The Residential Houses on the Blue Ridge Sanatorium

by: Rebecca Howell

In the early decades of the twentieth century, tuberculosis ravaged the United States, especially Southern states like Virginia. In days before germ theories had reached full development and before antibiotic medicine appeared, the treatment of this disease had to have a holistic character. Patients could stay at tuberculosis sanatoria for any number of months or even years. The fear of spreading the disease as well as the curing benefits of natural scenery led to the placement of sanatoria in relatively remote locales. The construction of the Virginia State Tuberculosis Sanatoria occurred before the days of automobile dependence, and the patients needed continuous care. Therefore, Blue Ridge and Piedmont Tuberculosis Sanatoria needed to provide housing for its staff in order to have them close at hand. The domestic buildings at Blue Ridge and Piedmont Tuberculosis Sanatoria take on a range of designs. The residents of these buildings were staff members and their families, but as a hierarchy existed among staff members, a hierarchy existed among their housing situations.

Originally, when the State opened Blue Ridge Sanatorium near Charlottesville, the staff lived in the "old Colonial place" known officially as the Davis Building (after a Governor) and spoke of as the Lyman mansion (after previous owners). The Lyman mansion had previously served as the privately operated Moore's Brook Sanatorium for mental and nervous disorders, as well as alcohol and drug abusers. The transition from a large farmhouse to a small hospital did not require a great deal of renovation. Thomas Spees Carrington, in his 1914 guidebook, Tuberculosis Hospital and Sanatorium Construction, had recommended this practice; the presence of the large house must have persuaded the State to choose this property, which it bought in 1918. Oddly, at Piedmont Sanatorium, where no large farmhouse existed, the State constructed a large brick building of domestic design in its first construction phase. The Lyman mansion and its Blue Ridge counterpart dominated their landscapes during these early years, when patients stayed in rustic, single-floored pavilions.

As Blue Ridge Sanatorium and its staff grew, it became necessary to remove some of the staff from the Lyman mansion. Five staff residences were built in the early 1920s, in a row facing the chapel, which was built in 1924. Business Manager and Medical Director, Dr. Brown wrote in his1923 Annual Report, in February of that year that contracts were let to build three houses to take care of the medical and clerical staff, and one house for colored servants. In October, they were completed and occupied, but there was still a need for a cottage for white, male employees. This followed a long discussion of the cost of these buildings. Charlottesville architect Eugene Bradbury had been commissioned the previous year to design four houses that could be built for a price not exceeding $25,000, but when his designs came in December of 1922, they were priced at $29,000, which was too much. Eventually, they arrived at an agreement, and the houses were built. In 1926, Dr. Brown's wrote in the annual report, "A little bungalow has been constructed between staff houses number 1 and 2 for the use of the Resident Physician. Four rooms and a larger sleeping porch have been added to the Nurses' Home to relieve the marked congestion which existed there." Dr Brown meant the Lyman mansion when he mentioned the Nurses' Home.
In 1933, Dr. Brown wrote that at least two cottages should be erected to take care of married farm laborers because "it is very difficult to get single men who are satisfactory in dairy work as they do not like the confinement of this type of labor." In 1935, Dr. Brown wrote that Governor Peery had given them permission to erect two cottages on the farm for these farm laborers for the price of $3500. These cottages were completed and occupied by the time of the annual report. The location of these houses can not be seen on maps of the central area of the Sanatorium. Their remote location close to the farm buildings contributes to this sense of hierarchy.

The four houses for medical and clerical staff for $25000 averages to $6250 each. Whether the farm cottages cost $3500 together or $3500 each, they cost significantly less. The Nurses' Home gained an addition due to overcrowding, which comes as no surprise. By this time the Training School for Nurses had grown to classes of six or seven a year, plus all the permanent nurses also needed space in the Nurses' Home. Not until 1950 did nurses began to live off grounds, and in that case it was only Myra Clark who held a supervisory nursing position.

