear man… so sad.

  19. Jay B. says:

    Urban exploring at its best. It´s hard to belie that you actually can enter this Sanatorium and walk around freely. These are great photos, thank you for sharing and for documenting places like this. I too love exploring ghost towns and abandoned buildings. It´s very peaceful walking around, feeling the history of the place. Sometimes it´s creepy. But that only add into the atmosphere.

  20. Joanne Bahn Dieterle says:

    My youngest sister was a TB patient here in about 1957-58. We siblings were not allowed in the building so Mom would hold her up to the window so we could wave at her. We spent our time playing on the beautiful grounds while Mom and Dad visited with my sister and her 2 roommates. One little blonde girl was about my sister’s age but the other was a 9 year old Native American girl who was like a babysitter for the 2 younger girls. My sister was allowed to come home on meds just before her 3rd birthday. This was a huge, beautiful place with lots of homes on the grounds for the doctors, nurses and other staff!! I met a girl in college whose family lived on the grounds. So sad to see how it has deteriorated. Thank you for the hauntingly beautiful pictures.

  21. Tina B says:

    I grew up in the Dunseith area, My mother worked nights there for quite a few years. My senior class took our class pictures there because it has such beautiful grounds. Many of us use to go to thier commecary building to buy our “penny” candy which supported the activities for the paitents there. Spending a lot of time there as a visitor I did not find it scary or creepy, however I understood that the developmentally disabled and physically disabled weren’t scary they just needed assistance to live their lives the best they could. I actually thought all of the people who worked there were special as they had to view alot pain an suffering and even death every day. It is to bad that the State and Federal Government didn’t keep this building and grounds up because it could have surved a purpose for other needs in the state rather than going to waste. And as far as spooks, have a priest bless it, the dead don’t hurt you it is more than likely the living….I am sure there are many out there who,like myself that grew up in that area can honestly say they did not find it horrifying.

  22. Terry Hapala says:

    My father had TB around 1964 and was in San Haven. I remember going to visit him when I was about 10 years old. It seemed like a nice place back then.

  23. So beautiful, but yet sad at the same time. Something that was once fully operational now stands still in the North Dakota climate, left to the elements. Its a shame they couldnt have saved it and used it to profit. (Giving guided tours and preserving artifacts) I worked in a group home for a while, and some of the individuals I took care of were in San Haven. So much sadness and maltreatment…..Im sure there are spirits there. Id love to go visit one day. Keep up the good work Troy and crew!

  24. Love these photos, I can almost smell the TB Sheets.

  25. Roxanne Fairbanks says:

    When I lived back home San Haven was considered a very scary place to be at and was told don’t go back there if you did one of the waterheads would get you and kill you. It was a scared place to be at when I was young but now as a grown up I would go and check it out because we also was told afterwards that people were abused and that is so sad!

    • Roxanne Fairbanks says:

      I also wanted to say that I have an Uncle who I guess lived at the San Haven and when they closed it down he lived with family and he seemed just fine he had an accident when he was young and had a car fall on him and they put him in san haven and you know if I would have been old enough I would have taken care of him myself! Why would people let family live in places like this and forget about them that is what i think this kind of place was put your family here and forget about them

  26. Misrella says:

    Both of my parents worked there, and we also lived in one of the houses there when i was young. I don’t know where the abuse charges are coming from (maybe just to hype up the supposed haunted nature of the building) but there was no way that could of happened. The place was filled to capacity with patients, no way for abuse to happen with out someone noticing. I remember walking in the tunnels and visiting my mom at work. She had an art/pottery class for the patients there. After it was closed my grandmother would take care of some of the patients that nobody wanted. It is very sad to see the place now. It was beyond beautiful.

  27. Robert Lykins says:

    As a teacher in Dunseith, during the early 1960s, I had the opportunity on several occasions to the visit “the San.” I even played golf there. I recall taking my parents to the San during one of their visits. They were very impressed, as I always was, with the great care the mentally handicapped patients were receiving. Frequently staff members told me about the pain they felt when one of their patients passed away. For them it was like losing family. Great people caring for those in need. The San taught more than one lesson to those students who visited there.

  28. Diane (Berg) Rheault says:

    I worked at San Haven State Hospital on the night shift (11 pm to 7 am) during the summers, between my sophomore and senior yrs. of high school. I graduated from Dunseith High School in 1979. It makes me sad to see the San in such bad shape. It was so beautiful back then. My Dad was the Chief Engineer of the Powerhouse there, so we had to live on the grounds. The picture of the underground tunnel with the “seafoam green” building in the background……. hey that was our house. We had like 52 windows in that house-it was an old nurses dorm (from when there were TB patients there). I remember my bedroom was on one end, and I had 13 windows in my room. I loved living there, and working there. I don’t know of any mistreatment of the residents. The residents weren’t scary-they just wanted attention and they craved it. I learned alot working there, and made alot of life-long friends. I took care of the hydrocephalic patients, and I worked with the very loving Down’s syndrome residents. I too, wish they would have come up with another use for the sanitorium where we could have preserved its beauty.

