Hazelwood Sanatorium
Louisville, KY

“When Waverly Hills closed, they had to go somewhere…”

Waverly Hills has long been the crumbling headliner of Louisville, Kentucky’s architectural endangered list. This is not that hospital’s story, and it’s not a ghost story, but instead this is about the place that took over.

Follow the plaster-powdered sporks and spoons in the kitchen, past the deserted nurse’s station and take your second right—you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the screened doors with heavy double locks. Find a good spot on the floor and never mind the baby vulture in the South Ward; relax, because the show’s about to start.

A tree swings in the breeze; a cloud shifts across the sun; the lights dim and the camera obscura throws a dancing kaleidoscopic vision across two peeling pastel walls.

Holes in the wall mark where patient beds used to be, side by side, facing out the window.
Holes in the wall mark where patient beds used to be, side by side, facing out the window.

Camera Obscura Effect

The term ‘camera obscura’ refers (in Latin) to any dark chamber, but as an imaging device invokes a centuries-old technique of projecting an image on a surface. In a darkened room, a hole in a wall will display the likeness of that exterior opposite the hole, but upside down. This is true as long as the light striking the objects outside of the room reflects through the hole in the wall.

The camera obscura here is caused by the light of a sunset filtering through trees and then through holes in the boarded windows.

Almost all of the doors and windows on the ground floor have been boarded, leaving the ground level very dark.
Almost all of the doors and windows on the ground floor have been boarded, leaving the ground level very dark.

Kentucky’s First TB Hospital

Anti-TB advertising: Source: Journal of Outdoor Life, p.310
Anti-TB advertising, circa 1914 (Source: Journal of Outdoor Life, p.310)

In 1907 the Louisville Anti-Tuberculosis Association was created, an organization of local health officials, doctors, and some well-intentioned philanthropists interested in limiting the global epidemic’s impact on their city. The following year they organized Hazelwood Sanatorium, the first tuberculosis hospital in Kentucky.

Sadly, in 1911 the original hospital caught on fire and burned to the ground.

At the time, the hospital was authorized to care for 40 TB patients—a relatively small number, compared to the nearby Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a state-run hospital that opened a few miles away in 1910. I assume Hazelwood patients were transferred to Waverly Hills during the reconstruction.

The rebuilt hospital did not seem to be lucky either, however. On November 25, 1914 a boiler explosion ripped part of the boiler room away from the new hospital, forcing the evacuation of all the patients again. None were injured in the blast, but the hospital was temporarily closed.

These disasters ruined the financial stability of the Anti-Tuberculosis Association, so in 1920 the ATA allowed the state to take over Hazelwood’s operation.

1914 closing, after fire. Source: Journal of Outdoor Life, p.316
1914 closing, after fire. Source: Journal of Outdoor Life, p.316

Under the government control, Hazelwood worked closely with Waverly Hills. When Waverly was experiencing overcrowding, Hazelwood expanded, eventually reaching 150 beds in 1943. Advancements in treatment and medicine in the late 1950s moved most tuberculosis patients out of the giant state hospitals. In 1961 Waverly followed suit, sending its most serious patients to Hazelwood.

Overnight, Hazelwood Sanatorium’s patient count jumped from 150 to 272.

The second hospital, circa 1935 (Source: asylumprojects.org)
The second hospital, circa 1935 (Source: asylumprojects.org)

The 1950s brought another advancement to the Kentucky hospital as well, as Blacks began to be treated alongside whites. Louisville’s large African-American population was often the scapegoat for public officials looking to divert blame for city health problems.

Eventually there was no need for inpatient care of tuberculosis, so in 1971 the hospital was converted into a home for the severely mentally handicapped, the Hazelwood Center.

Signs of this final revision are found scattered on the floors today, with eating utensils shaped so that nurses could easily feed patients from the side… an old pantry. Documents litter the ground—photos of young girls and boys exercising on the first floor, reading on the second; bus schedules for the county’s ‘Re-Ed’ program; half complete jigsaw puzzles glued to walls.

From this evidence, it seems likely that the last use of the hospital was a home for severely handicapped children.

Although the Hazelwood Center still operates around it, the former TB hospital has been abandoned, and is in a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, it is a great subject for redevelopment, considering its location and legacy.