The Early 20th Century Sun Parlor

Early twentieth-century sunrooms tended to be vernacular creations, reflecting local craftsman traditions rather than formal architectural designs. In 1916, Julia Wolfe of the Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse took it upon herself to design a sun parlor without employing a professional architect. F.E. Palmer, in Milady’s House Plants: The Complete Instructor and Guide to Success with Flowers and Plants in the Home, including a Remarkable Chapter on the Ideal Sun Parlor (1917), remarked on this lack of formal designs for sunrooms:

It seems at first sight a simple proposition that anyone desirous of building into, or onto, his house a small, practical plant room, could easily do so. All the elements are readily available the willingness to pay, easy access to the fundamental requirements in design and necessary materials, yet to obtain the sympathetic co-operation of an intelligent architect seems almost an impossibility. One would almost think, judging from the stubbornness of architects in this respect, that there is a natural antagonism between their art and that of horticulture; or is it failure on their part to recognize the growing importance of the latter in the domestic life of the nation?

The availability of piecemeal parts in mail-order catalogs allowed homeowners the opportunity to create a customized sunroom. The 1921 Morgan Woodworking Organization’s Building with Assurance catalog noted that new woodwork patterns could be arranged in variety of combinations and adapted to fit any style or size. In light of the add-on and piecemeal nature of sunrooms, home design guides emphasized the importance of harmonizing the sunroom space with the rest of the building.

F.E. Palmer set forth an entire chapter on the components of the ideal sun parlor. As specified by Palmer, a sun parlor should consist of walls with three to four feet tall main windows and one and a half to two feet tall transom windows for proper ventilation. To protect against cold weather, the entire structure needed to be insulated with storm windows to achieve a double-glazed effect. Palmer noted that this

makes an absolutely frost-proof double wall of glass and saves its first cost in economy of fuel in an incredibly short time; it allows the plants to grow close up the glass, even to touching it without chilling them, and the glass is always clear, never being covered by frost even in coldest weather.

sun Parlor

Diagram of Interior of a Sun Parlor or Conservatory,
Palmer, F.E. Milady’s House Plants (1917).

Sunlight and wind exposure also dictated where to attach the sun parlor. It was recommended that the addition be located on the “south, east or west side of the house” and “project from the house so as to have three of its sides exposed to the light and air.”

Historic house museums are physical buildings in which architecture and spatial relationships reveal social and cultural meanings. Sun parlors, as their name suggests, were social gathering spaces that merged the outdoors with the indoors. Paired with sash windows to maximize sunlight, the presence of plants in the sunroom fostered an outdoors, health-inducing atmosphere. Sunrooms, although architecturally similar to sleeping porches, were not linked to sickness and disease; thus, the sunroom existed as a sanitized version of the sleeping porch.

At Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe Memorial, the sun parlor addition is attached beneath a sleeping porch on the south-facing side of the Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse. The layout of the sun parlor follows closely those specified by F.E. Palmer’s 1917 guide to the ideal space. Comprised of the three walls of glass windows, the sunroom features both a doorway into the main house as well as a side entrance to the veranda. These two entrances enabled “easy access to the out of doors so that plants, etc., may be handled without disturbing the rest of the house; also for complete shutting off from the rest of the house when necessary for purposes of fumigation.”


Sun Parlor, Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Asheville, NC,
Photograph by Author.


Sun Parlor, Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Asheville, NC,
Photograph by Author.

The décor of the early twentieth-century sunroom focused on foliage and flowering plants and maneuverable furnishings. Household plants, aided by abundant sunlight and fresh air, were a staple of the sunroom and reflected a therapeutic effort to bring the outdoors into the home. Homeowners often opted for light, wicker furniture pieces, such as those illustrated in the 1921 Building with Assurance catalog, which could be easily moved by themselves and/or domestic servants for cleaning purposes. Boardinghouse proprietress Julia Wolfe outfitted her sun parlor with caster furniture so the space could be cleaned with ease. The caster furniture found throughout the house served a two-fold purpose: ease of cleaning and rearranging to accommodate boarders. The furnishings of the Old Kentucky Home’s sun parlor tell a great deal about health and sanitation ideals of the time.


Sun Porch M-398, Morgan Woodworking Organization,
Building with Assurance (1921).


Homes and Interiors of the 1920s, a Restoration Design Guide. Originally published as Building with Assurance, 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: Morgan, 1921.

Palmer, F.E. Milady’s House Plants: The Complete Instructor and Guide to Success with Flowers and Plants in the Home, including a Remarkable Chapter on the Ideal Sun Parlor. New York: A.T. Delamare Company, Inc., 1917.

Saxton, Glenn L. The Plan Book of American Dwellings: Moderately Priced Bungalows, Cottages, Residences. Minneapolis, MN: Glenn L. Saxton, 1914.


