The Jackson Sanatorium is a former resort and sanitorium in Dansville, New York that focused on recuperation through hydrotherapy and a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, and grains.


Planning for the Jackson Sanatorium near Dansville began in 1852 by Nathaniel Bingham. 5 Bingham, a believer in water-based cures, sought out a site near sulfur-rich springs 1 2 as he believed that the water possessed curative properties for kidney and bladder troubles. 5 The belief was widespread, having been popularised earlier in Germany.

Bingham partnered with Lyman Granger and the springs resort opened in 1853. 5 The resort consisted of a single three- and four-story wood-framed building.

Our Home on the Hillside

The sanatorium passed into the hands of Dr Abraham Pennell, who placed his son-in-law, Dr Stevens, in charge. 5 The hospital was not popular and closed shortly after. 5 12

Pennell recruited Dr James Caleb Jackson with the hopes that he would be able to find someone to purchase the property. 5 Jackson, who had earlier worked at Glen Haven in Watkins Glen and was a believer of water-based treatments, leased the sanatorium for a term of three years with an option of buying within that period.

The resort opened as Our Home on the Hillside 9 10 12 on October 1, 1858, taking in those with developmental disorders and people who were overworked or had nervous exhaustion. 4 By winter, additional land was acquired for a dozen cottages and for Liberty Hall, a recreation building. 5 12 Every building at the facility featured steam heat, tall ceilings, and tall windows to maximise light and air flow. 4

Dr. James Caleb Jackson

Dr James Caleb Jackson

Our Home on the Hillside focused on Jackson’s idea of recuperation through hydrotherapy, and a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, and grains. 1 2 Particularly, patients were supplied with unprocessed bran and graham flour supplements. 1 2 12 Referred to as granula by Jackson, it was flavourless and only made digestible by soaking it in water for 20 minutes. 12 Granula was the first dried breakfast cereal and proved to be quite popular not only at the resort but for sale in the market. 13

Dr John Kellogg, one of Jackson’s colleagues, created a biscuit made of whole grains, wheat, and cornmeal in 1887. 1 2 Jackson believed it infringed upon his copyright for granula as Kellogg had named his product Biscuit Granula. The case was settled, with Kellogg using the name Granola. 2

Kellogg relocated to Battle Creek, Michigan, eventually founding a health resort and Kellogg’s. 12

Jackson developed a companion product to granula — Somo. 12 The caffeine-less coffee was intended for guests who insisted on having coffee with their meals. Somo was the forerunner of Postum and other coffee substitutes.

By 1883, 60,00 pounds of granula was being shipped from Dansville. 12 It was often marketed as with the slogan “Eat Granula. Drink Somo.” Jackson eventually withdrew from the granula business, and a local baker took over operations until 1920 when granula was removed from the market.

Our Home Hygiene Institute

The sanatorium began to be used as a resort for the wealthy looking to be cured of numerous physical and mental ailments after the Civil War. 1 In 1872, the institution was called Our Home Hygenic Institute. 10 13 Not long after, an ageing Jackson turned over the facility to his son and daughter in law. 1 10

A fire started by an overturned oil lantern in a patient’s room destroyed the sanatorium on June 26, 1882. 5 There was no loss of life.

As Dr Jackson was practically retired, his son, Dr James H. Jackson, decided to rebuild on the ruins of the old building. 5 Warner & Brockett, of Rochester, was hired to design a five-story, 300-foot-long sanatorium. Frederick & Son, also of Rochester, was the lead contractor

The first brick of the new building was laid on October 1 5 and reopened on October 1, 1883 1 3 5 as The Sanatorium. 10 13 It was regarded as the first fireproof building built in the nation outside of a major city for a health institution. 5 The main building cost $180,000 to erect and featured thick load-bearing walls built of brick and ribbed cast-iron ceilings that were infilled with brick. Like before, each room featured tall ceilings and windows to maximise light and air flow.

The Sanatorium was the first institution of its type in the country to use the word “Sanatorium.” 5 The facility was renamed The Jackson Sanatorium in 1890, 13 and was renamed again in 1903 as The Jackson Health Resort, operated by James Jackson’s son, Dr James Arthur Jackson. 10 12 13

New Challenges

The dawn of the 20th century presented The Jackson Health Resort new challenges. The old water cures that were once heavily believed had slowly begun to fall out of fashion. 12

In July 1902, a training school for nurses was added. 5 Applicants to the school had to serve two months on probation, after which the superintendent and the governing board evaluated the moral and physical requirements. Classes were spread over two years and included general nursing, massage, administration of electricity, dispensing of drugs, urinalysis, blood examination, Swedish movements, hot air treatment, neurasthenia, surgical and obstetrical nursing, and practical courses in anatomy, physiology, and materia medica.

The first nurses graduated on October 17, 1904. 7

On March 24, 1914, The Jackson Health Resort filed for bankruptcy 6 but continued to operate by a creditors’ committee. 8 The resort was taken over by the U.S. government for use as a psychiatric hospital during World War I. 1 11 12

Control of the sanitorium passed to William E. Leffingwell of The Glen Springs in Watkins Glen on December 11, 1916. 8 Leffingwell operated The Jackson Health Resort as a private institution until 1919. 12 The health spa was then run by a variety of interests until Bernarr McFadden, a health and fitness entrepreneur, purchased the complex and reopened it as the 122-room Physical Culture Hotel in 1929. 1 3 12 The name was derived from his magazine, Physical Culture. The hotel flourished, with celebrities and the wealthy flocking to its many amenities, such as a swimming pool, sunbathing rooms, tennis courts, and social rooms.

After McFadden died in 1955, 3 19 the hotel passed into the hands of William Fromcheck who reopened the hotel as the Castle on the Hill. 1 3 9 10 It remained in use until 1971 when Fromcheck died. 9 10

Christians Concerned for Human Needs

In late October 1977, Henry E. Foote of Canton and William F. Dorne of Cortland announced plans to restore the disused Castle on the Hill. 10 13 The pair desired to operate The Dansville Institute – An Agriculture and Biblical Health Center, which would be administered by Christians Concerned for Human Needs (CCHN). 13 The non-profit would operate a hotel and health spa that would closely follow much of Jackson’s teachings. 10 It would allow for historical and modern representation of information, diet, therapy, and healing, with rooms dedicated to educational programs, seminars, workshops, and conventions. 9 10

The sale of Castle on the Hill to CCHN was finalised in February 1978. 9 13 CCHN planned to open the 104-foot-long dining room by the summer. 10

CCHN discovered a box within a crypt eight feet beneath the main entrance. 9 The non-profit invited the public to come to an unveiling event, to which about 300 people attended. Inside the box were damaged books and scrolls, including bound and unbound volumes of “The Laws of Life” by Jackson, copies of all of Jackson’s published books and pamphlets, photographs, and granula. 13 Several locks of hair, including a six-inch piece cut from Jackson’s beard at age 72, and a second portion taken 30 years before, was also in the box

Excess furnishings from the former Castle on the Hill were auctioned from October 14 to October 16 in 1979. 14 The furniture included a large golf leaf mantle mirror, beds, chests, tables, 7-inch marble slabs and miscellaneous items.

The Dansville Institute operated until at least 1981.

Peter Krog, owner of the Krog Corporation, purchased the abandoned hotel for $45,000 16 at a county tax auction in 2002. 15 Krog planned to restore the main building into a medical education facility, medical offices, an upscale day spa, and a museum and applied for a state grant to assist in the rehabilitation of the building.

On January 16, 2008, the New York State Restore Communities Initiative awarded $2.5 million towards the restoration of the the abandoned building. 15 No work was committed to the restoration of the former resort.