  29. Sandy says:

    it wasn’t deregulation that closed this place and several like it… it was De-instututionalization
    Sadly it was VERY necessary for several facilities

  30. Sandra Menge Atkins says:

    My uncle, Marion Menge, was a patient at San Haven after he contracted tuberculosis while serving in the Navy during WWII. I have an old photo of my aunt, uncle and cousins in front of the main building after visiting him there.

  31. Sarah says:

    My mom was an administrator at San Haven in the early 1980′s (she quit due to shady practices by the higher-ups). We lived on the grounds and had a view of the main buidling from our kitchen window. My husband and I went back a couple a years ago to “trespass” on the grounds. The only thing that remained of our old house was the basement and the tunnel access. I don’t remember seeing a lot of the patients (I was only in elemetary school) but the wolves used hang out below my window in the winter and howl at my dog. It was really surreal seeing it after all those years. When I lived there and even when I went to visit the place, it never creeped me out- my husband on the other hand was a bit nervous. Thanks for the beautiful photos, they bring back a lot of memories…

  32. June says:

    My grandmother was a patient here sometime around 1955. As kids we couldn’t visit her but I remember talking to her through a window. She was in an upper level. Somewhere I have a picture of her looking out the window. She had TB, so it must have still been used for that in the 1950′s. She died in 1958, but had been home for a couple of years before she died. I am guessing I was around 7-8 when we visited her.

  33. George Heiser says:

    Do you have any names of people to contact to get on this property? George 701-789-0886

  34. Scott Schultz says:

    My mother, Maureen Schultz, was here for two years back during WWII. My mother and I had breakfast together every Tuesday for about the last 12 years or so. During the last few years she opened up to me about her stay. Some amazing stories. She was not supposed to live past 21 but she did and passed away a few years ago at the age of 85. Still looking and acting as amazing as ever.

  35. Kendall says:

    What is the legality of visiting this place..especially at night. I would be very interested in doing a Paranormal Investigation here…it has to be haunted. Is there anyway to contact owner if its private land?

  36. Leslie says:

    My mom worked at the San for many years, she took care of a little girl with a waterhead, she loved that little girl like her own child. My mom told me stories of her job there, about how one time a waterhead was dropped accidentally, and how it was a very difficult job sometimes. I remember going on a field trip to the San in 1990 when I was in headstart and it was a sewing factory or something, does anyone remember this?

  37. mjp says:

    50% of patients passed away, where are the grave sites? Ive been told stories by the elders that some families left their loved one there and when they passed they where cremated and burried on the grounds in unmarked graves. Who are these women, men and children?

  38. tanya g says:

    My father also worked here for many yrs in the 70′s, he took care of a resident that had accidentally swallowed transmission fluid as a child, and back then they still used the word retarded,(I don’t think that should even be a word) my father would bring his resident home and the man did anything for a piece of cheese..he loved cheese,I remember him so well, like it was yesterday. As a. Child I don’t remember the place being creepy it was very nice, and it took special people to take care of those residents, and I am now 36 and work in group homes myself and it still takes special people to take.care of these residents we now call clients. And yes it is very sad to to see this place how it has been abandoned and wrecked…the last time I was there it was already abandoned, and I hate to say it, but I was very creeped out. The San is nothing like it was when I was a child. I believe there is paranormal activity there. It is very sad but true…

  39. B.W. says:

    Hi Tina B.

    Sounds like we have a lot in common. I spent all my school years in Dunseith, and my mom also worked at San Haven, up until it closed. My best friend’s mom worked there too, so I remember riding our bikes up San Hill many times during the summer months (2 miles of pedaling up such a steep hill was quite challenging, especially before I got my 10 speed bike).

    We used to cruise all around the grounds (nicely landscaped & very well maintained). Sometimes we would play tennis, or head up to the roof to enjoy the view & maybe conduct a few “gravity experiments” by tossing things to the ground (couldn’t stay up there too long or ya got chased back inside). The ride back to town was always a blast ….. seemed like we could go almost as fast as the cars, but you had to be real careful not to ride too close to the shoulder of the highway, since there was usually loose gravel & it would be a helluva drop if you ever went off the west side.

    I seem to recall MY senior class taking our group photo in front of San Haven, so if you graduated from D.H.S. in 1978, I know exactly who you are Tina.

    Some ladies are hesitant to reveal their true age …. but since you already mentioned “penny candy” in your post, I’m fairly certain you were born closer to 1960 than 1970 ;)

  40. Joe B says:

    The site has no trust passing signs all over, trust passers have been arrested there by the Sheriff Office in the past.

    Nobody mentioned in 2007 a few kids where in the main building messing around, 2 fell down a elevator shaft, one was impaled by a spring at bottom of shaft, other lived.

    Also after it was shut down and was abandoned by state many locals went and stole all the copper wiring, metal, and any thing else worth selling or salvaging.

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  1. [...] got a small selection of Larson’s pictures here — I’d urge you to go see all of them, and read the fascinating comments [...]

  2. […] See also: San Haven Sanatorium 2012. […]

  3. […] at all wrong with facilities like San Haven despite plenty of documentation to the contrary, a topic we’ve addressed before, but in the end, facilities like San Haven were closed for a reason.  There are those who disagree […]

  4. […] We visited San Haven in fall of 2012 and captured these photos, plus many more which you can see here. […]