Sanitary Interior Design: Glazed Tiles & Modernism in Kentucky’s State TB Hospitals

Over the past six months, I’ve been busy researching and documenting Kentucky’s tubercular past. The five state hospitals created from 1946 to 1950 adhered to a standard institutional design. The brick exteriors, south-facing solaria (solariums), and imposing stone portico facades with double-barred crosses easily identify the remaining main hospitals as former sanatoria. In the original hospital design, yellow glazed tiles adorned the walls while dark brown/red tiles made of asphalt, ceramic, and quarry materials covered the floors. Since the extant buildings have been adaptively repurposed, it’s understandable that interior modifications occurred to facilitate this process. One distinctive interior element that is a holdout from the sanatorium days is the yellow glazed wall tiles.


Glazed Yellow Tiled Walls at Madisonville TB Hospital (January 2016)


Described as “cheerful” in newspaper accounts, glazed yellow tiles decorated the interior walls of the main hospital building, parts of the nurses’ dormitory, and the boiler house/laundry. Glazed tiles proved to be a popular decorative touch for tuberculosis hospitals as far back as the early 1900s. According to René Fan’s 2001 “Terra-Cotta Tile Mosaics at Sea View Hospital: Endangered Glazed Ceramics on State Island,” tiles were used to ‘furnish plain wall surfaces…and to eliminate the oppressive and dismal appearance of the building and its approaches.’ Praised for its impermeability and nonporous quality, glazed tile’s smooth surface repelled dust and germs. Tile, considered a sanitary building material that could easily be cleaned, found its way into the hygienic design of 20th-century sanatoria and hospitals.

In the early 20th century, it was believed that the tubercle bacilli could survive in household dust and that sunlight offered a way to destroy the bacteria lingering in the built environment. Light and air ultimately became intrinsically linked to the Anti-Tuberculosis Movement. Margaret Campbell, in “What Tuberculosis did for Modernism: The Influence of a Curative Environment on Modernist Design and Architecture,” contends that “light and air, and specifically sunlight, were influential in the interpretation of modernist hygienic ideas for the design of flat roofs, balconies, terraces and recliner chairs.” Modernism was articulated in Kentucky’s state sanatoria through the use of flat roofs, tiled interior spaces, and large glass windows. The modernism reflected in these buildings combined hygienic and environmental knowledge. When the state hospitals were constructed in Kentucky, the medical community and public still directly connected architectural design and environment with the treatment of tuberculosis. That association proved short-lived as the introduction of the triple therapy treatment diminished the need for sanatoria by the 1950s. Despite this poor timing in construction, the Commonwealth’s decision to fund state sanatoria, rather than remain in local hands, demonstrated a pervasive view in the power of medical and scientific progress. Thanks to the state sanatoria and new medical knowledge, tuberculosis deaths fell almost seventy percent from 1073 in 1950 to only 335 in 1960.



Adams, Annmarie. Medicine by Design: The Architect and the Modern Hospital, 1893 – 1943. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Campbell, M. “What Tuberculosis did for Modernism: The Influence of a Curative Environment on Modernist Design and Architecture.” Medical History 49, no.4 (2005): 463 – 488.

Fan, René. “Terra-Cotta Tile Mosaics at Sea View Hospital: Endangered Glazed Ceramics on State Island.” ATP Bulletin 32, no. 4 (2001): 37 – 42.

Grimmer, Anne E. and Kimberly A. Konrad. “Preserving Historic Ceramic Tile Floors.” Preservation Briefs 40.

“Tuberculosis Hospital Dedication Section.” The Glasgow Times. Thursday, August 24, 1950.

Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission Annual Reports. 1950 – 1970. Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives. Frankfort, KY.


From Paris to Glasgow: The Razed TB State Hospitals of Kentucky

Kentucky’s State Tuberculosis Hospitals once dotted the landscape of the Commonwealth. Five hospitals, erected from 1946 to 1950, were situated in district locations selected by the Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission of Kentucky. The decommissioning of the hospitals saw the transition of the London and Madisonville sites into state office buildings. The Ashland Tuberculosis Hospital buildings found new life as offices and shelter housing for Safe Harbor, Inc. The two remaining sanatoria sites, Glasgow and Paris, fell into disrepair and ultimately were razed.

Dedicated on June 14, 1950, the Paris Tuberculosis Hospital (District Three State Sanatorium) received its first patients on July 24, 1950 and gained the distinction of being the first of the new sanatoria to open. The 100-bed sanatorium was designed following the same Gillig-Hartstern & Wilson architectural blueprint used for the new sanatoria sites in Kentucky. Land conveyed from the Bourbon County Fiscal Court to the Commonwealth of Kentucky provided the acreage for the five-building sanatorium complex in Paris.

