History of Waverly Hills by Briana


Waverly Hills Sanatorium- underworldtales.com

If you’re interested in phenomenal architectural structures, paranormal activity or you live in Kentucky, especially then the name Waverly Hills should ring a bell. Waverly Hills is famous for more than a lot of things. But I am here to give you the how and why Waverly Hills began.

            The infamous Waverly Hill Sanatorium that still stands today on top of a hill in the Pleasure Ridge Park part of Louisville, KY wasn’t the first building by the name of “Waverly (Parkhurst).” Major Thomas H. Hays bought the mass of land in 1883 for him and his family. He built a one room school, specifically, for his daughters on his property. The teacher really liked the little school and the scenery surrounding it so she named it “Waverly School” after one of her favorite authors, Scott Waverley. Hays liked the name just as much as she did so he named his property “Waverly Hill” after the school (Historical).

            In the early 1900’s Louisville, Kentucky had the highest TB rate in the country (Part 1). The Board of Tuberculosis bought Hays’ Waverly Hill in 1908 to build a hospital in an isolated area for diseased people that lived in Jefferson County (Historical). Tuberculosis, the White Plague, or TB, was a serious and contagious disease that thrived in swampy areas like Jefferson County before antibiotics were invented (Flickner). In 1910, the first of the Waverly Hills Sanatoriums opened. It was a small building only supposed to hold 40-50 patients and it was made out of wood. There were 2 other buildings connected to the main hospital and they were the children’s pavilions. The disease was threatening enough that children even became affected. In 1912 another building strictly for African Americans was built on the property. Yes, even in times of sickness and death racial segregation was still an issue at hand (Parkhurst).

The Board of Tuberculosis bought Waverly Hill for its peaceful atmosphere. People with TB had to be away from the public, be able to get as much rest as possible and stay as stress free as the disease would allow them too (Parkhurst). Soon after the small clinic for up to 50 people opened over 140 patients with TB were being treated there. The disease was spreading like wildfire and everyone was being sent there to the small, wood building (Historical). The disease was very dangerous and the public was scared. “The community wanted anyone they thought had TB to be at the top of that hill, away from them. If you just happened to cough at the wrong place and wrong time, one call to officials would have you up there within 24 hours (Flickner).” The building just wasn’t enough for all of the multiplying patients. In 1924 the Board of Tuberculosis started constructing the last, but not least, of the Waverly Hills Sanatoriums (Historical).

In 1926, the historic sanatorium was open for all. It was a massive 5 story, gothic style building that had everything a patient or staff member could need. The 800,000 square foot cost the state $1.1 million dollars to build (Part 1). Along with the massive building; a 1500 foot tunnel was built underground that connected the basement of the hospital to the bottom of the hill near Dixie Highway. It was the easiest way for staff to get supplies from the bottom of the hill as quickly as possible. One half of the tunnel was stairs and the other was smooth ground. It had a motorized winch system that rode against the smooth side and could transport whatever the hospital needed (Historical). Because of the hospitals size, groundbreaking facilities and large staff it was the top and most advanced TB research sanatorium in the country (Flickner). It was so elite that people were coming from all over the nation, even some from around the world, in hopes of a cure. It was filling up so fast that Jefferson County residents were being put on a waiting list. The Board of Tuberculosis was more worried about the people of their state so they passed a bill that only residents of Jefferson County could be admitted into Waverly. The newspaper article’s title was, Waverly Hill Board Explains That County Patients Require All Space (Part 1). Waverly was built to hold at least 400 patients. Waverly even had buildings all over the property for all persons that had anything to do with the TB hospital. It even had its own mass graveyard for the large amount of unclaimed bodies (Flickner). Waverly and its surrounding land was even big enough to be counted as its own county and it still is; Waverly, KY (Flickner). All nurses, doctors, cooks, janitors, etc. that had any involvement with the TB hospital were not allowed to leave the hill in fear of spreading it to the rest of the community. “The sanatorium had its own farm and farmers for raising/ slaughtering cattle and growing fruits and vegetables for their meals, 2 movie theaters, dentist, salon, literally anything a person on top of that hill could need (Flickner).” Waverly wasn’t just glorified as the top TB hospital because of all of its facilities and capacity; the doctors and nurses of Waverly were very innovative (Part 1).

