The History of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

 The History of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

By: Lindsey Woods

            Every year, people go to haunted houses throughout the country.  Some places claim that they’re place is truly haunted, but do you believe them? If you do, then do you know what all happened in that place to make it really haunted?  Waverly Hills Sanatorium is an under known old hospital in Louisville, Kentucky that is actually haunted.  Most people, if they know about it at all, don’t know the true facts about it.  Throughout this I will tell you all about the History of Waverly as a Tuberculosis hospital, what Tuberculosis is and how it is different today than it was in the early 1900’s,what life at Waverly was like for both patients and the doctors and how Waverly was similar or differed from other Tuberculosis hospitals at the time.

According to, in 1833, Thomas H. Hayes bought the land for him and his family.  He needed a school for his daughters to go to so he built a one room school house and hired a woman named Lizzy Lee Harris to teach them.  Lizzy Lee Harris decided to name the school “Waverly School” because of her love for the Waverly novels.  Hayes liked the name she came up with so he named all of his land Waverly Hill.  When he sold his land to the Tuberculosis Hospital owners, they also liked the name because it sounded “peaceful”, so they decided to keep it.

The Hospital started being built in 1908 and was finished and ready to be opened by 1910.  Apparently at this time they did not anticipate having very many Tuberculosis patients because this was a small hospital that could only hold about 40 to 50 patients.  By 1926 Tuberculosis was such an epidemic (referred to as the White Plague) that the hospital was at some points over 100 people over capacity.  This was causing them to kick people out of the hospital or just being over populated and not being able to give all of the patients the attention they needed to recover.  This concern caused them to expand their hospital.  The new hospital was a two story building that could hold at least 400 people.

Waverly continued as a Tuberculosis hospital until 1961.  After antibiotics were created to heal these patients, the hospital was shut down.  The building was later renovated into Woodhaven Medical Services until 1980 when it was forced to close by the state.  This was the end of Waverly as a hospital.

So you might be wondering, what is Tuberculosis?  I had always heard of this disease, but never personally knew what it really was.  According to, Tuberculosis is a disease that mainly affects the lungs but can actually affect almost any part of your body.  In less common cases, Tuberculosis can also spread to almost any other organ in the body including your kidneys, the lining of your brain and your spinal cord.  This usually only happens if your immune system is very weak.  When you get Tuberculosis you can sometimes figure it out on your own by looking for certain symptoms.  Some of the signs that you have Tuberculosis are if you get a lung infection (pneumonia), if your lymph nodes will become very swollen, if you have a cough for a long period of time, if you have a very bad fever, or if you have been experiencing extreme weight loss. If you think you have the possibility of having Tuberculosis then you should see a doctor immediately to get tested since it is a very dangerous and deadly disease.

So how do you catch this disease?  Tuberculosis is an airborne disease so if you are around someone who has it, you have a chance of catching it.  If someone that has Tuberculosis coughs, sneezes, spits, or yells then you could possibly breathe the bacteria into your lungs.  This is why Tuberculosis became such an epidemic and why people with Tuberculosis had to be isolated in these sanatoriums away from the rest of society, because it was so easily spread.   There was also another way you could get Tuberculosis.  This was by drinking unpasteurized milk.  This milk caused many children and adults to end up with Tuberculosis back in the 1900’s. This was a less common way and not common at all today, but is how many children got this disease.

In the 1900’s there was no real medicine to cure Tuberculosis, which caused many of the patients to die.  At Waverly they tried their best to keep these victims alive and well but sometimes it was close to impossible.  They used many different methods to try to get the patients to recover, the main ones being keeping them in fresh air, exposed to sunlight, and on a good diet. The patients were put on bed rest out by windows that were only screened in like what is shown in the picture below.  This let fresh air in so that any germs or bacteria could go outside instead of staying in the hospital air and helped their bodies get rid of the disease.  The patients would sit by these windows no matter what the weather was like or how cold it was.  Electric blankets were created strictly for this purpose in asylums.

