Abandoned history sanitariums and sanatoriums of niagara county lifestyles lockportjournal.com n gas in paris lyrics

As I researched early human service agencies in the county I found a number of healing facilities that were commercial ventures based upon an alternative view of then-mainstream medicine. In the 1800s and into the early 1900s, traditional medicine was primitive and not based on science. Physicians were poorly trained and licensing was not organized. This early care often used bleeding, mercury or other toxins, and surgeries as methods of treatment.

Niagara Falls, N.Y., attracted alternative medicine practitioners conceivably because of the wonder of the falls and the area’s connection with an extremely powerful and healthy force of nature. As Niagara Falls generated its first electric power, the mystery of electricity was forever linked to the city and used in many sanitariums. With the Erie Canal nearby, and later trains, Niagara Falls became easier to reach and always had a large number of visitors.

It may be, as speculated, that the negative ions generated by the falls cause people who are nearby to have feelings of physical and emotional well-being. Lockport author Patrick McGreevy, in his publication Imagining Niagara, felt that “People came to Niagara, first and foremost, to experience nature,” and a large part of his work is devoted to exploring the history of this experience.

Niagara Falls, with the beautiful earthy spectacle of the falls and abundant mineral springs, was an area known for its rejuvenative powers and had many curative resorts. Is it too late to reconnect the Falls to images of health and well-being?

An early facility in Niagara Falls was the Monteagle Hotel, whose grounds contained well-known mineral springs. The hotel opened in 1855 and went through several owners. After its sale to a Doctor Crumb in 1884, it was renamed Monteagle Springs Sanitarium. This resort offered a number of water cure treatments, including electro-medicated baths. The Medina Register, May 22, 1884 edition, reported that the renovated Monteagle was open to the public and the sanitarium department would open in 30 days.

Dr. Hodge Sanitarium, 424 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls, was operated by doctors William and John Hodge, who were brothers. They were Niagara County residents who grew up on a farm in Cambria. Their sanitarium was a homeopathic treatment hospital and they were trained as homeopathic physicians. The sanitarium only operated for a few years, from 1897 until 1900, but the brothers continued to practice in Niagara Falls from offices in the Gluck building.

Electro-Magnetic Sanitarium was operated by Professor B. B. Benard at the corner of Ferry and 6th streets, Niagara Falls, from 1901 until 1906. Promotional material listed a staff of physicians, surgeons, osteopaths and magnetic and mental healers. Reportedly, “Electro-Therapeutics were employed for the curing of all chronic nervous and mental disorders."

Schmith Medical Dispensary and Sanitarium was operated by Dr. W.J. Schmith, a homeopathic physician, in his home at 471 Market St., Lockport, from 1901 until 1908. Schmith’s previous residence was 118 John St., Lockport. As sanitariums were known for convalescent care, it is believed he had facilities for his longer-term patients. Schmith listings in local directories mentioned that he was an herb doctor.

Homeopathic medicine is an alternative system of treatments that use very small doses of minerals, plants and other extracts to assist the body in the healing process. For example, the herb St. John’s Wort was used in a diluted form to treat diseases of the nervous system. Samuel Hahnemann is credited with the founding of homeopathy.

Niagara County had its share of sanitariums. These facilities functioned at a time when medicine was not that scientific and sanitariums offered an alternative to traditional medicine. A good diet (and this varied), special treatments with mineral water, low level electricity, fresh air, exercise, and rest were what was recommended for most health problems. One would hope that they did no harm.

Responding to an outbreak of tuberculosis in the county in the early 20th century, the Niagara County Health Association commissioned a report to determine possible actions. In 1915, the Niagara County Board of Supervisors, reacting to the study, voted to build a TB hospital and $100,000 was appropriated.

The need was urgent, so the hospital building on the newly abandoned Niagara County Almshouse grounds was renovated to serve as the county’s first tuberculosis hospital. The location was across from the present-day Niagara County Sheriff’s Office on Niagara Street Extension.

The following year, in 1917, the hospital building was moved from the almshouse property up the hill, south, to a new campus at 5465 Upper Mountain Road, and renamed Niagara County Sanatorium. The old poor house hospital, now known as Pavilion 3, was remodeled with fresh-air porches and served adults with tuberculosis.

With the opening of the Shaw building in 1931, the sanatorium was able to accommodate an increased need for children’s tuberculosis care and included a school. A new adult structure, the Guillemont building, was erected in 1939, expanding the sanatorium’s capacity again.

Niagara Sanatorium provides an excellent example of changes in care for TB patients as medicine became more advanced. The early regimen started with fresh air, diet and isolation of patients. Then a new treatment was tried, pneumothorax, also known as "collapse therapy," which collapsed affected lungs until they healed. This provided a partial cure and relief for some patients.

Jim Boles, Lockport native and retired CEO of People Inc., works part-time as a researcher at the Museum of disABILITY History. Boles’ focus is on early care and healing in Niagara County. He has a strong interest in preserving local history and promoting cultural tourism. Contact him at Jboles@people-inc.org.