The building was built to accommodate every treatment used to supposedly cure TB. It was even built curved so the freshest of air could come in. “It was built so one end was facing the south east where wind was always blowing and it would come in and blow out the bad, contagious air out of the north west side of the building (Flickner).” As you all will notice every floor but the first floor has big square openings that appear to be windows. They aren’t windows they are open squares hat only had copper screens that let in as much sunlight as possible because that’s the floors that the patients were on. The openings instead of windows also allowed clean air to come in for the patients and staff to breathe in. One of the treatments for TB was called heliotherapy (Haunted). They thought sunlight would cure the bones, joints and ligaments of the disease. The patient’s rooms were placed directly behind solarium porch ways. All day long patients laid in their beds on the solarium porch ways facing the hot sun (Historical). They still rested on the solariums during the colder seasons. Because of the cold air they needed to stay warm to prevent from getting any sicker so Waverly invented electric blankets. They were un-heard of before this and that’s one of the reasons Waverly was top in the country (Flickner). Even when it was too cold for electric blankets they still kept up the heliotherapy by putting the patients under sunlamps in their rooms. The first floor had windows because it was where the lobby, offices, x-ray room, nurse stations, salon, dentist, library, breaker/ transformer, morgue and cold storage for meat and food rooms were (Part 1). Heliotherapy continued on up to the fifth floor where it was especially necessary. The fifth floor was for 2 types of patients; ones with TB of the brain and children. These were the most serious cases of TB so they thought they should have the most heliotherapy as possible. The children’s wing was on the North side of the 5th floor. All of the children stayed together in the wing but during the day they played on the swing/ play sets on the roof to soak in all of the sun. The wing for the mental patients was only 20-25 feet away from the children’s wing. TB could affect any part of the body and if it got in the brain it caused brain damage and one to be mentally unstable. They were on bed rest on the South side of the roof. “Patients with TB of the brain only had a 2% survival rate (Flickner).”

Along with plenty of heliotherapy, they thought TB could be cured by a good nutritional diet. They wanted the patients to be as healthy as possible, and keep their immune system from crashing so they fed them a lot of protein to help them be strong. They had a farm on the hill specifically for the TB patients. Waverley’s farmers raised and slaughtered cows and hogs for meat, cheese and milk. They grew their own fruits and vegetables for the helpful vitamins and to help balance the sick patient’s diet. The patients ate in the cafeteria inside the sanatorium. It was a large room big enough to accommodate a lot of the patients. They had a smaller cafeteria away from this one for the very sick patients (Historical).

If the natural remedies of rest, sunlight, fresh air and nutrition did not cure the patients the doctors at Waverly would be forced to perform one of two surgeries. Unfortunately for the patients that weren’t helped by the natural ways they had to undergo painful surgeries. Since it was the early 1900’s they had no resources that would put the patients to sleep (Historical). All they had was morphine and that only relieved the pain; they were awake during every procedure (Flickner). They tried Artificial Pneumothorax on some patients. AP was pretty successful in defeating TB because collapsing the diseased lung actually helped heal the holes that TB created (Surgical). If AP didn’t work then the doctors had to resort to another, more painful, procedure. This procedure was Thoracoplasty. Doctor’s would have to open up the chest and sometimes cut open the back of the patient’s so they could remove at-least 7-8 ribs (Flickner). It was only safe to remove up to 3 ribs at one time so some of the patients would have to have more than a few surgeries before Thoracoplasty was fully finished. Sometimes the doctors would end up having to perform a Lobectomy and cut out most of the diseased part of the lung. It was only used if literally nothing else worked to save the patient’s life (Historical). A blog about Waverly’s history recorded that only 5% of patient’s survived after Thoracoplasty (Architecture).

