We had a great time yesterday on the tour of the grounds of the former Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium on the North Side of Chicago. Perfect day for walking in the footsteps of local history and discovering the beauty that was hidden behind the green fence from 1915 to 1974. Our group included some longtime blog readers, plus former residents of the area who contributed their recollections. It was a lot of fun and we’ll do it again in the spring, if you missed this one. The MTS grounds tour is a free program offered through the North Park Village Nature Center. We appreciate using their cozy meeting room to gather our group.
Some good questions came up. One participant asked how long did people stay at the sanitarium. I was told by one former patient that she stayed for two years. A doctor told me that one patient in 1960 had lived there for 30 years.
We confirmed that patients could not leave voluntarily if they tested positive for TB. One participant mentioned that even today, local (not sure if that is Chicago or Cook County) hospitals have the legal right to retain patients who test positive for TB.
We had to take a detour and pass by one of the highlights of the tour, a remnant of the covered tunnel that connected all the buildings. This buck was chasing a doe and looked like he meant business. He’s standing right next to the paved walkway that covered the underground tunnel. You can see the decorative brick border just under the buck’s head. These tunnels connected all the main buildings of the sanitarium and were used by staff to travel between buildings in bad weather and to transport laundry and food carts.
The Peterson Park fieldhouse was added after the sanitarium opened in 1915. It served as the morgue. I don’t know what year this was built, but I wonder if it was built around the same time as the auditorium. Both buildings have a white decorative border just under the roof, and no other surviving buildings have this treatment. Again, note all the windows; every structure at the sanitarium was designed to provide fresh air for the benefit of both staff and patients.
We also commented on the expert craftsmenship so clearly visible on these buildings. Although the architects’ plan was considered simple at the time, in efforts to appear that they were not wasting taxpayers’ money on a fancy design, to our eyes the buildings look beautiful and highly detailed. Decorative terra cotta tiles, seen above the door on the left, are used on many of the buildings. Some of the tiles depict the Chicago “Y” symbol, while others show animals. The rounded window on the left looks out from the former men’s dining hall.
Unless families of deceased patients made other arrangements, all burials took place at Montrose Cemetery, across from the Sanitarium’s entrance at Pulaski and Bryn Mawr. Coincidentally, the landscape designer for both the Sanitarium and Montrose Cemetery was O.C. Simonds & Company. Simonds also designed much of Graceland Cemetery and Morton Arboretum.
It’s amazing that this corner of Chicago has so many connections with major events and people in Chicago history.
Photography credits: Thank you to Jim Cash, pictured here with me, for documenting the tour and giving me permission to share his photographs. All photographs except the first one are courtesy of Jim.
Acknowledgements: I greatly appreciate all of you who attended the tour and those of you who take time to participate in this blog. It is a group effort. By sharing our individual memories, we all learn more about the place where we came from.