In 1951, a new dormitory for the training school was built at the Sanatorium, which was named Stafford Hall after long time physician Dr. Frank Stafford and his second wife, Nancy Morton. Costing $400,000, it housed 80 student and graduate nurses in suite style rooms. It also had two apartments, one for the housemother and one for the Superintendent of Nurses, at that point Mrs. Irene LaFon, who had been a patient as well as a nursing student at Blue Ridge.

he Training School for Nurses started in 1920 almost with the beginning of Blue Ridge Sanatorium. Its students were women between the ages of 18 and 35, of good moral character and good health, who had graduated from high school with Grade Point Average of at least 80. It was a two-year program; after passing state exams, they were Certified Tuberculosis Nurses or CTNs. They then had the option to further their education at UVA or MCV to become RNs. While they were there, the students were paid, the juniors a bit less than seniors. They paid for own uniforms and laundry. As stated they lived in the Nurses' Home; they studied anatomy, chemistry, etc. but also worked with patients 8 hours a day. When Myra Clark, a former Navy Nurse from New England, came in 1950, she instituted, besides she herself living in town, many new traditions for the nursing school. She began a welcome tea for school, believing social events would teach the young nurses "deportment and social graces so that they would feel comfortable in whatever situations they were faced with." Miss Clark also started a Big Sister system, pairing each new student with a returning student.

Exercise was also a part of the Training school, with outdoor exercise every morning. Later, softball and basketball teams were established. The students also had organized trips to Washington, Williamsburg, Luray Caverns, and the Natural Bridge, as well as outings for Garden Week and plays at UVA. Other traditions included juniors giving seniors a dance shortly before graduation, a senior banquet, the performance of senior class night, Christmas and Halloween parties, scavenger hunts, and picnics. When their new dormitory was built, it had on the first floor, a large living room with fireplace at each end; in addition, small date parlors provided more privacy and were dubbed "pet parlors". Downstairs was a large reception room with a piano and tables for bridge and Ping-Pong; also a stone fireplace. Upstairs, were "Pajama rooms" furnished with a refrigerator and other kitchen appliances. To quote the manuscript writer, "Every nurse who lived in Stafford Hall still talks about the good times the people who lived there had." The Piedmont Sanatorium Nurses' Training School also had a history of its own identity, complete with an Alumnae Association.

To return to the analysis of the domestic buildings at Blue Ridge, one could simply label them second generation American Renaissance, a term used by Marjorie Huiner in her University of Virginia Master's thesis, The Domestic Architecture of Eugene Bradbury in Charlottesville, Virginia, 1907-1927. Bradbury designed several buildings familiar to Charlottesville residents: the Voysey-esque house on Rugby Road, the house on Lewis Mountain often confused for Monticello, the UVA Corner Building, the Chi Phi Fraternity house, St. Paul's Memorial Church, and at least three houses on University Circle, as well as others on Rugby Road. He designed for Charlottesville's premier citizens; the house on Lewis Mountain cost $250,000 to build. When we remember he designed four houses totaling $25,000, the Blue Ridge staff residences seem much less grand. The 1920s were the end of the Progressive age; the First World War had killed a lot of the country's idealism. Blue Ridge's situation as a state run institution provides it with ability to reflect unique attitudes about the role of the state in people's lives.

Generally, the idea of socialism and communal ownership failed to appeal to Americans, but Blue Ridge, though not democratic, was a kind of communal experience. Architectural historian Alan Gowans defines the years 1890-1930 as the immediate post-frontier age in which the notion of the "comfortable house" represents the belief that the American system could provide dignified accommodations for all. The American rhetoric that praised home ownership saw the home as representing three "comfortable" qualities: security in defense from the world, roots in the past, and the virtue of family stability. In sub-urban America, that is, "less than urban," the comfortable house flourished. Gowans raises questions about what domestic architecture meant economically, religiously, and politically; no one style could claim predominance, but the category of style itself played a social role. He sees the house as a symbol for society. The strange thing about Blue Ridge houses is that its residents did not own their houses, but paid rent. The state, not the residents, decided which architect to hire to design them, and thus the style of the houses says more about what the image the state wanted to project, rather than the residents.

The Lyman mansion, present when the state bought the property, was a fairly typical Victorian mansion, which in its highly decorative state of wrap-around porches, relates to the ideology of separate gender spheres, where women were equated with passively keeping house while men went out into the world to earn a living. Women, thought of as decorative objects, also served as keepers of morality, while society allowed men more transgressions. If one accepts the gendering of the house as a female, then the Victorians built is something pretty to look out, with a strict sense of order; certain rooms had specific uses. On the other hand, the house of the 1920s was simpler and more flexible. Bradbury pressed this flexibility to the limits, with the design of the staff residence, which consisted only of bedrooms and sleeping porches, bathrooms and a "Sitting room", omitting the domestic center of the kitchen and dining room. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many feminist radicals throughout England and the United States had suggested designs for houses without kitchens, calling for a grand domestic revolution. The Blue Ridge houses of 1920 lacked kitchens because a communal kitchen and dining room had already served the site and efficiency called for the staff members without their own families to eat with the patients.