With all of the death and sickness lingering around Waverly, the staff wanted to help keep the patients as mentally healthy as they could. Waverly was also praised for keeping its patients sane by keeping their minds off their deadly disease by giving them something to do. Waverly was the first to have radios for the patients to listen to during leisure time. They were allowed to interact with friends and the sanatorium held classes that taught typewriting, basket weaving, weaving brooms, sewing tablecloths, bedspreads and other random items (Historical) (Part 1). These crafts were useful to the patients, to take up time, and they were even proudly sold at the Kentucky State Fair to raise more money in order to develop more helpful facilities at the hospital (Historical). “Waverly had picture shows every Wednesday night, and on Christmas they had a huge Christmas party for all of the patients and Santa would go around the building on a sleigh for the children to see (Part 1).” In a video about the history of Waverly Hills, former patient, Douglas T. Steele, said, “Now, let me tell you about the good things about Waverly Hills, they had entertainment, because if people enjoyed themselves to some degree, there was a lot of fun things that went along in there. One of the doctor’s there once had a horse and he liked to let people ride the horse if he could. He said might as well let everybody enjoy themselves because they didn’t have as long to enjoy life as some other people could anyway (Part 1).” Waverly even kept a positive morale by discreetly sending away the deceased bodies of the patients that unfortunately could not be cured.

It is estimated that over 8,000 people died within the walls of Waverly Hills. During TB’s peak more than just a couple patients were dying daily at the hospital. The staff stayed busy enough with the living patients and had little time to deal with the deceased. At one point there were so many bodies that they couldn’t take them out fast enough and they had to use the cold food storage room to stack the bodies in (Flickner). The maintenance room even became a make shift morgue (Part 2). During this very intense time of the White Plague the staff had to think about how seeing these multiplying bodies would lower the patient’s spirit and cause them to lose hope and give up. Our tour guide said, “Loss of hope killed the patients faster than the disease ever did (Flickner).” Fortunately, one doctor had a very clever idea of using the 1500 foot underground tunnel, formally used for transporting supplies and heat up the hill, to discreetly take the bodies to the bottom of the hill. They were to be taken away by a hearse without a single patient seeing a thing. The bodies were placed on carts that were attached to the motorized winches. Not one patient could see the bodies leaving the very same hospital that was supposed to be “curing” them. Even though TB hit a peak that took many people’s lives a cure came shortly after.

When Waverly first began, there was virtually no cure for TB if the two, bloody surgeries didn’t work. Nothing was available until the late 40’s and 50’s (Tuberculosis). At this time antibiotics like isoniazid and streptomycin were being invented. Over the next few years, these antibiotics completely ridded the less extreme patients at Waverly of the disease. Mostly, because of these antibiotics, but the natural remedies and surgeries too, “More healthy people walked down that hill then were ever taken by a hearse (Flickner).” The hospital was closed in 1961 because the new successful antibiotics made a Tuberculosis hospital of that size completely unnecessary. It was quarantined from 1961 to 1962 and re-modeled as a nursing home which opened in 1962 as Woodhaven Geriatrics Hospital (Historical).

The patients of Woodhaven were unfortunately not treated with the respect and care that Waverly’s were. A former nurse of Woodhaven said that it was, “A place where people came to die (Part 2).” Woodhaven was a nursing home and its patients were very old and had no family to care for them and their deteriorating health. The patients were subjected to unnecessary and bizarre experiments like electrocution and electric shock by the staff. Visitors of Woodhaven reported that there was pee and cockroaches everywhere, patients had to lie in wet beds and in their own feces and that no staff cared about their well-being. The patients went crazy because they were stripped of their clothes, tied to chairs and locked in their rooms for hours upon hours. The staff neglected to keep good watch on the elderly patients and let them fall off of their wheelchairs and severely hurt themselves because, “They were going to die anyways (Part 2).” During the time when Waverly Hill was Woodhaven Geriatrics, the building wasn’t kept well and the patients weren’t treated well. The same nurse said, “There were times when I would sit out in the parking lot and cry because I knew what it was gonna be like when I was in there. Nothing but pure sadness, that’s it (Part 2).” Finally in 1982, Kentucky’s courts closed Woodhaven Geriatrics due to many reports of patient abuse (Flickner).

