Archival Research & Sanitarium Planning

Five words to summarize the third and fourth weeks of my residency: research, research, and more research. Seeing as my major residency project is a multiple property submission (MPS) on Kentucky’s tubercular sanitaria (sanatoria), it is no surprise that I’ve delved into research these past two weeks.

Back at the KDLA Archives Research Room, I consulted with staff and discovered a trove of records from Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health Services. Two boxes contained administrative files from the Division of Tuberculosis.

The opening of the Madisonville Tuberculosis Sanatorium captured local media attention.

The opening of the Madisonville Tuberculosis Sanatorium captured local media attention.

Inside these boxes, I found maps for proposed TB sanitarium districts, invitations to the cornerstone laying ceremonies at each TB state hospital, contracts with the sanitaria architects, documents on the building programs and equipment purchases, and newspapers announcing the construction/opening of the mid-century TB state hospitals in each district. All in all, these Division of Tuberculosis records offer a rich collection of primary sources detailing the construction of sanitarium sites in Kentucky.

The staff in the Archives Research Room have been extremely helpful in locating tuberculosis-related records and copying the dozens of pages I’ve requested in my visits thus far. In addition, the Kentucky government information and law specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Helm-Cravens Library scanned and sent me a 1945 report entitled Report on Sites for the Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission of Kentucky.

Architect Fred J. Hartstern's Report on Sites for the Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission of Kentucky (1945)

Architect Fred J. Hartstern’s Report on Sites for the Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission of Kentucky (1945)

Compiled by architect Fred J. Hartstern, the document presents survey information for sites in each tuberculosis district and recommends the best sites for tuberculosis hospitals. As the excerpt below shows, each site was evaluated based on factors including accessibility, transportation, elevation, and water supply.

Site Information for Madisonville, Kentucky

Site Information for Madisonville, Kentucky

The criteria used by Hartstern adheres to sanitarium planning set forth by the National Tuberculosis Association in 1921. As state-run sanatoria for the public gained credence, sanitarium design became more standardized by the 1920s. The design of institutional sanatoria relied on and emphasized the importance of climatic and natural conditions. T. B. Kidner of the National Tuberculosis Association outlined the principal factors of tuberculosis sanitarium landscape planning:

  • accessibility; transportation facilities and distance from a center of population
  • the topographical features
  • the exposure (orientation) and shelter from prevailing disagreeable winds
  • the climatic conditions
  • soil and drainage facilities[i]

Long considered a disease of the environment, tuberculosis treatment through the mid-twentieth century reinforced the therapeutic significance of the landscape. It’s interesting to note how ideas about sanitarium planning continued to impact site selection decades later. I hope to gain a better understanding of how the environment informed state sanitarium design in Kentucky as I embark on fieldwork this semester. With the first month of my residency complete, I’m currently planning upcoming research and fieldwork trips to Lexington and Louisville. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and allow me to have get in some on-site fieldwork at sanitarium locations before the end of September.

[i] “Notes on Tuberculosis Sanatorium Planning,” Public Health Reports (1896-1970) 36, no. 24 (June 17, 1921): 1371.

A Visit to the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives

I’m just wrapping up another productive week of my residency at the Kentucky Heritage Council. While my first week was very much an orientation period, I’ve now managed to delve right into the research for the MPS I’m preparing on Kentucky’s tubercular sanitaria. Known as the Capital City, Frankfort is home to the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA). Living in Frankfort means I’m just ten minutes away from the archives that houses state publications and records. Tucked into the hillside, the KDLA building overlooks the downtown below and offers a scenic view. I failed to capture the view in a photograph, but at least you can admire this snapshot of the massive KDLA building!


Located at 300 Coffee Tree Road (not next door to the Kentucky Coffeetree Café as I initially hoped), the KDLA’s archives research room boasts a large collection of city, county, and state public records. On the day I visited, the handful of users in the research room seemed to be conducting genealogical research. Although none eclipsed my experience meeting a Who Do You Think You Are professional genealogist at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, their animated conversations on locating family connections captured my attention quite a few times!

