I remember as a child, a road trip through Glencliff New Hampshire, with my parents, on our way to the White Mountains. We weren’t on one of the major highways, of course. My father preferred taking short-cuts (which were really scenic long-cuts) whenever possible. He pointed out a building to us, stating that his sister had been a patient there, when it was the New Hampshire State Sanitorium. She had died of tuberculosis as a young woman.
Nicknamed “The San,” by local residents, the New Hampshire State Sanitorium construction was approved in 1901 by the state legislature. That same year New Hampshire’s annual death rate from tuberculosis was 194 per 100,000 people, and it was the most common cause of death for people between the ages of 20 and 40.
It was created at the recommendation of a 1901 NH legislature-authorized commission made up of Dr. Ezra Mitchell of Lancaster, Dr. Nathaniel G. Brooks of Charlestown and Dr. Irving A. Watson of Concord, who was also secretary of the board of health. They presented their recommendations in 1902. Five years later this “Sanatorium for Consumptives,” was established by the New Hampshire legislature in 1907, built on 411 acres of land on the southern slope of Mount Moosilauke, and opened in 1909. It consisted of two wards, one for men and one for women. In 1912 the building was enlarged and a service building added to the facility. In 1913 and 1914 a barn, a piggery, refrigerating plant, coal pocket and shack were added. At that time the NH State Sanatorium had a capacity of sixty-four patients. Superintendents of the sanitarium included: P. Challis Bartlett of Rutland MA (1909-10), John E. Runnels of Lakeville MA (1910-1912) and John M. Wise of Rutland MA (in 1912).
The sanatorium was located here, based on the belief that continued exposure to fresh cold air, and rest, was essential to recovery from tuberculosis (aka T.B.). Patients at Glencliff slept year-round on open-air porches. More than 4,000 people were treated there up until it closed. Most of the patients came from major cities in southern New Hampshire. Any resident of the state having active tuberculosis were considered for admission, regardless of their ability to pay. Children under the age of 14 with tuberculosis were treated instead at the Pembroke Sanitarium.
In 1970, the Glencliff Sanatorium was converted into the Glencliff Home for the Elderly. Today Glencliff Home for the Elderly is a 106-bed nursing home facility that provides care for mentally ill or developmentally disabled elderly adults. GHE is part of the community mental health centers to provide nursing home level care for NH’s elderly in need of specialized psychiatric care.
For those of you researching the records of this location, the New Hampshire State Library has annual reports for the state sanatorium in Glencliff for 1908 to 1947, as well as annual reports for the Pembroke Sanatorium for 1912 and 1914, and a booklet from the White Mountain Tuberculosis Sanatorium. (These records do not include names.)
A bit of Tuberculosis Trivia…
–Tuberculosis bacteria are airborne and stay in the air four hours after a TB-infected person leaves the room.
—The American Lung Association of New Hampshire, is the state’s oldest nonprofit voluntary health agency. It was established in 1916 as the New Hampshire Tuberculosis Association, to help prevent the spread of that disease. As antibiotics were invented to bring the spread of tuberculosis under control, this agency evolved into the association we know today, and focusing on lung disease prevention and advocacy.
–Tuberculosis has not been completely eradicated. In New Hampshire the annual incidence of tuberculosis in New Hampshire, although small, is 1.6 people per 100,000 population. Most diagnosed cases will recover after six months of treatment with antibiotics. A total of 14,093 TB cases were reported in the United States in 2005, down from 14,516 cases in 2004. The 2005 national TB case rate – 4.8 cases per 100,000 persons – was the lowest since reporting began in 1953. However, the decline of 3.8 percent in the national TB case rate from 2004 to 2005 was one of the smallest declines in more than a decade.
–Is the possibility of a virtually un-treatable TB on the horizon? An extremely virulent, drug-resistant (therefore lethal) form of tuberculosis has been identified. It killed 52 out of 53 people at a hospital in KawZulu-Natal in South Africa. Called XDR Tb, there are 347 cases worldwide, including some in the United States. Life expectancy is 16 days to a month after infection.
P.S. Please note the word sanitorium is sometimes spelled sanatorium. Both spellings are considered correct.