The Early Institutionalization of Blue Ridge Sanatorium
And the George W. Wright Pavilion

by: Richard Sucre

In Blue Ridge Sanatorium, the institutionalization of the sanatorium is architecturally designated with the creation of the George W. Wright Pavilion (see Fig. 27). The character of the sanatorium environment shifts from Trudeau's village community of cottages to the large medical institution. These new buildings include the previous cure of rest, air and regulated diet along with new innovations into medical discovery. The Wright Pavilion provides the first example of the large patient pavilions that would develop later in the sanatorium's history.

George W. Wright Pavilion & Early Patronage
The George W. Wright Pavilion sponsored by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth, to commemorate one of their leaders, George W. Wright. The Masons are a fraternal organization dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. The Masons symbolically used the implements of ancient architectural craftsmen in a system of instruction designed to build character and moral values in their membership. The Masons followed a "Masonic light", which directed them to do good unto all and proclaimed neglect and indifference as the worst of all sins. The main purpose of the Masonic organization is to make good men, better. They used charity work fulfill their obligations to man and to carry out the "Masonic light".

At the Grand Lodge of Virginia Annual Meeting in 1924, the Grand Master addressed the lodge and relayed the knowledge of George W. Wright's death. Grand Master Charles Callahan said:

'He resembled a perfect day, from dewy dawn to fruitful meridian and on to the flowing sunset behind some distant peak which lies and will continue to live and I somehow feel that his spirit, at this moment, hovers over this scene where his physical presence was so warily greeted in days gone by."

George Washington Wright (born: August 29, 1850 and died: April 11, 1923) was highly involved in both Masonic culture and tuberculosis prevention. As a freemason, Wright held many offices within the Grand Lodge of Virginia. After moving to Marion, Virginia in 1873, he joined Marion Lodge, no. 31. In 1873, he began his Apprenticeship and rose to Master in 1879 and District Deputy Grand Master in 1881. He served as Grand Lecturer (the Masonic historian) from 1889 - 1893 and became Grand Master for the Masons (the leader of all the masons in Virginia) in 1899. In 1909, he became Grand Lecturer again and focused "on the interests of the Craft throughout the Grand Jurisdiction" . Along with his work in the Grand Lodge of Virginia, he served as the Postmaster for the Marion community for four years and was the treasurer of Smyth County for eight years. George W. Wright was also a member of the Virginia Anti-Tuberculosis Association and served as a director from 1909 - 1913. The Virginia Anti-Tuberculosis Association (VATA) was created from the re-organization of the state board of health in 1908. The VATA sponsored studies into the disease and provided many of the tubercular statistics from the early part of the twentieth century. The Virginia Anti-Tuberculosis Association would eventually become the Virginia Tuberculosis Association. Upon his death in Roanoke, Virginia, he was buried in Round Hill Cemetery in Marion with full Masonic honors.

At the 1924 Grand Lodge of Virginia Annual Meeting, the general assembly wanted to honor George W. Wright and appointed a three-person committee to consider an appropriate memorial. The following year at the Grand Lodge of Virginia Annual Meeting under the direction of Dr. William M. Smith, Mr. J.E.W. Timberman and Grand Master Charles H. Callahan, the masons decided upon a tuberculosis pavilion to commemorate George W. Wright. The idea for a tuberculosis pavilion emerged out of the 1923 statistic, which showed that 400 masons were afflicted with tuberculosis and 35 died without treatment. At the 1925 meeting, the assembly decided to levy a twenty-dollar contribution from each member to provide funding for the project. The lodge estimated the total cost to be $60,000 and petitioned all of the Freemasons in Virginia to provide any other funding as was possible.

In 1926, the Grand Lodge of Virginia signed an agreement with Blue Ridge Sanatorium to fund provisions for the treatment of the tubercular in Virginia under certain stipulations. The Masons terms stated all Masons and their families would have preference at all times and would be admitted within a matter of ten days. Also as part of the terms, The Grand Lodge of Virginia must approve any major changes to the building otherwise, the sanatorium would have complete control over the operation of the building. For example, the sanatorium had to ask permission from the Grand Lodge of Virginia to move ambulatory patients from the Wright building in 1953. The Freemasons also agreed to fund the equipment in the pavilion and did so by selling commemorations to the different lodges in Virginia. The new pavilion would embody "…every practicable feature necessary for a building of this type for the modern treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis."
The commission for the sixty bed, fire-proof pavilion was given to Richmond Mason and architect, Marcellus E. Wright, Sr. After setting up his practice in 1909, M.E. Wright mainly worked on residential projects with occasional projects in healthcare. For example, in 1922-23, he worked on the Johnston-Willis Sanatorium in Richmond.