Waverly Hills Sanatorium was basically left abandoned from 1982 to 2001 when the current owners purchased it. During the 20 years it was left abandoned it was taken over by vandals, gangs and trespassers. Now Waverly is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world. I certainly think so too; due to its unique yet terrifying history.

the county in Louisville that Waverly is- bestplaces.net

the first Waverly (small and wooden)- heartlandtrails.com

My picture of the layout for the Waverly that stands today

aerial view of Waverly and it's surrounding land- prairieghosts.com

my picture of the inside of the underground tunnel

Waverly, Ky on my iphone GPS

nurses and doctors in waverly- therealwaverlyhills.com

my picture of the "windowless" windows

Waverly from the side (to show that it's curved for the fresh air)- flickriver.com

patients on the solarium porch ways- prairieghosts.com

my picture of the morge

swingset on the children's wing- therealwaverlyhills.com

patients eating in Waverly's cafeteria- therealwaverlyhills.com

my picture of the operation room

my picture of a close up of the operation room

James (my partner) and I in the food storage room that bodies ended up being stacked in

a collage of patients and nurses at Woodhaven Geriatrics- ronshistoryofwaverly.com

my picture of graffiti in the building

my picture of graffiti from the vandals

waverly during it's abandondment- ohioghosthunter.com

my picture of graffiti

my picture of more graffiti (the mouth is a hole that a trespasser created and then someone else creatively painted around it)

Works Cited

Flickner, Michael. Personal Interview. 11 Nov. 2011.

“Haunted Places: Waverly Hills Sanatorium.” Becauseilive on HubPages. Becauseilive, 2011. 28                      Nov. 2011.             http://becauseilive.hubpages.com/hub/Haunted_Places_Waverly_Hills_Sanatorium

Parkhurst, Ron. “Rons History of Waverly.” Web log post. Ron’s History of Waverly. 2006. 5          Nov. 2011. http://www.ronshistoryofwaverly.com/first-hospital.html

“SURGICAL CURE FOR ADVANCED CASES OF CONSUMPTION – The Induction of             Artificial Pneumothorax, or Compression of Affected Lungs with Nitrogen, as Tested in         1,000 Cases, Gives Remarkable Results in Pulmonary Tuberculosis. – Article –                                   NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 09       Nov. 1913. 28 Nov. 2011.             http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30F14F7385B13738DDDA00894D94  15B838DF1D3

“Tuberculosis Pictures, Causes, History, Vaccine, Symptoms and Treatment by                                       EMedicineHealth.com.” Tuberculosis. WebMD, 2011. 28 Nov. 2011.                                           http://www.emedicinehealth.com/tuberculosis/article_em.htm

“Waverly Hills Sanatorium.” Architecture of the State. Thomas Industries, 12 Apr. 2010. 28             Nov. 2011. http://arch.thomas-industriesinc.com/Bldg_WaverlyHills.htm

Waverly Hills Sanitorium History Part 1 – YouTube. YouTube – Broadcast Yourself.             Dannukesem, 31 May 2011. 28 Nov. 2011.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV_3Yrge8U4

Waverly Hills Sanitorium History Part 2 – YouTube. YouTube – Broadcast Yourself                                  Dannukesem, 31 May 2011. 28 Nov. 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFvF0ibkjSI

Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Waverly Hills Historical Society, 2010. 28 Nov. 2011.             http://www.therealwaverlyhills.com/

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