The Blue Ridge houses are minimal, with simple lines that resisted germs from breeding in hard to clean places. They are divided into rooms simply, and the staff wives could probably keep them clean without the need of hired help. Servants' rooms are missing from the Blue Ridge residences- in a way everyone at Blue Ridge was a servant.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, the American suburbs were developing, but Blue Ridge, despite its semi-rural, but close to town location, had a different atmosphere. Many women during this time were "Stuck in the suburbs" without transportation and without meaningful activity. The women at Blue Ridge, however, were in the midst of activity "On the Hill." Women held many kinds of jobs there: female doctors date from as early as 1922, when India Hunt had a yearlong internship. According to Catawba Sanatorium records, nurses typically made about $20 a month in 1916, while male attendants and employees made at least twice as much. Doctors' earnings ranged between $20 and $166.66 a month. Depsite their discriminatory salary, women were also nurses, teachers, secretaries, dieticians, bookkeepers, housekeepers, storekeepers and laundry women. Even for the women who stayed at home raising children, their husbands were never far away and probably came home at points during the day. This may have actually been necessary because in the patient wards, the doctors had to share desks. Their homes must have served as their offices.

Two sets of floor plans by Bradbury exist for Blue Ridge Sanatorium, one for a staff residence and one for the business manager, dating from December 30, 1922. As one walks away from the Lyman mansion, five houses stand on the left side of the road. The first one is a two-story brick box, with a three bay pattern like three of the other houses. The other three houses are stucco, and the central window of the second floor is false, because closets are located behind it. The second house, a stucco two-story, matches Bradbury's design for a Staff Residence. The third house, also tan stucco, is the bungalow of 1926. The fourth most resembles Bradbury's plan for the Business Manager's residence. The fifth house has Bradbury characteristics: two-story stucco, a small front porch, false window, and a rear sleeping porch that has frame construction and complements the "kitchen" ell to create a more square shape. The existing Bradbury designs for housing Blue Ridge staff have very similar exteriors and similar arrangement of rooms. Yet the living patterns must have differed drastically.

The Business Manager residence designed by Bradbury consisted of living and dining room on either side of a front entrance hall, a kitchen in the rear, and three bedrooms upstairs. The term "living room" came into prominence around the term of the century. Previously, the front of the house had its parlor, opened only to receive guests and other special occasions. The den, on the other hand, served as a refuge for the man of the house, a place where he could hide away. The living room became a hybrid of both of these ideas, a room in which the whole family lived, but in the case of Blue Ridge, this would be the most likely spot for office type work to occur. In "The Living Room: Its Many Uses and the Possibilities it has for Comfort and Beauty," Gustav Stickley writes, "It is the place to which a man comes home when his day's work is done and where he expects to find himself comfortable and at ease in surroundings that are in harmony with his daily life, thought and pursuits." For Bradbury's Staff Residence at Blue Ridge, he names the front room a "Sitting Room" rather than "Living Room," which suggests a greater formality and less comfort.

The inclusion of sleeping porches in the Blue Ridge residences imply appropriately that many of the staff at Blue Ridge were former Tuberculosis patients, so they were in the habit, or under direction of sleeping outside. The sleeping porch reached its peak during the first decades of the century. When the Reynolds family commissioned Charles Burton Keen to design Reynolda House, they had him include a sleeping porch. The Greene and Greene Gamble House also contains many sleeping porches. The largest adjoins the room designated for two-teenaged boys, in a placement allowing almost total separation from the rest of the house. Randell Makinson discovered that the boys' room in the Gamble House never had any beds in it. The boys slept outside in order to develop robust physiques.

The Bradbury sleeping porches, second story and included under the main roof of the house, rather than stuck on as an addition are located on the back of the houses. The back of the houses face south, which was the advised side for sleeping porches regarding sunlight. The sleeping porches of the Staff Residence, located both on the first and second floor, had to be reached through a central hallway, just as bathrooms and the sitting room had entrances only from the hallway. In the Business Manager's house, the first floor porch is not designated for sleeping, just as the wrap-around porch of the Lyman mansion was not used for sleeping. One could enter the Business Manager's back porch from the back yard, where the small garage stands. It also had entrances from the living room and the central hall. In fact, one could only enter the kitchen from the porch, or by walking through the pantry from the dining room. Upstairs, the sleeping porch of the Business Manager's house had direct access from two of the three bedrooms.