Although the Commonwealth described the five new $1.5 million hospitals as a progressive step in public health, its timing was poor to say the least. The arrival of state tuberculosis sanatoria in Kentucky coincided with the development of streptomycin and the triple therapy drug treatment. These new medicine regimens basically eradicated the need for sanatoria and outdated the new tuberculosis hospitals before they were even a decade old. The topic of what to do with the sanatorium complexes came up for discussion in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Kentucky’s Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission attempted to open the hospitals up to a wider range of pulmonary diseases; despite these efforts, the hospitals were decommissioned in the 1970s. Given the broader trend in tuberculosis treatment, it was surprising that the hospitals lasted even this long as sanatoria had largely become medical relics at the time of their inception.

In preparation for its decommissioning, the Paris Tuberculosis Hospital, known at the time as the Paris Respiratory Disease Hospital, underwent some substantial modifications in 1975 before its closure in 1979. The original 42.92 sanatorium property was eventually subdivided to make way for the Bourbon County Park and the construction of a softball diamond. Lack of use and routine maintenance left the sanatorium buildings in poor condition. With the Paris Tuberculosis Hospital slated for demolition, a 2011 survey by William M. Hunter of Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc. (CRA) documented the extant site buildings before the scheduled razing. In addition to photographing and researching the National Register-eligible Paris Tuberculosis Hospital, CRA created a series of interpretive panels to be installed at the county park.

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Glasgow TB Hospital Postcard

In late August of 1950, Glasgow Tuberculosis Hospital (District Six State Tuberculosis Sanatorium) became the second of the state sanatoria to open. According to Barren County records, land purchased from J.C. Hutcherson in 1947 formed the basis for the sanatorium site. Following decommissioning, the Glasgow Tuberculosis Hospital reopened in 1977 as the Glasgow State Nursing Facility, a long-term facility for intellectually disabled or mentally ill patients. A 2004 masonry project and subsequent structural analysis in 2006 led to the decision to replace the main hospital building. The General Assembly allocated a total of $20 million to construct a new facility on the premises that opened in 2013. In late June 2014, the old main hospital building was demolished.


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Remarking on the end of the sanatorium, Dr. Phillip Bale, the Glasgow State Nursing Facility’s former medical director noted:

That facility, of course, was built to be a tuberculosis hospital, and when you think of the things that went on there many years ago, how little we knew back then about so many things and where medicine has come…that building represented healthcare in the 1930s and the 1940s and the new building is magnificent and capable of so many things.

– Excerpt from “Glasgow State Nursing Facility Had Long History”



Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc. Paris Tuberculosis Sanatorium State Recordation and Interpretive Signage. 2011.

Hunter, William M. Paris Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Kentucky Individual Buildings Survey Form. 2011.

Kinslow, Gina. “Glasgow State Nursing Facility Had Long History.” Glasgow Daily Times (June 24, 2014).

Kinslow, Gina. “Nursing Facility Nearing Completion.” Glasgow Daily Times (December 10, 2011).

“New Glasgow State Nursing Facility Officially Opens.” The Lane Report (July 23, 2013).

“Paris TB Hospital.” Asylum Projects.

“TB Hospital Demolition.” O’Rourke: Demolition Specialists Since 1962.

“TB History – Historical Photographs.” Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Westerfield, Savannah. “Paris Tuberculosis Sanatorium State Recordation and Interpretive Signage.” November 4, 2013. Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc.


The Significance of the Kentucky State Tuberculosis Hospitals

Listing a set of buildings on the National Register requires reflection on why those places matter. As I work on revisions for my multiple-property submission (MPS) project, I’ve been thinking a lot about the meanings conveyed in the set of five hospitals constructed from 1946 – 1950 in Kentucky. These identical hospitals are a mid-century property type that embodied the Commonwealth’s public health campaign to eradicate tuberculosis. Although Kentucky first formed a tuberculosis commission in 1912, sanatoria largely remained in the hands of local and county organizations for the next three decades. The construction of five 100-bed tuberculosis hospitals in the late 1940s marked a transition from smaller, county-operated sanatoria to larger, modern district hospitals. The significance of these hospitals has already been acknowledged through the individual listing of the Ashland Tuberculosis Hospital on the National Register in 2007.

Annmarie Adams, in Medicine by Design: The Architect and the Modern Hospital, 1893 – 1943, notes that a shift in hospital design from home-like facilities to more professional institutions occurred by the mid-twentieth century. Standardization of hospital design improved cost-efficiency and evaluation of hospital performance (Adams, 120). Given that Kentucky’s state tuberculosis hospitals received government funding, it was also imperative that a comparatively equal level of services be offered to all citizens throughout the six districts. Their design conveyed an image of hospitals as modern antidotes to the white plague. The use of materials further exemplified the power inherent in these sanatoria:

In viewing this link in the State’s system of sanatoria for the treatment of Kentucky’s worst plague, tuberculosis, one is bound to be impressed by the ability of government to do what private citizens would find impossible. A great deal of money has been spent, that is true, but great good can come of it in salvaged lives that previously have been doomed. This money has furthermore been wisely spent from the standpoint of permanency of construction… brick and tile, steel and concrete, even the window sills will resist wear and rotting because they are of marble. (Tuberculosis Hospital Dedication Section, The Glasgow Times, Thursday, August 24, 1950.)

