Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places: The Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium Historic District

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places: The Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium Historic District

Article excerpt

LOCATED ABOUT 2.5 MILES SOUTH OF BOONEVILLE, the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium Historic District is one of the largest historic districts in the state, encompassing nearly 900 acres on Pott's Ridge, also known as "The Hill." The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 for its association with the preceding century's nationwide fight against tuberculosis and for its excellent collection of Art Deco, Craftsman, and Colonial Revival-style buildings.1 Opened in 1910, the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium was, by 1940, the largest and best facility of its kind in the United States, and it served as a model for tuberculosis treatment facilities in neighboring states and as far away as Italy.2 Completely self-sufficient, the sanatorium included patient treatment buildings for adults and children, housing for employees and their families, a dairy, a water treatment plant, water towers, a fire station, a laundry, an ice plant, a bakery, a post office (1927-1968), and a movie theater. Gardens, orchards, and vineyards were planted in the open areas around the sanatorium, which also owned over 1,000 acres of land seven miles southeast of Booneville.3

Tuberculosis is a disease characterized by a persistent cough (sometimes producing blood), chest pain, shortness of breath, fever and night sweats, fatigue, weight loss, and symptoms of pneumonia. Tuberculosis is contagious, spread through the air like the common cold. When infected people cough, sneeze, talk, or spit, they propel tubercle bacilli into the air. Evidence of the disease has been found in an Egyptian mummy dating to 1000 BC, and the Greek physician Hippocrates (460- 375 BC), widely known as the Father of Medicine, studied "consumption," one of the many names tuberculosis has been known by. Others include wasting disease, graveyard cough, king's evil, and the white plague (because people with tuberculosis are pale). The word "tuberculosis" was coined in the late 1700s by a Frenchman, Gaspard Laurent Bayle.4

Early treatments for tuberculosis were painful and often harmful to patients. Beginning in the early 1800s, doctors prescribed a bleeding regimen, a near-starvation diet, bed rest, and "medical migrations" in which the afflicted would seek an area with abundant sun and nice weather. In the U.S., people migrated to the southwest in search of a dry, hot climate. Lung collapse therapy, also known as the artificial pneumothorax, became the mainstay of tuberculosis treatment in the 1920s. It deflated the diseased lung so that it might be "at rest" and heal itself. Oxygen, and sometimes nitrogen, was often injected into the lung cavity. Some doctors even inserted small spheres or sponges into the space between the chest wall and the outer layer of the lung, which often caused further infection. Along the same lines, removal of the phrenic nerve, which runs from the spinal cord to the diaphragm, was also a popular practice. By paralyzing the diaphragm, which contracts and allows the lungs to expand, the lungs would be further immobilized. By the mid-1920s, widespread use of X-ray machines allowed a large number of people to be screened and diagnosed in the early stages of tuberculosis, which greatly increased their chances of survival. The pulmonary resection, performed at the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium for the first time on October 8, 1954, removed the diseased portion of the lung. However, the "age of heroic surgery" was epitomized in the thoracoplasty. One of the bloodiest and riskiest tuberculosis procedures, thoracoplasty removed part of the chest wall (consisting of ribs and muscles), allowing that part of the chest to sink in and collapse the underlying lung.5

The Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium, truly a state-of-the-art facility, would through its history employ a number of these treatments, including bed rest, fresh air therapy, a controlled diet, the artificial pneumothorax, the phrenic nerve operation, the pulmonary resection, the thoracoplasty, and, eventually, chemotherapy and antibiotics. …

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