The houses designed by Bradbury, although they may not have housed the traditional family unit at least appear pleasantly suburban from the exterior. They are symmetric, with a colonial revival usage of classical elements; many have claimed that the logical geometry of such forms leads to making a better person, perhaps it was seen to make the sick better, too. The use of stucco was not, it seems, to evoke images of the Southwest- although many TB patients had gone there for the cure. Stucco may have been calming to the patients viewing it, or it may have been considered clean and modern. In the hierarchy of the price of building materials, it sits above wood construction and below brick. Since stucco was less expensive than brick, Bradbury may have chosen the material in order to keep expenses $25,000. Concerning Piedmont Sanatorium, the houses may have been designed by the Richmond architect Charles Robinson, who designed campus plans for many of Virginia's public universities. However, they are more vernacular, rather than high style. The Director's House, constructed of wood, though a four-down, four-up shape, has a screened front porch crossing the whole first floor- and the sleeping porch on the second floor is on the opposite side of the house. The large domestic building, the counterpart to Blue Ridge's Lyman mansion, has a double set of porches, on the same side, so this must be a southern direction. Either originally or later, it became divided into apartments. A built-in butler's pantry on the second floor illustrates the general fear of the time of germs hiding in dark corners behind furniture. Later brick houses at Piedmont, closer to the highway, even had their own street address of Residence Row. They are not high style, either, although in the 1940s, a war-time staff shortage prompted several discussions on the nature of the staff of this Sanatorium. Governor Darden suggested Piedmont's staff should consist only of blacks, but because Piedmont Sanatorium treated some white patients in an outpatient basis, the State Board of Health turns down the governor's plan. In attempt to attract and keep white doctors, designs appeared for extremely large Colonial revival houses with columns. Resembling the Old South, these suggested ideas of racial superiority and inferiority; due to their inappropriateness, Piedmont had to reject these plans.

As time progressed, the living patterns of staff at Blue Ridge Sanatorium evolved into a greater presence of nuclear family units. When Dr. Heatwole and his wife lived at Blue Ridge, they first occupied one of the apartments in the building that faces the Bradbury residences. The Charlottesville architecture firm of Stainback and Scribner may have designed the brick building; plans dating from March 31, 1941 show two floors, each with two two-bedroom apartments. These apartments also had south facing porches, suitable for sleeping, kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms. From the same year are plans for a brick Colored Servants Dorm; though it exteriorly resembles Bradbury's designs, its insides consists only of eight bedrooms and one bathroom. A 1948 Sewage System map from Wiley & Wilson Engineers shows the placement of these buildings. The Colored Servants Dorm stands along the road of the contemporary entranceway. Its location across the road from the rest of the buildings of the central sanatorium speak to race relations of the age. (A later plan shows Prisoner's Quarters located next door to the Colored Servants' Dormitory. The 1962 Stainback and Scribner plans for a Convict Dormitory place a flat-roofed, small windowed building behind the Wright Building.) The apartment building and its smaller brick neighbor, which another sewage map designates as a "staff residence" and therefore housed a single-family, stand by the Chapel, across from the earlier houses. The 1948 plan also includes proposed structures in this section of the Sanatorium property designated for homes for the healthy. This 1948 plan, typical of its time, has a cul-de-sac roundabout design for the road. In the early 1950s, some of these houses were built for staff. At least two designs came from Stainback and Scribner in 1952. These brick ranch houses designs could be found in any subdivision of the time. The Heatwoles, with their growing family, were able to move into one of the Bradbury houses, the fifth one from the Lyman mansion. They say they had to convert one of the bedrooms into a kitchen, although they did eat some of their meals in the sanatorium dining room. Mrs. Heatwole also said one of the brick ranch houses further along their road had to be moved there with the construction of Interstate 64.

Blue Ridge Sanatorium, just like Piedmont, has plenty of stories to tell. Like the other buildings of the site, the architecture of the staff residences illustrates a part of the treatment of tuberculosis. The creation of a separate place for the healthy among the sick explains the styles of the domestic buildings, which mimic stylistic developments in American domestic architecture. The living patterns established by the designs, such as lack of kitchens and sleeping porches, eventually became outdated, and the traditional patterns of single-family units appeared where possible. When the whole Sanatorium reached its obsolete state, the domestic buildings received interior makeovers and became doctor's offices and child-care centers. The domestic buildings, for the most part, still stand; the Lyman mansion's sleeping porches have fallen to the ground, symbolic of the fragile future of the site. As long as the staff residences remain standing, they will serve as a reminder to all visitors to the site that for many years, a community existed at Blue Ridge Sanatorium of all kinds of people living and working together.

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