Then and Now: Kansas Sanitarium

Kansas Sanitarium site is now a park

Then: The Kansas Sanitarium, located at 3201 W. Douglas, was later named the Wichita Sanitarium and finally the Sedgwick County Hospital.

(Photo credit: Peerless Princess of the Plains, Postcard Views of Early Wichita, Two Rivers Publishing Co., 1976)

Imagine restoring "diseased and deranged organs" with treatments of "diet, exercise, electric light baths, salt glows, hot applications and packs, hot and cold sprays and galvanic and sinusoidal electricity."

This was the claim of the privately owned Kansas Sanitarium, according to information found in the Wichita Beacon of 1919. The sanitarium was located on the western outskirts of Wichita, at 3201 W. Douglas. Its grounds stretched south to Maple and included a grove of fruit trees.

During the half-century of its existence, the area went through four ownerships. The Kansas Sanitarium became the Wichita Sanitarium, then Rajah Rabbitry, and finally the Sedgwick County Hospital.

The Kansas Sanitarium was founded in 1904 as a branch of the Battle Creek Sanitarium of Battle Creek, Michigan and was formally opened June 15, 1905. In 1908, a 1.5 acre artificial lake was constructed on the 40 acre grounds.

Between 1915 and 1925, five buildings were added: a three story brick structure in 1915, a 36 room nurses’ home in 1919, another building and a sun parlor over the driveway leading to Douglas in 1921, and a mental annex in 1925 which raised the bed capacity of the facility to 60.

In an advertisement in the Wichita Eagle, Oct. 31, 1926, with a photograph of the arched gateway to the grounds, the question was asked and answered, "Are you searching for health? Try a health service station, Kansas Sanitarium." Among the services were hydrotherapy, electrotherapy and physical therapy. They claimed that the nurses were "attentive and sympathetic" and the institution maintained a "homelike atmosphere."

By 1927, the Kansas Sanitarium was in apparent financial difficulty and was sold to the Seventh Day Adventists who remodeled the building and renamed it the Wichita Sanitarium. It was formally opened in January 1928.

The sanitarium placed an advertisement in the Wichita Eagle, New Year’s Day, 1929 stating their policy that "No person suffering from any mental or contagious diseases is now admitted. Acute and chronic medical cases are given special attention." Emphasis was placed on the fact that the institution was a sanitarium and not a hospital and had "become a delightful home for the invalid and those requiring rest and quiet."

The Wichita Sanitarium existed just over two years and was purchased by the Rajah Rabbitry to house their "rabbit raising school." The rabbitry scheme convinced investors to buy shares in an enterprise to raise rabbits for food and supply fur for rabbit coats, promising huge profits. The short-lived venture failed after a few months when the instigator left town with all the funds, leaving starving rabbits behind.

At the same time, the Sedgwick County Medical Society was pushing for a county hospital, and, in October 1930, the county purchased the sanitarium. To pay for the venture, the county commissioners sold the 240 acres of the old county poor farm, located at George Washington Boulevard and South Oliver. The new sanitarium was to be a combined hospital and poor farm.

At first, the hospital was used mainly as a convalescent facility for patients who were treated in other Wichita hospitals. After remodeling was completed in February 1932, it became a full service facility.

In May 1945, the 20 patients from the Sedgwick County tuberculosis hospital, located at the old county poor farm, were moved when the farm was finally sold. They were placed in quarters on the grounds south of the county hospital that had been used previously by the county welfare department. The tuberculosis hospital was closed in February 1952.

As early as 1941, articles appeared in the local newspapers emphasizing the deficiencies of the county hospital. In 1950, plans were drawn for a new county hospital at East Ninth and Kansas Street It was formally opened June 27, 1953.

On the same day, the last 33 patients of the old hospital were moved to the new Sedgwick County Hospital.

The following summer, the old county hospital was razed and the grounds cleared for the West Douglas Park site.

Today, all that remains to mark the site of the institution are a few remnants of sidewalk, a berm where the main sanitarium building once stood and a slightly raised path to Douglas indicating the location of the entrance drive.

(Notes for the above article were gathered, in part, from the Tihen Notes, Special Collections, Wichita State University.)

Now: The site of the former sanitarium is now the West Douglas Park.

(Photo credit: D&V Churchman, 2005)