For people with worse cases of Tuberculosis, they sometimes had to resort to surgeries such as Pneumothorax and Thoracoplasty.  Thoracoplasty is a surgery which removes some of your rib cage, usually about 7 or 8 ribs. Most doctors would only remove about 2-3 ribs at a time for safety reasons, so these patients would have to go through surgeries multiple times.  Sometimes after doing this, they would have to cut off part of the lung if it was diseased.  This part was called the Lobectomy.  Pneumothorax was a treatment in which you deflated part of the lung so that it could heal itself and potentially close off any holes that were caused by the disease.  You also have to think about the fact that during this time, there was no way of numbing the patients or using anesthesia.  The patients were feeling everything during these surgeries and had to be in excruciating pain.  I personally don’t know if I would have rather gone
through the surgeries or just tried my best to make it through the terrible disease without it.

Another treatment used was called Heliotherapy.  This is when you give the patients natural ultraviolet treatment from the sun.  Patients would sit outside, usually on the roof, in the sunlight for hours.  If outside long enough, it could kill some of the bacteria that causes the disease.  If it was not sunny outside or too cold, then they could use sunlamps in replacement. The sunlamps would basically be like standing by today’s tanning beds for hours as treatment.  Many times they would use this treatment for children which seemed to help them along with the adults in this treatment get better.

Today, treatments for Tuberculosis are much different than they were back then.  Obviously back then they didn’t have actual medicine to treat the patients with.  Really, their only hope was to try to get the bacteria out of your body or go through the painful surgeries, which was why so many people died from this.  Today, there are actual treatments to give people who acquire this disease so that they can recover and still end up living a normal life.  Even though we do have medicines, that doesn’t mean that this disease is not something to worry about.  This is still one of the top killing diseases in the world and according to, “Each year, nearly nine million people worldwide contract the illness; two million die from it”.  Some of these medicines to treat Tuberculosis patients include Ethambutol, rifampican, and isoniazid.  Before getting these treatments, people have to go through certain procedures to try to find out which medicine would work best for them and hopefully make it easiest for them to get cured.

According to Treatment of Tuberculosis Guidelines Fourth Edition, when you find out you get Tuberculosis you need to do a couple things.  One thing is to first get tested for HIV.  If there is any chance that you could possibly have Tuberculosis, then it is highly recommended for you to get tested for HIV.  If you do have HIV then it can change the way you get treated and what all you need to do to make sure your treatment works right.  If your HIV test comes back positive, then you need to have a drug susceptibility test. All patients can get this, but it is always recommended for patients that also have HIV.  This is because if you have HIV then you cannot have the same treatments as people that do not have HIV. Most people that are HIV positive are on a treatment called co-trimoxazole. Another thing a lot of new Tuberculosis patients need to do is to take an Isoniazid susceptibility test.  A lot of patients are susceptible to this drug so it is important for doctors to know if you are before they start you on a treatment so that you can get better instead of worse.

When going through treatments, which are usually six to eight month time periods, new patients can usually, only handle treatment once a week.  Just like with any other disease, these treatments can be hard on your body and it takes a while for you to adapt to it.  Later on in your treatment you will be able to handle sometimes 3 treatments a week.  This is sometimes necessary to make sure you get the proper care.  For the people with HIV, their treatments make it necessary for them to have daily treatments and are an extreme challenge.  The people with Tuberculosis and HIV have a much higher rate of not surviving through the treatment.  Also during your Tuberculosis treatments, it is very important that you are very closely monitored at all times.  In fact, in The Treatment of Tuberculosis Guidelines Fourth Edition, patients in treatment are required to have a treatment supporter to take care of the patients needs at all times. If the patients are not watched carefully enough throughout their treatment then they can easily relapse after treatment.  If you do relapse then you are usually sent to have an eight month treatment regimen.  Obviously most people are going to try their best and hope that their treatment will work the first time so they do not have to go through it again for an eight month time period.