The extant state tuberculosis hospitals at Ashland, London, and Madisonville stand as tangible mid-twentieth-century representations of Kentucky’s public health campaign to cure tuberculosis. Despite the stigma attached to the contagious disease, communities celebrated the opening of the tuberculosis hospitals as steps of progress and modernity. Local newspapers published lengthy articles and advertisements leading up to the official dedications of the new hospitals. The Wednesday, September 27, 1950 edition of the Madisonville Messenger remarked on what a tuberculosis hospital meant for the community:

We Welcome A New Landmark Dedicated to Mercy! No finer tribute could be paid to Madisonville and Hopkins County than to be selected for District One’s Tuberculosis Sanatorium. We extend congratulations to the entire management and staff, and to all those whose efforts made this great monument to the future possible. Best Wishes from Another Who is Proud to Have the Sanatorium in Our Midst!

Sealing the Fate of Tuberculosis: The Christmas Seal Campaign & the Crusade Against Tuberculosis

Progressive journalist Jacob Riis, most famous for his How the Other Half Lives, wrote a 1904 article about Denmark’s successful Christmas seal fundraiser for the fight against tuberculosis. Inspired by Riis’s example, American Red Cross member Emily Bissell embarked on a similar mission to raise $300 to save Delaware’s Brandywine Sanatorium. After securing financing from friends, Bissell printed and sold 50,000 seals in the lobby of the Wilmington post office. She raised $25 on December 7, 1907, but then poor sales motivated Bissell to join forces with Philadelphia’s The North American. The popular newspaper published articles about “Stamping Out Tuberculosis” and boosted sales.

President Theodore Roosevelt’s support ensured a successful campaign with over $3,000 raised for Brandywine Sanatorium. A year later, the American Red Cross officially sponsored the Christmas seal campaign and brought in over $135,000. In 1919, the National Tuberculosis Association assumed control of the campaign. This occasion was marked by the appearance of the NTA’s double-barred cross, the universal symbol of the anti-TB crusade, on the 1920 Christmas seals.


Seven years after Bissell’s first Christmas campaign, the Kentucky Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis joined forces with the National Red Cross Society to sell Christmas seals. Proceeds from the sale went to anti-tuberculosis work in the state. The First Biennial Report of the State Tuberculosis Commission noted that “nearly 2,000,000 seals, accompanied by more or less educational matter, have been put in the hands of over 2,700 individuals for sale or redistribution” (13). As late as 1944, financing for state, county, and local tuberculosis associations relied on the sale of Christmas seals each year. Given that Kentucky’s sanatoria were operated by local and county organizations until 1950, Christmas seals ensured the treatment of thousands of consumptive Kentuckians.

The American Lung Association continues to sell Christmas seals to this day, albeit the fundraiser is intended to promote awareness of lung health and not just tuberculosis. You can order your 2016 Christmas seals here. A complete gallery of seals from 1920 – the present can be found on the American Lung Association’s Christmas Seal site.

Here are a few of my favorites over the decades:


American Lung Association. “The History of Christmas Seals.” Christmas Seals. 2015.

First Biennial Report of the Kentucky Tuberculosis Commission. January 1914.

National Institutes of Health. “Tuberculosis – Visual Culture & Public Health Posters.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2011.

Schulman, Sol. “Thousands Doomed to Die Get Reprieve from the State.” The Courier-Journal. August 13, 1944.

“Stamping out Tuberculosis with Christmas seals.” University of Virginia. 2007.

TB Book Club – American Sunshine

As I start delving into dissertation research, it’s time to read some of those secondary source materials I’ve overlooked in the past. My first reading is Daniel Freund’s 2012 American Sunshine: Diseases of Darkness and the Quest for Natural Light.


American Sunshine situates the topic of sunlight within a larger framework of American medical knowledge. During the late 19th century, increased urbanization led to overcrowded housing. In order to accommodate the influx of immigrants, city planners and architects started to build upwards. Unfortunately, as buildings grew higher, many Americans grew concerned over the lack of sunlight and fresh air for those crammed into tenements. Studies, such as New York City’s 1913 The Report of the Heights of Buildings Commission, researched the negative impact posed by tall buildings in the cityscape. Progressives, particularly tenement reformers, attributed the lack of sunlight with moral corruption and disease.

