Waverly Hills Sanatorium sits on land that was originally purchased by Major Thomas H. Hays in 1883. Major Hays was in need of a school for his daughters to attend, so he started a one-room schoolhouse that was located on Pages Lane. He hired a woman named Lizzie Lee Harris to teach at the school. Her love for the tiny school, in addition to her fondness for Scott’s “Waverley Novels,” prompted her to name the little schoolhouse, “Waverley School.” Major Hays liked the name, and chose to name his property “Waverley Hill.” The Board of Tuberculosis Hospital kept the name after purchasing the land and opening the Sanatorium.
Originally, Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a two-story frame building with a hipped roof and half-timbering. Construction on this building began in 1908 and opened for business on July 26, 1910. The building was designed to accommodate 40-50 tuberculosis patients safely. At the time, Tuberculosis was a very serious disease. People who were afflicted with Tuberculosis were isolated from the general public and placed in an area where they could rest, stay calm, and have plenty of fresh air. Sanatoriums were built on high hills surrounded by peaceful woods to create a serene atmosphere to help the patients recover.
Tuberculosis was becoming an epidemic in Valley Station, Pleasure Ridge Park, and other parts of Jefferson County in Kentucky. The little TB clinic was filled with more than 140 people, and it was obvious that a much larger hospital was needed to treat those afflicted with the condition. Because Tuberculosis was so extremely contagious and at epidemic proportions, those living with it could not be allowed to live and exist among the general population. It was not known at the time that Tuberculosis was an airborne disease.
Waverly Hills was a self-contained community. A city in and of itself, complete with its own zip code. It had its own post office, water treatment facility, grew its own fruits and vegetables, raised it’s own meat for slaughter, and maintained many of the other necessities of everyday life. Everyone at Waverly – patients, nurses, doctors, and other employees had to say ‘goodbye’ to everything they knew on the outside world. Once you went to Waverly Hills, you became a permanent resident “on the hill.” Oddly enough, despite that fact, many patients received visits from loved ones on visiting day. When the visit was over, the visitors left Waverly and ventured back out into the community.
The massive, collegiate, gothic style Sanatorium that you see in the 1926 photo (above) remains standing on Waverly Hill, today. It could accommodate at least 400 + patients and be considered one of the most modern and well-equipped facilities at the time. Construction of this Sanatorium began in March 1924 and opened for business on October 17, 1926. The facility served as a tuberculosis hospital until 1961 when the discovery of an antibiotic that successfully treated and cured TB rendered the facility obsolete. It was closed down and quarantined, then renovated. In 1962, the building reopened as Woodhaven Medical Services, a geriatric facility. WoodHaven Medical was closed by the state in 1981.
WORKING TO RESTORE AN HISTORICAL GEM
Over the next few decades, Waverly Hills would fall into more dark times. Vandalized, damaged, nearly condemned. Previous property owners had no desire to maintain the luster of the building and did little to stop people from slowly destroying her. It is sad that a place that played such a vital role during this period of history and medical discovery was not only over, but now disrespected. But in 2001, Waverly Hills Sanatorium was purchased and since then, there have been many changes and improvements to the building and surrounding property. The Waverly Hills Historical Society continue to work tirelessly and devote their lives to restoring the historic gem that is Waverly Hills to its once amazing splendor!
Waverly Hills Historical Society is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Waverly Hills Sanatorium, the history of its past employees and patients, as well as the education of the public of the history of TB and the effect on the area. To learn more about the Historical Society, see the ‘Historical Society’ section under ‘About’.