Archives Month: Sanitaria in Western North Carolina

Contributed by Ashley McGhee Whittle

By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, sanitaria had become a health craze and in the tourist destination of Asheville. The sanitaria became a mecca for those suffering from tuberculosis and other ailments. The basis for treatment during this time was climate, and Asheville’s climate had long been considered ideal by those who traveled to the Western North Carolina highlands. Indeed, for those who followed climatotherapy, Asheville was considered a premier destination for the treatment of various lung diseases.

postcard of Veranda View of Highland Hospital, Asheville
Veranda View, Highland Hospital, Asheville, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Asheville was generally considered a top health resort during this time, from the low-country elitists to the Cherokee Indians, and by the 1890s the city and surrounding areas were firmly engulfed in the building explosion of various sanitaria. The largest sanitaria in Asheville were St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Fairview Sanitorium. 

postcard of St. Joseph's Hospital, Asheville, NC
An airplane view of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Asheville, NC, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Even the tiny hamlet in the eastern part of Buncombe County has its own sanitarium - Dunnwhyce - a sanitarium for consumptive nurses that was championed by two local nurses, Birdie Dunn and Mary Whyce. Unfortunately, Dunnwhyce did not last, as World War I made it necessary for the United States Army to build a 1,500 bed sanitarium in Oteen to care for soldiers with lung ailments ranging from tuberculosis to exposure to poison gas on the battlefield. The building of this sanitarium effectively led to the declining maintenance and financial instability of the nearby Dunnwhyce, and the building was sold with proceeds invested into Liberty Bonds. 

postcard of US Veterans' Administration Facility at Oteen, NC
Night-time scene US Veterans’ Administration Facility, Oteen, NC, near Asheville, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The sanitaria movement in Western North Carolina would go on to cement Asheville’s status as both a celebrated health resort and acclaimed tourist destination across the globe. Today, all that remains of much of the area’s history on sanitaria is simply a memory. Fortunately, this memory remains a vibrant legacy at UNC Asheville’s Special Collections, the repository of the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. In this collection, there are several magnificent binders which house over 108 postcards depicting Asheville and Western North Carolina’s sanitaria. To see more about the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection please visit here. To see more about Asheville’s history of sanitaria please visit the UNC Asheville Special Collections blog here.

postcard of Meriwether Hospital, Ashveille, NC
Meriwether Hospital, Asheville, NC, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.
postcard of Wesnoca
Wesnoca, Asheville, NC “In the Land of the Sky,” from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.
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