The History of the State Tuberculosis Sanatoriums in Kentucky

Ashland Tuberculosis Hospital

The American Lung Association was formed in 1904 in response to the epidemic of tuberculosis, a serious infectious bacterial disease that was the leading cause of death in the United States. Commonly referred to as consumption, tuberculosis was characterized by fatigue, sweats, and general wasting of the patient. There was no reliable treatment for the disease. Some doctors prescribed bleeding and purgings while others advised their patients to rest and exercise.

Very few recovered and about 450 Americans died of tuberculosis each day.

Typically, tuberculosis sanatoriums were privately operated or locally controlled facilities. For Kentucky, Louisville was the only city to take on such a task after they established a tax, levied by the city and county, which enabled the construction of Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatarium in 1909-11. It was followed by Hazelwood Sanatorium, also in Louisville, and Jackson Hill Sanatorium in Paducah. Provisions were also made for tubercular inmates at the Eddyville Penitentiary and the Western State Asylum for the Insane.

All of those facilities were designed for incipient cases and those who had a more advanced case of tuberculosis had to seek medical attention in other states if they could afford it. Furthermore, the state institutions could house less than 100 patients altogether.

In 1912, the General Assembly of Kentucky established the State Tuberculosis Commission that authorized the construction of specific hospitals for the care and treatment of people affected with tuberculosis. It wasn’t until 1944 when the General Assembly created the State Tuberculosis Hospital Commission and six districts, each to be served by a tuberculosis sanatorium.

The Commission employed the architects of Gillig-Hartstern and Wilson out of Lexington and Louisville, aided by the engineering firm of Warren & Ronald, to draw up the plans for the construction of five hospitals. The designs were completed by December 1945 and construction began on the complexes in 1946. By the end of 1948, the majority of the buildings had been completed with the exception of the Ashland (district four) facility because of a lack of water pressure, delaying its opening until May 1951.

The state had other plans for the sanatoriums following the tuberculosis epidemic. It was generally agreed that the buildings under construction would later be turned over to the counties for use as district state hospitals or as general charity hospitals.

When the sanatoriums first opened, fresh air, bed rest, and other therapeutics were first prescribed but these cures were found to be completely ineffective. It wasn’t until the development of the drug streptomycin in the 1950s that led to a dramatic decline of tuberculosis rates and deaths in the United States, eventually leading to the closure of the hospitals in the 1970s.

Today, the Ashland Tuberculosis Hospital has been converted to serve as permanent and supportive housing for women and children who were victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault while the London and Madisonville facilities were reused as state offices. The Glasgow Sanatorium continued to be used as a health care facility while the Paris hospital was converted into a nursing home and later torn down.

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