These doctors, nurses, and patients all go through strenuous activities to get the patients healthy again.  With the medicines we have today, Tuberculosis would have been a lot less common due to the easy treatments.  But along with that, if they had all of these treatments then a lot of the lives would have been saved so would their still be “ghosts” in Waverly Hills today?

At Waverly, not only did the patients live in these sanatoriums, but the doctors and nurses did too.  Many people say that the doctors mistreated the patients in Waverly but from my research, I have a hard time believing that that is true.  These doctors had to be extremely dedicated to their jobs to work here.  They lived in dorms on the land of the sanatorium and could not leave for months at a time.  This means that they could not see any of their friends or family for all that time because of their jobs.  Not to mention the fact that they are risking their lives by being around and taking care of these deathly sick patients every day.  Since this disease is airborne, the doctors and nurses could easily catch the disease and need to become patients themselves.  Below is a picture of some of the staff that worked and lived at Waverly.

Other hospitals in the early 1900’s were similar to Waverly as a hospital.  There was one Tuberculosis hospital still standing in Indiana called The Boehne Hospital.  This was also a hospital that treated Tuberculosis patients in many similar ways that Waverly did.  “The main way these hospitals helped to cure people was to let them relax and breathe fresh country air” (Bohene Camp).  This was very similar to the treatment at Waverly to keep the patients in fresh air as much as possible to try to eliminate the bacteria from their bodies. What I found out that was interesting was that this hospital did not always have very much money because John Boehne, the creator of this hospital was basically paying for it on his own.  At the beginning, it was known as Boehne camp and was actually a tent colony.  I think that this really shows the dedication of all of the people working for this hospital/camp since they were willing to live in tents outside to take care of all of the sick patients dying of Tuberculosis.  Eventually they got enough money to build a hospital, but still stuck to the technique of fresh air for the removal of bacteria.  Another similarity that the Boehne Hospital had with Waverly was the fact that they did similar surgeries.  Although I have not seen anything about the Boehne Hospital performing Pneumothorax, according to, doctors did perform treatments surgeries such as Thoracoplasty and Lobectomy’s. Also like Waverly, after antibiotics for Tuberculosis were created, the hospital closed in 1967.  Although there were some differences in the two hospitals, there were also many similarities.  This shows that all of the Tuberculosis hospitals at the time saw how much of an epidemic and danger Tuberculosis was and how dedicated to helping these patients they were.  Without hospitals like the Boehne hospital and Waverly Hills, Tuberculosis would have ended many more lives.

Waverly overall was a hospital that took care of the thousands of people who had tuberculosis throughout the 1900’s.  Many of these patients died due to lack of good medicines to treat them with but the doctors and other workers of Waverly did their best to take care of these patients and get them healthy to their best ability.  Many people say that due to all of these deaths, that Waverly really is haunted and filled with ghosts of patients and even some nurses.  Is this really true?  I guess that is up to your own personal opinions and beliefs but I think that there were definitely enough deaths in this building to make it a possibility.

Works Cited

“Boehne Camp.” Recreational Trespasser. William Archives Library, 2010. Web. 26 November                2011.

Furber Consultancy. TB & Me. Medicines Sans Frontieres, 2011. Web. 08 November 2011.

Mattingly, Charlie and Tina. “History.” The Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Waverly Hills Historical                Society, 2010. Web. 08 November 2011.

Mattingly, Charlie and Tina. “Restoration.” The Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Waverly Hills                          Historical Society, 2010. Web. 08 November 2011. millerandstaff. 1930’s. vitamindbysuntreatment. 1930’s.

“Treatments for TB Patients”. Official Waverly Hills Sanatorium/ Woodhaven Geriatric Center      Memorial and Historical Research. Waverly Hills Memorial & Historical Research            Group, 05 September 2011. Web. 01 November 2011.

Treatment of Tuberculosis Guidelines Fourth Edition. Geneva: World Health Organization,           2010. Print.

“Tuberculosis.” Doctors Without Borders. MSF-USA Association, 2011. Web. 25 November        2011. Sunshine in bed. 1930’s. Waverly Hills. 1930’s.


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