Tuberculosis, frequently referred to as “consumption” in historical documents, was arguably the most serious endemic disease and health concern of the 19th and early 20th centuries. With no “cure” to come until 1946, those afflicted with TB were prescribed rest and fresh air as a treatment, and sanatoriums like San Haven were constructed to meet the need.
Susan (Thingvold) Sande of Kalispell, Montana contributed these photos of San Haven in the tuberculosis era. The photos were taken by her aunt, Nora Thingvold, in the 1930s. Susan’s comments on Nora:
“Nora was a nurse all her life – at San Haven, in hospitals in Devils Lake , in Wisconsin , California & Texas . She served as an army nurse during WWII. She passed away in 1988.”
There are few former patients from the early tuberculosis era still alive today, but most agree San Haven, and other sanatoriums around the nation, were largely pleasant places to recover from the illness, but with medical progress came a change in mission and a very different perception of San Haven Sanatorium.
In 1946, the development of streptomycin ushered in the antibiotic era, and the mortality rate for tuberculosis patients was dramatically reduced. Coupled with public health measures like clean water, improved sanitation, and health education, antibiotics brought tuberculosis under control.
With the need for places like San Haven diminishing, sanatoriums started to serve a different mission. Slowly, they began to transition from hospitals to homes for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. San Haven served both missions for a time, with TB patients in one part of the facility, and residents with developmental disabilities locked away on upper floors, as detailed in a story told to us by a former patient–Inside San Haven Sanatorium.
Beginning in the late 60s, people began to strongly question the tactic of “warehousing” the developmentally disabled, and by the 1980s, the former sanatoriums were getting shut down all over the country amid stories of understaffing, deplorable living conditions, and administrative mismanagement. San Haven closed in December, 1987, and the remaining residents either returned to their communities or transferred to the Grafton State School.
In 1992, the state sold the site to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and it has been abandoned (and repeatedly and thoroughly vandalized) ever since.
Many of these buildings are either ruins, or completely gone today. The foliage, which was young at the time of these photos, has nearly overtaken the site these days, and you can see our photos from 2012 in the Haunting and Abandoned San Haven Sanatorium.
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Original content copyright © 2011 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