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Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives, Cass County

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State Sanatorium, Cass County

Postcard showing the construction of an early sanatorium building, c.1910.

Edgar Allen Poe's wife, Virginia, was singing at the piano when she coughed. Crimson droplets appeared on her lips, the first sign of tuberculosis, or consumption, as it was called. Her illness inspired "The Mask of the Red Death," a gothic tale whose protagonist refuses to recognize death's inevitability. Poe himself was devastated when Virginia died in January 1847.

A half-century later, tuberculosis was still a scourge. In Minnesota, more than 20,000 people died of the disease between 1887 and 1899. At the time, the only widely accepted treatment was fresh air and a healthy environment, which stimulated the body's immune system. The therapy did not always work but, lacking a suitable alternative, officials across the country erected sanatoriums to quarantine and treat patients.

In 1906, construction began for the Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives, or Ah-Gwah-Ching, about three miles south of Walker in Cass County. Overlooking Shingobee Bay on the south shore of Leech Lake, the hospital evolved into a massive complex of distinctive buildings exhibiting Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Spanish Colonial Revival styles.

The sanatorium adopted new procedures as they arose. Artificial pneumothorax, for example, involved collapsing a diseased lung, which inhibited growth of tubercule bacilli. Patients survived on one lung while the damaged one healed. Then, in the 1940s came antibiotics, which were so successful at killing the bacterium that tuberculosis was almost eradicated in America by the 1960s.

As cases plummeted, tuberculosis hospitals began closing. After serving nearly 14,000 patients, the Minnesota sanatorium was shuttered in 1962, eventually reopening as a nursing home. The facility was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

It closed in 2008, and the state divided the land, giving fifty acres to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for a wildlife management area, selling sixty acres to Cass County at a low price for its use, and offering the remainder for public sale. All buildings at the site, with the exception of a small gazebo, have been torn down, and the site has been made ready for future development.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Anderson, Rolf T. "Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives." National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, September 1996. State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Lundquist, Monica. "Ah-Gwah-Ching: Land ready and waiting for a developer." Brainerd Dispatch, November 10, 2010.
http://brainerddispatch.com/stories/111010/new_20101110041.shtml

Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Related Images

State Sanatorium, Cass County
State Sanatorium, Cass County
Cottage C, State Sanatorium, Walker
Cottage C, State Sanatorium, Walker
Superintendent's cottage, State Sanatorium, Walker
Superintendent's cottage, State Sanatorium, Walker
Group of patients, State Sanatorium
Group of patients, State Sanatorium
Children at State Sanatorium near Walker
Children at State Sanatorium near Walker
Children at State Sanatorium near Walker
Children at State Sanatorium near Walker
Main building from southwest, State Sanatorium near Walker
Main building from southwest, State Sanatorium near Walker

Turning Point

With the introduction of antibiotics in 1946, tuberculosis cases plummet, leading to the closure of the Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives in 1962.

Chronology

1887

More than 20,000 people die of tuberculosis in Minnesota over the next twelve years.

1906

Construction begins for the Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives, or Ah-Gwah-Ching, about three miles south of Walker in Cass County.

1962

The Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives closes after serving nearly 14,000 patients.

2001

The facility is added to the National Register of Historic Places.









  

Comments

Please update this entry. Cass County purchased the site, and all of the sanatorium buildings have been demolished. More information is in this article, "Ah-Gwah-Ching: Land ready and waiting for a developer," in the Brainerd Dispatch.
http://brainerddispatch.com/stories/111010/new_20101110041.shtml

Thank you, Mary. This entry has been updated.

I believe my mother stayed there in the 1920's - do you have records?

The Minnesota State Archives, housed at the History Center in St. Paul, has patient records for the Sanatorium for that time period.