Marcellus E. Wright was best known for his work with architect, Charles Robinson, on the Mosque of Acca Temple on Laurel and Main streets in Richmond, Virginia (see Fig. 28 - 30). The Masonic Order of Acca Temple, Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine commissioned the $ 1,400,000 project as a moneymaking business enterprise in 1925. The Richmond Times Dispatch said the mosque "… has everything that a great auditorium in a considerable city should be and should have." The mosque consisted of a forty-two-room hotel, an auditorium (seating 4,600), a ballroom, restaurant, gymnasium, swimming pool, bowling alley, roof garden and offices. In 1940, the city of Richmond purchased the building complex. By 1995, after renovating the building, the city renamed the mosque, the Richmond Landmark Theater.
The collaboration of the two architects is significant because Charles Robinson was responsible for the initial planning of the Blue Ridge Sanatorium. By establishing the connection between Robinson and M.E. Wright, one can infer that the two architects collaborated on the placement of the Wright pavilion in the Blue Ridge Sanatorium (see Fig. 31). Marcellus E. Wright's membership with the masons provided him with many opportunities for building projects.

On July 14th 1926, the cornerstone was laid for the George W. Wright Pavilion on the Blue Ridge Sanatorium. The ceremony was a huge event for the Grand Lodge of Virginia as well as for the city of Charlottesville. According to the Daily Progress, the construction of the new pavilion would be the largest gathering of Masons in the history of Virginia. The masons employed special highly decorated trains from Alexandria, Danville and Richmond for the transportation of masons to Charlottesville. In preparation for the huge event, the Charlottesville lodges prepared a huge luncheon for the mass of visitors. An estimated 4,000 people would attend the luncheon. Following the luncheon, a parade formed on High Street between 4th and Park Streets, headed by Governor Harry F. Byrd. The parade was composed of lines of automobiles and marching bands from all over Virginia. The procession marched to the pavilion, where the Masonic ritual for the laying of the cornerstone commenced. The cornerstone was given by The Graves Monumental Company in remembrance of H. B. Graves. At the event, the speakers included Grand Master Charles H. Callahan, Congressman Clifton A. Woodrum, and Reverend George L. Petrie. For the event, the Kinogram Weekly News and the Fox-Film Company filmed the ceremony while the Staunton Lodge No. 1, A. F. & A. M, minted commemorative coins. The opening of the George W. Wright pavilion marked one of the largest gatherings to the Blue Ridge Sanatorium site and also showed the interest of the city of Charlottesville.

The design of the George W. Wright pavilion consisted a sixty-bed, two-floor building with basement and roof garden (see Fig. 14). The new building would increase the capacity of the Blue Ridge Sanatorium to 270 beds. The building was symmetrically organized with a single-loaded corridor, where the patient rooms faced south onto a sixteen feet wide screened porch that ran the entire length of the building (see Fig. 32). The first floor consisted of fourteen patient rooms (that could hold two patients each), two isolation rooms, utility rooms, an operating room, toilets, linen storage, a nurse's office, and a main reception area. The second floor had the same layout as the first except that the Alpine Lamp Room took the place of the operating room. The third floor functioned as the nurse's quarters while the basement contained the diet kitchen and storage. The roof garden was used for sun treatment of tuberculosis (see Fig. 33). The building was fireproofed with two fire roof stairways and fire escapes on either side of the building. The Wilson Construction Company submitted the lowest bid for construction and finished the building for the final cost of $ 137,097.

The new innovations in treatment reflected the plan of the Wright Pavilion. The Wright Pavilion offered all of the modern conveniences for treating tuberculosis including an Alpine Lamp room and an operating room. The Alpine Lamp treatment involved the usage of a heat lamp to expose the patient to ultra-violent rays. Theoretically, the ultraviolet rays in the lamp's spectrum would help to cure tuberculosis within the body. The operating room was used to perform the artificial pneuomothorax surgical procedure, which involved deflating the lung to allow it to rest. Artificial pneuomothorax was considered to be the most useful adjunct treatment to the open-air rest cure (see Fig. 34).

The George W. Wright pavilion was officially opened in March 1927. The dedication ceremony happened on the April 5th, 1927. Even after the construction of the Wright Pavilion, the masons continued to contribute to the needs of the sanatorium. The Masonic Relief Foundation provided thousands of dollars for gowns, pajamas, books, cabinets, television sets, fireproof curtains and other amenities. The Masons also helped some patients to pay for surgeries and the cost of staying in the sanatorium.

The George W. Wright Pavilion holds the unique position as the first building to mark the institutionalization of the sanatorium. The Wright Pavilion provided precedent for the creation of other buildings on the site including the East Wing of the Infirmary building. The George W. Wright pavilion began as an interest into the memory of one man and became representative of the hard work of the masons in Virginia as well as the new medical techniques used to cure tuberculosis.


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