Tuberculosis (TB) was a mysterious disease and the most common cause of death among those in their productive years in the late nineteenth century. Because there was no medicinal cure, the preferred treatment became a search for a healthy climate to help patients regain strength. The idea of a sanatorium, based on European health resorts and spas, grew to become the places to seek a cure. At sanatoriums, TB patients were encouraged to live outdoors, breathe fresh air, eat nourishing food, and transition from rest to an active exercise routine once health began to improve.
From its founding in 1871, Colorado Springs quickly gained a reputation as a restorative location, partly in response to national trends about the curative power of western air and nature, but also due to overt marketing by early city elites and physicians who themselves located here to recover from TB. General Palmer’s friend and business partner Dr. Edwin Solly promoted the region as a health resort, and he became a leader in promoting the climate cure.
Colorado Springs became known as a most desirable destination for chasing the TB cure and adopted the slogan “The City of Sunshine.” Many sanatoriums located in the region, including the Union Printers Home, Modern Woodmen, Beth-El Methodist, and others. Both Memorial and Penrose Hospitals began as TB sanatoriums.
The most exclusive sanatorium was the Cragmor Sanatorium at Austin Bluffs. Palmer donated 100 acres and a sum of money in 1902 to his friend Solly, who consciously patterned the complex after the most famous and well-established resort at Davos, Switzerland. Its later director, Dr. Alexius Forster, emphasized physical comfort, relief from stress, positive thoughts, and was deliberately unconcerned with rules. Cragmor grew and prospered, admitting wealthy, influential consumptives who were a gregarious lot, even publishing their own journal Ninety-Eight-Six in reference to the ideal body temperature to which they all strived. By 1924 the National Tuberculosis Association called it the most desirable sanatorium in the world.
In 1943 Dr. Selman Waksman found that the antibiotic streptomycin completely suppressed the activity of the tuberculosis bacillus. For nearly a century the sanatorium was the preferred treatment prescription, but after barely a decade they were gone, their services no longer needed. Cragmor continued with a federal grant to serve Navajo patients, but closed in 1962. The main building is today’s Main Hall at UCCS.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs