Happy Labor Day!
One year ago today, I made my very first post on Bricks + Mortar! When I started this project, I really didn’t expect anyone to read it, not even my mom! So I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you – from first time readers to those who have been with me from the beginning – Bricks + Mortar has been immeasurably rewarding, and it’s all because of you! Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to stop by here, click the like button and leave a comment!
In celebration, here are your Top Ten Favorite Bricks + Mortar posts to date! Don’t see your favorite? Is there a topic you’ve been dying for Bricks + Mortar to cover? Let me know in the comments!
7. Ruin Porn
Liberty Hall in Frankfort, Kentucky has been the home to two U.S. Senators, one vice-presidential candidate, one Governor of Missouri, one Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, one Ambassador to France, one U.S. District Attorney, three U.S. Army colonels, two doctors, one newspaper editor, and it is the ancestral home of beloved children’s author Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon (who sometimes published under the nom de plume, Kaintuck Brown!). It is also US National Historic Landmark.
Like Liberty Hall on Facebook to keep up to date with its restoration, see historic photos of the house and its grounds, and to read timely snippets of letters written by those who lived in the house, like this one posted in June, “‘Our June apples are now in perfection…’ Margaretta Brown wrote to her son Orlando Brown in 1819. While Orlando was away at college at Princeton University, Margaretta wrote him often with news from home. Orlando was fond of apples, and while our June apples are not in perfection, the tree on our site is currently bearing fruit!” In another recent post, Margaretta’s letter referenced the excessive July heat 200 years ago! Little nuggets like these serve as a great reminder of how places connect us to our history, don’t you think?
Last night media outlets competed for viewership by illustrating election results in new and appealing ways. There were running tickers, fancy graphics and maps. Every station pulled out all the stops, bells and whistles, but my favorite was CNN who partnered with the Empire State Building to display the electoral tally in the NYC skyline.
The 102 story skyscraper has been a Manhattan landmark for 81 years. Completed in 1931, it was the first building to have more than 100 floors and was the tallest skyscraper in the world until 1972 when it was surpassed in height by the World Trade Center. After 9/11 it was New York’s tallest building until the World Trade Center 1 building’s recent construction. Unlike most NYC skyscrapers, all four sides of the Empire State Building can be seen from the street making it a suburb choice for displaying the election results.
The top 16 floors of the building are tiered or stepped, a shape typical of Art Deco architecture. Its distinctive Art Deco spire was originally designed as a mooring mast and depot for dirigibles. Don’t know what a dirigible is? Neither did I! Dirigibles are airships – as in Zepplins and blimps! The 102nd floor was intended to be used as a landing platform and gangplank for airships to dock. This plan proved to be unsafe and was quickly abandoned. A large broadcast tower was added to the top of the spire in 1953.
For the election, the stepped portion of the building was patriotically lit in red, white, and blue LED lights. The mast was turned into a vertical meter – two sides lit with red lights, two sides lit with blue – to show Romney and Obama’s race to 270 electoral votes.
While this is the first time in its history that the building has been used as a meter, it is not its first brush with presidential history. The building officially opened on May 1, 1931 when President Herbert Hoover turned on the building’s lights by pushing a button in Washington, DC. The following year, tower lights were used atop the building for the first time to signal the victory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt over Hoover.
With Halloween just one week away, I’ve had the spooky and ghoulish on my mind. Ghost stories and historic places seem to go hand in hand, but when I think of creepy places, the Waverly Hills TB Sanitarium in Louisville, Kentucky is always number one on my list! Allegedly, it is one of the most haunted places in the United States.
The Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanitarium is situated on the top of a secluded wooded hill off of Dixie Highway. It operated as a tuberculosis hospital for fifty years before medical advancements rendered it obsolete. It then operated as a geriatric facility before being closed by the state in the early 1980s. Historically speaking, the sanitarium is an excellent example of the work of three prominent Revivalist architects in Louisville and improvements in public health. But it is (in)famous because it is supposedly brimming with paranormal activity and is open to the public for ghost tours and the like.
In 1907, Kentucky and Tennessee had higher mortality rates from tuberculosis than any other state. Citizens implored the local and state governments to build a hospital to properly treat and cure patients affected by Tuberculosis away from the general public. It was believed that the treatment of tuberculosis patients at the City Hospital resulted in the spread of the disease to patients admitted for other ailments.
The site for the sanitarium was chosen by the Board of Tuberculosis Hospital for its isolation and convenience. It was located six miles from town directly on 18th Street and the Illinois Central Railroad, with steam and electric line stations immediately adjoining the property.
