Firland Sanatorium, Seattle's municipal tuberculosis hospital, opens as Henry Sanatorium on May 2, 1911.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 7/29/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3907
On May 2, 1911, Firland Sanatorium, Seattle's municipal tuberculosis hospital, opens as the Henry Sanatorium. It will be renamed Firland the following year.  The sanatorium is located about 12 miles north of the (then) Seattle city limits, at 19303 Fremont Avenue N (now part of the city of Shoreline).  Firland is built by the Anti-Tuberculosis League of King County, an organization founded to combat "the white plague," as tuberculosis is called. Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in Seattle. Railroad magnate Horace C. Henry (1844-1928), whose son died of the disease, provides the land and initial funding.

Queen Anne Neighbors Object

League members first attempted to erect a tent-style sanatorium of the type commonly in use around the country at the time. The location was to have been a wooded area donated by Thomas W. Prosch on the west side of Queen Anne Hill. Neighbors, fearful of the highly contagious disease and unwilling to share their district with what many still considered a pesthouse, rebuffed the League with angry protests, threats, and waving broomsticks.

Fear of tuberculosis victims, known commonly as consumptives because the wasting effects of the disease led to an apparent "consumption" of the patient’s flesh, has deep cultural roots: As one of its historians writes, “More than a mere disease, it brooded in the subconscious of every doctor and nurse, as much as in the anxieties and terrors of the lay population, an impregnable and pitiless shadow” (Ryan, 127). Community sentiment demanded that tuberculosis sufferers keep their distance.

League president Horace Henry stepped forward with a donation of 34 acres of land 12 miles north of the (then) Seattle city limits in the Richmond Highlands area, along with $25,000 seed money. Henry’s teenaged son Walter had succumbed to tuberculosis several years earlier after an unsuccessful attempt to find a cure in the dry Southwest.

The sanatorium was located near the present-day (2002) border of Seattle and Shoreline. The land is bordered by Fremont Avenue N on the east, Palatine Avenue on the west, 195th Street on the north, and 190th Street on the south.

Seattle voters passed a $10,000 bond issue in the spring of 1910 to aid in construction costs. On May 2, 1911, the Henry Sanatorium accepted its first patients.

On March 12, 1912, Seattle voters passed a $125,000 bond issue (82 percent in favor) to build a permanent tuberculosis sanatorium, thus demonstrating an understanding of the magnitude of the TB problem the city faced, and its gratitude for the League’s pioneering role in addressing this issue. The League deeded the property to the city, and the Henry Sanatorium became Firland. The name was a nod to the bucolic fir forest covering the property. Dr. Robert M. Stith (1874-1943), whose mother had died of tuberculosis, was appointed Medical Director, a position he would hold until his death.

Patients were housed in open-air cottages of the type commonly in use in tuberculosis sanatoria around the country. Nursing staff was initially forced to sleep on the floor, since the only non-patient areas of the facility had no beds. Since there was as yet no paved road between Seattle and the hospital compound, supplies were sent via the Interurban trolley. From the trolley station at Richmond Highlands, the supplies were taken by wheelbarrow to the Sanatorium.

By 1913 the North Trunk Road, now Aurora Avenue N, was paved with bricks at the insistence of physicians so that they and the patients’ families could have more ready access. Eventually, buses served Firland on the half-hour.


Sources: Frederick G. Hamley, Firland: A Story of Firland Sanatorium (Seattle: Firland Occupational Therapy Department, ca. 1937); Frank Ryan, M.D., The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis Was Won -- And Lost (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992); Barron H. Lerner, Contagion and Confinement: Controlling Tuberculosis Along the Skid Road (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Information contributed by Vickie Stiles, Shoreline Historical Museum.

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