The early twentieth century witnessed profound changes in American public health. Freund examines how sunlight was commodified by health promoters. From fresh air schools to sun cure lamps, sunlight found its way into the lives of everyday Americans. Throughout American Sunshine, Freund draws connections between sunlight and tuberculosis treatment. The turn-of-the-century construction of sun parlors and sun rooms reinforced the role of nature in TB treatment. Even hospital design, specifically at sanatoria, maximized natural light for its curative properties. Yet, although sanatoria embraced prevailing ideas about disease and light, it was ultimately fresh air schools that offered a healthy space for America’s youth to learn proper hygiene and understand the benefits of outdoor living.

Given my interest in health tourism and tuberculosis treatment, I found the chapter on climate tourism to be particularly interesting. On the dilemma faced at health resort towns, Freund notes:

By the 1910s, southern and western destinations had begun to realize that the climate tourism that drew ailing easterners in search of health was becoming more of a liability than an asset. Linking their fortunes to the ill – often terminal tuberculosis patients – had its perils, and as the popularity of places like Southern California began to take off, they looked to sever their tie with the great white plague. They did not, however, shed their association with a salubrious climate. (136)

Overall, American Sunshine is an intriguing look into the utility of sunlight as first a disease cure and then health product. By weaving together urbanization, consumerism, and medical tourism, Freund shows the impact of America’s obsession with sunlight from the late 19th century into the 21st century.

Reflections on the Waverly Hills TB Sanatorium Haunted House

Halloween brings crowds of visitors to the annual haunted house held at Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky. As a TB sanatoria architectural historian, I’ve wanted to visit Waverly Hills for quite some time. A quick Google search produces a bevy of sites commenting on paranormal activity at the former sanatorium. The skeptic in me questions the legitimacy of these claims while the historian finds the popularity of a TB sanatorium to be fascinating in light of the historic stigma attached to such sites.

Google Maps labels Waverly Hills Sanatorium as a "Gothic former hospital with spooky tours"

Google Maps labels Waverly Hills Sanatorium as a “Gothic former hospital with spooky tours”

The Facebook page for Waverly Hills contains several recent reviews giving low marks for the long wait at the Haunted House. Since I visited on the Friday before Halloween, I was prepared for long lines to get into the place. Although I arrived an hour before the gates opened, a line of cars already extended down the winding driveway and into the road. The parking attendants, a volunteer group of firefighters and local families, minimized traffic issues by dividing the vehicles into two lines at the beginning of the driveway. A small parking fee of $5 was collected close to the sanatorium and volunteers used flashlights to guide visitors to the correct parking areas. The Waverly Hills Historical Society donated the $20,000 collected from parking to the WHAS Crusade for Children.

Two types of tickets were sold at the ticket booth (cash only): the basic $20 tour of the Haunted House and a $60 VIP pass that entailed a shorter wait and a private tour of floors not included in the regular admission. I opted for the basic tour and waited in the entrance line for another thirty minutes or so. Before entering the sanatorium, visitors were ushered into seats at the front entrance. A group of skilled volunteers performed the Thriller dance and then a light show projected onto the façade of the entrance. The audio announced the site’s original purpose as a TB sanatorium and a visual showed lungs, but the rest of the light show made no further reference to the tubercular past.

Once inside, visitors are treated to a photograph that is sold for $10 in the gift shop and also able to be uploaded on social media for free. Like most haunted houses, the tour consisted of walking through strobe-lighted rooms and hallways in which costumed volunteers attempted to spook visitors. Given the site’s medical history, medical-related vignettes including a dentist and surgeon were set up. Other parts of the haunted house contained Lizzie Borden, the Salem Witch Trails, dinosaurs, 3-D rooms with clowns, wheel-chaired and dying patients, and chainsaws.

At the end of the tour, visitors could either buy their house photographs or upload a digital copy online. I noticed that across from the computers were a series of caskets and cameras. Called “casket rides,” the attraction allowed people to lounge inside closed caskets that moved up and down while cameras recorded.

Complimentary photograph with the Waverly Hills TB Sanatorium image

Complimentary photograph with the Waverly Hills TB Sanatorium image

While the admission fees for the haunted house go toward restoration, there’s a balance that must be reached at TB sanatoria cashing in on ghost tourism. A recent article, “Ghosts are Scary, Disabled People are Not: The Troubling Rise of the Haunted Asylum,“ addresses the negative ramifications of paranormal tourism at former mental asylums. The roots of the current fascination in medical institutions and prisons dates to the nineteenth century. Able-bodied people participated in trips to mental asylums and prisons to explore the landscaped grounds and glimpse patients.