In 1909 construction began using funds raised by taxes levied by the city and county. The first building was a Tudor style two-story frame building, with a hipped roof and half-timbering designed by J.J. Gaffney. It could safely accommodate 40-50 patients and opened in 1910.
By the early 1920s, the building proved to be inadequate for the number of patients seen by the sanitarium. In 1922, Arthur Loomis was chosen to design new buildings and in 1924 the firm of D.X. Murphy and Bro. was selected to assist in their design and construction. In 1926, the main building was opened. It is a four-story brick and stone collegiate Gothic building with a curved plan and a square tower above the entrance. There is a three-bay Gothic-arched entrance porch. About two years later, a two and one-half story brick structure with half-timber work was completed near the main building. By this time, the facility could accommodate 400-500 patients from infants to adults. Playground equipment, a library, and school curriculum were implemented to accommodate the younger patients. Beginning in the 1920s, African Americans were treated at Waverly in a separate wing. Dr. Jesse Bell was one of the first African American physicians to work at the hospital. He would go on to be the first African American to serve on the University of Louisville Board of Overseers in 1965.
Waverly Hills was nationally recognized for its treatment of tuberculosis. The Waverly Hills complex was self-sufficient. Doctors and nurses and their families lived on the premises. There were facilities for Catholic and Protestant services. And a farm and grocery for the patients were also located on site. It was featured in the film On the Firing Line which documented advancements in tuberculosis treatments. Fresh air, bed rest, good nutrition, heliotherapy and sunlamps, pneumothorax and thoracoplasty were central to Waverly’s tuberculosis treatment plan, as was the upkeep of morale. The sanitarium offered occupational therapy (including basket weaving and typing classes). And radio receptacles were provided between each set of solarium doors, installed by William J.Jordan who operated local radio station 9LK. Patients plugged in headphones to listen to their favorite stations at these receptacles .
One of the sanitariums most notable features is the 500 foot long concrete tunnel that runs from the main building to the bottom of the hill. Built in 1926 when the main building was constructed, the tunnel was intended as safe way for staff to enter and exit the facility without having to climb the steep hill and as a convenient way to transport supplies to the facility. One side of the tunnel had stairs, the other side had a rail and motorized cart which moved materials to and from the building. At the height of the TB epidemic, the tunnel was used to discreetly remove bodies from the facility. It was believed that if living patients saw the removal of the bodies it would be demoralizing and lead to more deaths. The number of bodies that moved through the tunnel is often inflated.
By 1961, the drug streptomycin lessened the public health threat of tuberculosis and the Waverly Hills facility was closed. The Kentucky Geriatrics Foundation leased the Waverly Hills site in 1962 to house an elder care facility, Woodhaven Medical Services. Renovations were undertaken at the time by Luckett and Farley, Inc. Architects. Woodhaven was closed by the state in 1980. A golf course and county park were developed on part of the Waverly Hills property. Remaining property was been parceled and sold to developers .
Today, Waverly Hills is a South End tourist attraction that has garnered national and international attention. Each year, the remaining buildings are transformed into a haunted house and tours of the facility can be scheduled through Waverly Hills Historical Society Inc. Most tourists are drawn to the site because it is reported to be one of the most haunted placed in America. Along with tours, ghost hunts are available through the historical society. The facility has been featured on Most Haunted, Celebrity Paranormal Project, The Simpsons, Ghost Adventures, and a 2006 Australian documentary, Spooked: The Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanatorium, as well as other television programs and movies. Profits generated by the haunted house, ghost and historical tours, and filming permits go toward the renovation of the deteriorating facility.
An adaptive reuse plan was developed to convert the former hospital into a four star hotel at a cost of $18 million. At this time, it unclear if those plans will go forward.
The Waverly Hills Sanitarium is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
* All images via the University of Louisville Digital Collection unless otherwise noted.
** For ghost stories and ghoulish tales set at the sanitarium and more photos, check out ermaktravel.com
***This post was adapted from a technical report I prepared as an intern. The bibliography for the report follows (just in case you want to do some further reading – the place is really fascinating, I swear!)
Kleber, John E.
2011 The Encyclopedia of Louisville. University of Kentucky Press, Lexington.
1992 The Encyclopedia of Louisville. University of Kentucky Press, Lexington.
National Register of Historic Places Forms
1979 Waverly Hills Tuberculosis. Frankfort, Kentucky.
The Board of Tuberculosis Hospital
1907 Letter on file, Filson Historical Society, Louisville.
The Waverly Hill Historical Society
2011 The Waverly Hills Sanitarium, http://www.therealwaverlyhills.com/