Tuberculosis, frequently referred to as “consumption” in historical documents, was arguably the most serious endemic disease and health concern of the 19th and early 20th centuries. With no “cure” to come until 1946, those afflicted with TB were prescribed rest and fresh air as a treatment, and sanatoriums like San Haven were constructed to meet the need.
Susan (Thingvold) Sande of Kalispell, Montana contributed these photos of San Haven in the tuberculosis era. The photos were taken by her aunt, Nora Thingvold, in the 1930s.
In part one, Mary, a former patient at San Haven Sanatorium, detailed her arrival at San Haven and the circumstances that led to her spending five months in the facility in 1963. Eventually this ten-year-old from Carrington settled into her time at this massive hospital and learned how to keep herself safe.
This website is a constant reminder of how things change over time, those reminders frequently coming in the form of a photograph that shows a crumbling structure, a little less stout than when we last photographed it. Sometimes though, the reminders come in the form of a story, an email from a visitor. In this case, we received an email from a former ten-year-old patient at San Haven Sanatorium and we’re reminded that sometimes it’s a change in our culture which leads to abandonment.
I found this postcard in a box at an antique store. It’s a postcard of San Haven Sanatorium in 1940. I was impressed that this postcard shows an overview of the grounds including the beautiful gardens and water feature which are now completely dry and overgrown.
This postcard was sent by someone named Olga, who must have been visiting a patient named Hilda, to Mrs. Harold Wendt in Columbia, Wisconsin on February 19th, 1940. It reads:
How are you all? Seems like I’ve been gone a month. We’ve seen so many people we hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. Hilda is so much better. Doesn’t look as though she had gone through an operation. I’ll be home soon. Olga
San Haven Sanatorium is a former tuberculosis sanatorium in the foothills of the Turtle Mountains, a few minutes north of Dunseith. Thousands of TB patients received treatment here between 1909 and the end of the TB endemic in the 1940’s. Prior to the advent of antibiotics which brought tuberculosis under control, roughly 50 percent of TB patients died from the disease. A common remedy at the time was to surgically collapse a lung. One can scarcely imagine the suffering that took place here.
Years later, San Haven would become a home for the developmentally disabled,
San Haven is located just a few miles northeast of Dunseith. It was founded in 1909 as a Tuberculosis Sanatorium and later became a hospital for the developmentally disabled. Over the years, San Haven grew into a huge complex of structures complete with underground tunnels to connect the complex. It was so large, it was given it’s own zip code. At one time, San Haven held over 900 patients.
The San Haven facility closed in 1989. More reading on the facility can be found here and here.
San Haven is now closed to visitors. A trespasser died a few years ago when he fell down an elevator shaft. As noted by site visitor Mariah Masilko, the WPA Guide to 1930’s North Dakota indicates it was officially dubbed a “Sanatorium” as versus “Sanitarium”.
Ambrose is just north of Highway 5 in the northwestern corner of the state, just three miles from the US-Canadian border.
Ambrose had been on our radar for some time. It is a well-known town in ghost town circles and has been the subject of numerous media reports for a variety of reasons, most notably it’s dwindling population.
We knew Ambrose would be beautiful and there would be good photographs to be taken, but honestly, we were caught unprepared. We were three-quarters of the way through a two-day, one thousand mile ghost town trip, and when we rolled into Ambrose, honestly, there was almost a feeling of dread… because there were so many photos to take.
Ambrose is a large town as near-ghost towns go, covering some twenty square blocks. It is also much more wooded than we expected (due in part to the effort of early residents), requiring a lot of ‘adventure’ so-to-speak.
So this gallery is a small sampling of the photos we were able to take. Suffice to say, if you’re gonna photograph Ambrose, allow an extra day. See more photos of Ambrose, contributed by Laura Enerson Castro, here.
US Census Data for Ambrose Total Population by Place