Janet Miron’s 2011 Prisons, Asylums, and the Public: Institutional Visiting in the Nineteenth Century delves into the early tourism market at prisons and mental asylums that emerged in both Canada and the United States. I plan to examine tourism at TB sanatoria in my dissertation so Miron’s study is a great starting point to look at institutional visiting.

Have you ever visited a former TB sanatoria or mental asylum? If so, did the site interpretation balance history with the paranormal? What stories were told?

That Place is Haunted: Ghost Tourism at TB Sanatoria

Ghost tours are all the rage this time of year. As an avid fan of these nocturnal activities, I’ve went on ghost tours in several cities, including Charleston, Savannah, Nashville, and Chattanooga. Some brought out the skeptic in me while others thoroughly captured my attention. The typical walking tour allows visitors to explore new areas by foot, but some ghost tour companies add a twist by incorporating macabre or nostalgic transportation such as hearses and trolleys.

What exactly does ghost tours have to do with tubercular architecture? Given the booming ghost tourism market, enterprising owners have transformed prisons, mental asylums, and yes, even tubercular sanatoria into morbid tourist destinations. A previous post of mine featured on the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation’s Southern Rambles blog highlighted this growing industry.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, located in Louisville, Kentucky, is perhaps the best known example of a former TB hospital opening its doors to the public for ghost tourism. Featured on a range of paranormal investigation shows and touted to be one of the most haunted places in America, the original two-story frame building known as Waverly Hills opened its doors as a TB hospital in 1910. A more substantial Gothic style sanatorium replaced the original building in 1926 and increased the patient capacity from 40-50 to 400 (according to the site’s history page). In 1961, Waverly Hills closed as a sanatorium and reopened a year later as a geriatric facility called WoodHaven Medical Services. WoodHaven occupied the space until 1981. After a string of owners, the former sanatorium was purchased by the Mattingly family in 2001. Today it functions as a tourist attraction with paranormal and historical tours as well as paranormal overnight investigations offered from March through August each year. A haunted house in October capitalizes on the market for ghost tourism and attracts a large number of attendees.

The website for Waverly Hills

The website for Waverly Hills

As one of the few TB sanatoria open to the public, Waverly Hills promotes itself largely as a haunted place rather than historic site. The website for Waverly Hills goes as far as to claim it’s “the most haunted place on Earth.” Ghost tours appeal to a wide range of folks who might never go on a historic tour; yet, there are inherent problems that come with relying too heavily upon the paranormal aspects of a former health facility. In order to weave ghostly tours, owners may sacrifice historical facts and research in favor of urban legend and local myth. Then there’s the issue of sensitivity toward the patients who suffered from tuberculosis and died in those spaces. While it may be easier for sites to cash in on macabre aspects of death, a more sensitive interpretation would highlight the consumptive patient experience and the TB treatment process within its contemporary medical context. Finally, some sites may purposely ignore preservation issues to maintain a more abandoned decrepit ambiance. The struggle to balance ghost tales with history is particularly pertinent to the historic preservation of tubercular sanatoria.

TB sanatoria occupy a conflicted place in American history. During the heyday of private sanatoria, it was believed that tuberculosis infected the actual physical fabric of houses. For that very reason, concerned residents often protested the construction of sanatoria in their communities despite the potential revenue it could bring to town. To erase the threat of disease, some communities burned down former tubercular boardinghouses to make way for new builds. As a TB sanatoria architectural historian and historic preservationist, I find the historic razing of TB sanatoria as well as their successful adaptive reuse in some cases to be fascinating. Razing erased many sanatoria from the built environment while adaptive reuse oftentimes sanitized the building’s tubercular past in order to deem these spaces safe for use. TB sanatoria and the early 20th century public health campaign to eradicate tuberculosis have largely been forgotten. PBS recently aired an American Experience special entitled The Forgotten Plague (available for online streaming) that touches on this little known chapter in American history.

While my work researching the history of Kentucky’s TB hospitals will culminate in a National Register MPS, I don’t foresee the hospitals opening for ghost tourism. A more sustainable and likely alternative would be the eventual development of a driving tour connecting the various TB historic sites and the erection of wayside interpretive signage documenting the tubercular past. Given the popularity of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail and Quilt Trails, it doesn’t seem a stretch to say that a TB Sanatoria Trail might one day happen.

The District Five TB Hospital of London, KY

"T.B. Hospital, London, Ky." Postcard

“T.B. Hospital, London, Ky.” Postcard

Although I originally intended to visit the former London TB hospital after my conference in Richmond, rain delayed my trip. This past Thursday I finally got the chance to drive the 100 miles to London, Kentucky to photograph the hospital.

