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Column: Back in 1914, ‘The San’ was on its way to Worthington

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Nov. 25, 2006.

WORTHINGTON - What a good idea. A single-family housing development on the site of the old Southwest Sanatorium, the site of the old Lakeview School. If I were going to buy a new house, this is where I would go.

Think of this: more than 90 years ago - 1914 - the decision was made to build a tuberculosis sanatorium in southwest Minnesota. Every county around had at least a faint hope of being the “Home of The San.” Windom offered a 54-acre site on Fish Lake. Currie offered 123 acres along a beach of Lake Shetek.

The committee appointed to make the final choice looked at one site and then another. “This is the ideal site,” they said. They walked along the grassy tract that extended from old Nobles County 10 to Lake Okabena, along the present shore of Slater Park. Here, they agreed, is the finest site in all the region.

Earlier this month the last of the Southwest Sanatorium buildings was reduced to rubble. Now a residential neighborhood will emerge there.

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Today we think the Sanatorium was located at Worthington. Actually, it was not. Worthington was more than two miles distant, following along an undeveloped lake shore. (“You couldn’t get to Worthington from The San.”)

The Chicago & North Western Railroad built a viaduct, a bridge, over its tracks. A car could roll along a rutted gravel road southwest from Worthington, cross above the railroad tracks on the viaduct, and then turn left to the new sanatorium. You could get there by horseback, too. Some people did. Then the railroad built a spur. You could ride a train to The San.

There is a description of the site from the day The San opened (July 26, 1917):

“The snow-white, Spanish architecture with its broad, sloping brown roofs and many-paned windows is set in a 20-acre park, landscaped with 220 shrubs … graceful drives … beautiful topography …”

The administration buildings and the wings were “connected by porches, screened in the summer, glassed in the winter.” Here is where the stricken came to be made well by rest, fresh air and sunshine.

Southwest Sanatorium had a full-time staff of six nurses. The nurses lived on the premises, caring for area victims of tuberculosis (24/7 we would say now). By the end of the first month there were 42 patients.

Mathilda Hallberg is only a name to me. Mathilda was a southwest Minnesota legend. Miss Hallberg enlisted as an Army Red Cross nurse during World War I. She was sent to Whipple Barracks, Ariz., to care for soldiers with TB. This is where and how she learned to treat the disease. Mathilda spent 40 years as a tuberculosis nurse, the final 20 years as nursing superintendent at Worthington. She still was assisting area patients when she was 72.

Then there was Dr. Slater. Sidney A. Slater.

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In fuzzy memories, Dr. Slater was the first superintendent at Southwest. Actually he was not. The San got off to a rocky start. Dr. Slater, a Virginian and a horseman who dedicated his life to battling TB, came in 1918 after the first superintendent resigned. Dr. Slater remained until Southwest Sanatorium was closed four decades later. He became a national authority.

Dr. Slater had school students getting annual Mantoux tests - needles in the arms - as part of the battle to find TB in patients early. He ordered posters for schools: “Do Not Spit on Floors, Spitting Spreads Disease.” (He forgot to order posters for baseball dugouts.)

I talked with Dr. Slater for a Daily Globe story sometime in that final month before The San closed. He was troubled. He believed the closing was a mistake.

Dr. Slater had tuberculosis when he was a young man. It withered one of his arms. (TB can occur anywhere except in the teeth and the hair. Did you know that?)

Dr. Slater said tuberculosis remains a threat. There is no vaccine to prevent it, there is no certain cure for it. Three million people in the world die of TB every year.

Last year, there were 199 new tuberculosis cases diagnosed in Minnesota. Mayo Clinic found 71 cases in Olmstead County alone through a dozen recent years.

Perhaps you can hear Dr. Slater saying, “I told you. I warned you.”

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