Once inside the research area, a staff member assisted me in locating the State Tuberculosis Commission records which were happily not located on microfilm. These records included the First Biennial Report of the Kentucky Tuberculosis Commission from 1914 [see photographs below] and annual reports from the 1950s through 1970s. Browsing through these reports revealed a few major points:

  1. Interest for state tuberculosis hospitals was present as early as 1912.
  2. The Kentucky Tuberculosis Commission created a railroad car exhibit that traveled the countryside to bring awareness on TB and gather support for state-funded sanitaria.
  3. A moving picture show was used in rural communities not connected by railway.
  4. While five TB hospitals were constructed in the late 1940s, the existing Hazelwood Sanatorium in Louisville served as the sixth state TB hospital.

photo 1(2)photo 3(1)

The fragile nature of the archival materials required all photocopies to be made by staff members. The research room sometimes limits patrons to 25 copies with the rest to be mailed within two to four weeks, but I lucked out that it was a slow day and managed to get 100 pages copied from the reports through 1959. These reports provide insights into the daily operations and maintenance of facilities at all six hospitals. The sections detailing space use and landscaping shed light on how environment informed sanitaria design and function. While another research visit is already in the works for next week, I plan to spend the next day or so reading through the treasures I uncovered in my first KDLA trip.

Settling into a New Place: Week One of My Residency

Greetings from Frankfort, Kentucky! For those of you unfamiliar with Frankfort, it’s one of the smallest capital cities in the United States and situated in central Kentucky close to Louisville and Lexington. The quaint downtown area features a hodgepodge of government offices, historic commercial buildings, and pedestrian-friendly streets. While downtown is bustling by Frankfort standards during business days, it quietens down in the evening and on weekends. The downtown offers several activities for visitors: taking in a show at the Grand Theater, an Art Deco style movie house, grabbing a slice at Buddy’s Pizza, browsing the shelves of Poor Richard’s Bookstore, and lounging with a cup of coffee (or an iced dirty chai in my case) at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café. The presence of the Kentucky River, railroad tracks, and a trolley route (not electric sadly) winding through the area provide visual transportation anchors to the revitalized historic landscape of downtown Frankfort.

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So what brings me to Frankfort? I’m in year three of a PhD program in public history at Middle Tennessee State University. The basic arc of this four-year program entails two years of coursework (check!), qualifying exams and oral defense (check!), a two-semester residency at a public history-related organization (in progress), and a dissertation writing year (yikes, it’s almost that time!). For my residency year, I’m working at the Kentucky Heritage Council (KHC), the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), on a Multiple Property Submission (MPS) for the National Register (NR) program. Under the guidance of the National Register program state coordinator, I will spend the next year conducting research and fieldwork on the tubercular sanitaria in Kentucky.

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My first week at the KHC has been a time of introductions and orientation. On my first day, I met some of the nearly two dozen staff members working at the KHC building in downtown Frankfort. Then I settled in my new office on the third floor. It’s great to have a quiet space to work, although it is taking some time to get accustomed to the low ceilings!

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Over the course of this week, I’ve done background reading to prepare for my project. My supervisor provided me with three National Register Bulletins:  How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, How to Complete the National Register Registration Form, and National Register Bulletin – How to Complete the National Register Multiple Property Documentation Form. I’ve also been reviewing some sample NRs on related properties, particularly the MPS on Kentucky’s VA Hospitals.

Although the majority of my time will be spent working on my MPS project, I’ve been invited to sit on two standing meetings when my schedule permits. One weekly meeting called Thursday Review consists of the KHC staff architects in site development presenting on tax incentive building proposals and allowing other staff members to discuss problems/solutions. The other meeting, occurring biweekly, is led by the Certified Local Government (CLG) state coordinator and deals with aspects of that program. A spider bite incident prevented me from attending the CLG meeting, but I had the opportunity to attend the Thursday review meeting. One of the projects in review even featured a barebones sleeping porch set to be finished with windows!

It’s been a long week, but I’m excited with the direction my residency is going. I feel it’s going to be a great year and this blog will capture some of my experiences over the next academic year. On to Week Two!