In the 1945 Report on Sites for the Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission of Kentucky, architect Fred J. Hartstern investigated eight potential sites for the District 5 TB hospital. Of those sites, London was recommended as the best location for the new hospital. While London’s water supply was deemed “doubtful,” Hartstern noted that the local utilities company “agreed to increase the storage and provide chlorination if the sanatorium is located at London.” The original London site consisted of “22 acres at the junction of Highway 25 and 80 and one mile from London.” Located on the side of a substantial hill, the selected site was covered in woods.

1945 Report on Sites for the Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission of Kentucky

1945 Report on Sites for the Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission of Kentucky

Governor Simeon Willis placed the cornerstone at London on July 19, 1946. The London TB Hospital admitted its first patients on January 31, 1951, and it reached a capacity of 100 patients by May 1951. Applicants from District Four were also temporarily housed at the London TB Hospital and then transferred to the newly opened Ashland facility. Adverse weather delayed the formal dedication ceremonies, making London “the first of the new district hospitals to hold its dedication after admission of patients” (1950-1951 Annual Report of the State Tuberculosis Hospital Commission, 101).

Two years later, London TB Hospital’s maintenance department had made considerable improvements on the grounds of the facility. They expanded the lawn, planted fifteen red maple and gum trees, and constructed a storage space under the coal bin to function as a garage for the hospital truck (1952-1953 Annual Report of the State Tuberculosis Hospital Commission, 20).

The former London TB hospital building still sits on a well-maintained hilltop. The main hospital building is all that remains of the complex. Located adjacent to the state police office, the building has been repurposed as a state government office facility like its Madisonville counterpart. Nearly identical to Madisonville’s TB Hospital, the London building is in good condition.

This 2015 Google aerial view shows the London TB Hospital.

This 2015 Google aerial view shows the London TB Hospital.

On the day I visited, I talked with the building superintendent and got approval to photograph the building for my project. On learning that the building used to be a TB hospital, two employees returning from lunch joked that they hadn’t gotten TB yet. This discussion actually concerns a particular research interest of mine: how the stigma of tuberculosis attached to sanatoria impacts former consumptive spaces and what that means for heritage tourism, interpretation, and adaptive reuse.

London TB Hospital stands as a testament to the not so long ago period in healthcare when tuberculosis treatment institutionalized and public TB hospitals replaced private TB sanatoria. Although the building is an example of successful adaptive reuse, there are no wayside markers outside interpreting or commemorating its role as a TB hospital. The presence of a Cross of Lorraine (the symbol for the global fight against TB) flanking each side of the main entrance is the only exterior sign that it once served as a TB treatment facility.

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

London TB Hospital, October 8, 2015

From Tubercular Cure Porch to Cure-All: Sleeping Porches in the Early 20th Century

Fall signals the start of conference season each academic year. This past Friday I had the privilege to present at the 2015 Ohio Valley History Conference held on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY. As part of a panel entitled “Transient Housing of the South: Boardinghouses, Hotels, and Residence Halls”, I presented my research on sleeping porches in Asheville’s boardinghouses in the early 1900s.

“Transient Housing of the South” Panel, OVHC Conference, October 2, 2015

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Old Kentucky Home Boardinghouse, Sleeping Porch and Sun Parlor. Photo courtesy of author.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Old Kentucky Home Boardinghouse, Sleeping Porch and Sun Parlor. Photo courtesy of author.

My fascination with sleeping porches started during an internship at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, a boardinghouse in Asheville, North Carolina and the setting of Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. While I’m sure I encountered sleeping porches before then, the three sleeping porches at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial secured my architectural interest.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Old Kentucky Home Boardinghouse, Sleeping Porch Interior. Photo courtesy of author.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Old Kentucky Home Boardinghouse, Sleeping Porch Interior. Photo courtesy of author.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Old Kentucky Home Boardinghouse, Sleeping Porch Interior. Photo courtesy of author.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Old Kentucky Home Boardinghouse, Sleeping Porch Interior. Photo courtesy of author.

This past semester I had the opportunity to research sleeping porches for a material culture class. Browsing through old mail-order catalogs, I discovered advertisements for sleeping porch additions and a world of anti-tuberculosis consumer goods. Designed originally as tubercular cure porches, sleeping porches gradually acquired new meaning as architectural embodiments of the open-air movement and were incorporated into the design of American homes as early as the 1910s. Although the act of sleeping outside seemed like a novel idea for many Americans at the time, it had been a hallmark of the tubercular patient’s experience from decades. Advocating for the curative power of the environment and fresh air, tuberculosis specialists constructed sanatoria with large windows and sleeping porches.

In resort towns with TB sanatoria, enterprising residents tacked cure porches onto their homes to meet the demand of fresh-air seekers. These additions on boardinghouses created a distinctive cure-inspired architectural style seen in places such as Saranac Lake, New York and Asheville, North Carolina. Local craftsmanship ensured vernacular design, but sleeping porches shared common traits. An ideal location on the second or third floor kept patients from the dampness of the ground and benefitted from the perceived higher quality of air. Adjustable awnings, lattice work, and wire screens could be added to the basic framework. While the simplest porches cost $6 to $10, it was noted that “good verandas can be erected by carpenters for from $12.00 to $25.00, and protected, well-finished structures can be built for from $25.00 to $100.00.”[1] Second-floor sleeping porches were often added to existing first-floor verandas.

