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TB to today, a history of Fair Oaks

(Editor's note: This is a two-part history of the former tuberculosis sanitorium now known as Fair Oaks Lodge. The second part of this series will run in the June 12 Pioneer Journal.)

Tuberculosis, also known as consumption or the white plague, was known as early as 4000 BC. In ancient Greece, Pliny the Elder offered these remedies: wolf's liver in thin wine, lard of a sow fed on grass, and flesh of a she-ass in broth. In 1020, it was diagnosed as contagious.

In 1859, the first sanitorium for tuberculosis was built in Germany. In 1904, a person in Denmark came up with the idea of selling Christmas seals to help fund research and treatment for tuberculosis. In 1907, this approach was used in the United States and continued for many years. In 1916, it was noted that 50 percent of all known TB patients died within five years.

A simple method of diagnosis was developed, known as the Mantoux test which was and may still be administered to school children.

After World War II, vaccinations for children became common but for some reason this did not work as well on adults.

The standard treatment today is the administering of antibiotics but in the 1980s a form of drug-resistant TB appeared. In 1993, the problem became serious enough to warrant the World Health Organization to issue an emergency notice. At this time it is reported that 2 million people die world wide annually.

However, the first local mention of TB that I find is a news article in the Wadena newspaper in 1878 reporting that William Denley, an Episcopalian minister, was going to Brighton (Hubbard) for the summer to be treated for consumption. The standard treatment was regular meals and sleeping in a tent, and plenty of fresh air. Evidently it worked for him because he served many years as a missionary to the Indians at White Earth, Cass Lake and Red Lake before coming back to Hubbard to live in retirement.

In 1910, an anti-tuberculosis exhibition was held for three days, afternoon and evening meetings at Germania Hall in Wadena. Local doctors and attorneys spoke plus representatives of the State Department of Health. It was deemed a very successful meeting and Wadena was complimented for its activity and progressiveness.

In 1914, Wadena County commissioners were approached by the Minnesota State Tuberculosis Society with a proposition which they were also presenting to the commissioners of Todd, Douglas and Morrison Counties to enter into a joint endeavor to build and maintain a sanitorium. The state would match county funds which it is estimated would raise approximately $50,000 to build a large and modern sanitorium. It is reported that year there were 2,200 deaths in Minnesota from TB with 12 of these in Wadena County.

A short time later the Commissioners of Wadena County in a resolution agreed to unite with two or more counties to build a sanitorium with a $1 million tax levied on all real estate and personal property in the county.

At this point the State Board of Health officially declared tuberculosis a communicable disease and that an open case must be isolated either in a sanitorium or a house.

After much discussion, Morrison County opted out of the arrangement and Todd and Wadena Counties then attempted to get Crow Wing County (Brainerd) to partake. Eventually, however, Brainerd decided to go with Aitkin. At about this same time Otter Tail County approached Wadena with the proposition of joining with them in their already built sanatorium on Otter Tail Lake.

Also at this time Staples came forward with an offer to donate a landsite about two miles outside of town for a sanatorium building.

After all was said and done the sanatorium ended up being a project of Todd and Wadena Counties. Originally it was thought that it would be built near Staples but Dr. Coulter, a Wadena physician, said to the citizens that they should get going and do something to secure a suitable location for the project. Also Verndale proposed the old mill site north of town for a building. Wadena, Staples and Verndale each offered a site, with Wadena having a slight advantage having two railroads offering better travel connections to this city. Staples and Verndale graciously withdrew their offers.

It ended that a site of 12 to 15 acres was purchased from Mr. Bert Bounds for $100 per acre. Of course you are all familiar with the site presently known as Fair Oaks Lodge and Apartments.

Dr. J. J. McKinnon of Wadena, president of the Wadena-Todd Sanitorium commission, went before the commissioners of both counties seeking additional funding as the commission realized, that after the land purchase and architect fees they did not have enough money to build and equip a fire proof and modern building as required by the State Department of Health.

With the necessary funds levied by the two counties and the state ruling that the money must be in hand of the banks of Wadena and Long Prairie who agreed to buy the county orders at 6 percent.

Sketches contemplated a building 160 feet long with the first four feet of wall brick and the superstructure stucco. The floors were laid throughout and the latest ideas of construction along sanitary lines were incorporated. The architect's estimate was placed at $32,000 and the remainder of the fund was used in the erection of a nurses home and for maintenance.

The final building costs were: general contract to Edward Hirt of St. Cloud for $22,986; heating $6,389; plumbing $3,222 and electrical $1,142. Coupled with architect's fees of $2,000, $1,300 for the site, $239 for ditching and $7 for surveying brought the total to $37,285. This furnished a south facing building and overlooked the creek at the base of the hill.

The contract called for hardwood maple floors, but McKinnon on a visit to the sanitorium at Crookston was very impressed with their terrazzo floors and hoped that for an additional cost of $1,500 they could be substituted.

In the summer of 1917, the Pioneer Journal noted that the rough work on the building was nearing completion and that McKinnon, president of the Sanitorium commission, was busy with plans to beautify the grounds. Owing to the fact that the State Department insisted that the building have a south frontage the entrance would be from the rear with a 60-foot roadway from the traveled highway (CSAH 4 in 2008). Sixteen feet on each side of the 28-foot road bed was boulevarded and a row of ornamental trees planted in the center of the boulevard. This roadway entered into a courtyard 100x200 feet filled with trees, shrubbery and flowers with space on either side for a nurse's cottage and a patient's cottage.

A contest held to name the facility was won by Philip Has of this city with the name "Fair Oaks" and a prize of $5, with the second prize of $3 going to Bernard Burch with the name "Oak Dale." By the consent of all concerned the word lodge was added.

McKinnon, on behalf of the commission, announced the name would be "Fair Oaks Lodge."

Next week in this series: "Ready to open"