The 1923 House and Home, A Manual and Textbook of Practical House Planning commented on the inclusion of a sleeping porch:

The sleeping porch, which affords the benefits of sleeping in good, fresh air, and the comfort of a warm room to dress in, is in use in many parts of the country. Where the winters are severe, or where winds are high, sleeping porches should be enclosed with windows which may be closed on one or all sides as the weather necessitates.

Publications, such as Sleeping and Sitting in the Open Air (1917), emphasized the ease at which homeowners could attach sleeping porches:

“There is hardly a detached house in the small towns or cities of this country which has not some sort of porch that can be adapted to outdoor sleeping…But where privacy and comfort cannot be secured on an ordinary porch and where the various essentials which have been mentioned before are not obtainable, it may be desirable to build a sleeping porch. Almost any upstairs bed room window can be used as an entrance to a sleeping porch which can be attached to the dwelling house and taken down whenever it may be necessary. The expense of building such porches can be kept to a very low figure if it is so desired.”

Katherine Ott, in Fevered Lives: Tuberculosis in American Culture Since 1870, argues that the popular construction of sleeping porches “points to a relationship to home architecture different from our own”. The decision of homeowners to tack on sleeping porches represented a tangible effort to embrace a hygienic lifestyle. Without the hindrances of zoning laws and building codes, Americans could construct their own therapeutic space.[2] While Queen Anne style houses of the Victorian era had embraced eclectic designs, early twentieth-century construction companies accepted the need to blend sleeping porches into the overall architectural design of houses. For example, the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan advertised that “any colors of paints can be furnished for outside body and trim to correspond with balance of house”.[3]

The sleeping porch craze swept across the United States. For many Americans, building their own sleeping porch onto their existing home seemed a necessity. A 1917 article, “The Sleeping Porch Problem,” appeared in the popular magazine House Beautiful. Discussing the challenges of adding sleeping porches to new designs and existing houses, it noted:

“When one builds a country or suburban home of his own, the manner of present-day living makes him demand sleeping-porches as among the essentials of health and comfort. Nor will anyone deny their desirability in summer at least, whatever his views on year-round outdoor sleeping. Thus the owner, whose house was erected five or ten years ago, eventually discusses sleeping-porches with his architect, or oftener with his carpenter, either to save expense, or because he considers the matter too insignificant for an architect to undertake.”[4]

Inventors patented their own design ideas for fresh-air consumption, ranging from indoor bed tents with detailed window treatments to entire sleeping porches. Through public health pamphlets, model designs for sleeping porches were dispersed for personal use. In 1909, the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis published Some Plans and Suggestions for Housing Consumptives. In addition to plans for sanatoria and other housing types, the publication included an entire section on sleeping porches. Aimed at maximizing fresh air exposure and protecting families from tubercular patients, the sleeping porches illustrated in the guide could all be constructed easily and cheaply by a skilled carpenter.


Even companies devoted specifically to building houses found a way to capitalize on the market for sleeping porches. In the early 1900s, the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan developed and sold plans, specifications, and materials for houses. The Aladdin “Built in a Day” House Catalog, 1917 advertised two types of sleeping porch additions:

“To meet the popular demand for sleeping porches and sun rooms, arranged for screening in summer and sash in winter, we are offering in Additions Nos. 5 and 6 two very convenient and practical designs which have found especial favor with our customers.”[5]


Seemingly stigmatized as contaminated consumptive spaces, the sleeping porch lost enough of its cure porch association to become an element of mainstream American architecture. The popularization of mail-order sleeping porches demonstrated the widespread demand for sleeping porches. While these porches were likely to be tacked on to boardinghouses near sanatoria to maximize profit, most American homeowners attempted to blend the porch into their existing architectural scheme. The heyday of the sleeping porch faded with the advent of air conditioning and the effective drug treatment of tuberculosis. Yet, the sleeping porches dotting the American landscape hint at a period in American culture where climate, medical knowledge, and health-inspired architecture converged.

[1] The National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, Some Plans and Suggestions for Housing Consumptives, 1909, 84.

[2] Katherine Ott, Fevered Lives: Tuberculosis in American Culture Since 1870 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 91.

[3] The Aladdin Company, Aladdin “Built In A Day” House Catalog, 1917 (New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1995), 108.

[4] As cited in Thomas Durant Visser, Porches of North America (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2012), 67 – 68.

[5] The Aladdin Company, 108.