The magazine of the UW School of Public Health

King County: Tuberculosis and the Firland Sanatorium

Victoria Stiles

Firland I

Firland exteriorAlso called “consumption,” the disease of Tuberculosis grew unchecked throughout the nation in the 1800s. By 1900, Seattle had one of the highest incidences of TB per capita in the United States. The Anti-Tuberculosis League was formed in 1909, reporting that “it became apparent to the thinking people of King County that something definite and tangible should be done in order to bring under control as rapidly as possible the disease known as Tuberculosis.”

Under the guidance of Horace Henry, whose son Walter had died of TB, the Anti-Tuberculosis League, which was formed in February 1909, appointed a Committee on Sanatorium. King County commissioners agreed to appropriate $4,000 for construction and equipment, and Horace Henry donated 34 acres of property lying 12 miles north of the city, along with a $25,000 gift in memory of his son. Seattle voters approved a $10,000 bond in the 1910 spring election. Additionally, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition of 1909, the area’s first world’s fair, had turned a profit of $63,000, which was split between the Anti-Tuberculosis League and the Seaman’s Institute.

On May 2, 1911, the Henry Sanatorium opened with two patients, a superintendent, and one registered nurse (Edna Robinson, both a nursing pioneer and a pioneer of northwest King County), occupying a small administration building and an infirmary made out of a “tent house.” Twenty more buildings were built that year, mostly open air-cottages for the treatment of the increasing number of patients.

Building materials for the sanatorium were carted by wheelbarrow from the Interurban rail station at what today is the intersection of 185th and Aurora, all the way to what would eventually be 195th and Fremont. No paved road existed at the time, although other local notables, such as Judge James T. Ronald and John Whitham, had been lobbying heavily for the county to put in a good brick road. Their timely request was further supported by the need created by the up-and-coming TB hospital.

Amid the grumbling of some county commissioners who didn’t think a road was necessary, the red-bricked North Trunk Road was finished by 1913. The road made a purposeful, angled, northwest turn toward the sanatorium, and that angled part eventually became known as “Firland’s Way.”

The Anti-Tuberculosis League could not keep up with the demand for treatment. At its request, a citizens’ commission was appointed by the City of Seattle to study how the sanatorium could meet the need. The commission proposed a bond issue to provide funds for larger permanent buildings and more equipment. In turn, the Anti-Tuberculosis League would turn over the land and buildings to the City of Seattle.

On March 12, 1912, the measure was passed by a staggering 82 percent of the vote. Although the exact date of the change in name for the sanatorium is unclear, it was probably around this time that that it received the name Firland.

Firland Henry doorwayHorace Henry donated another $25,000, and ground was broken for the Walter H. Henry Memorial Administration Building on July 13, 1913. The “Power House” (boilers and utilities) and the infirmary known as the Detweiler Building were built at the same time.

The Firland print shop opened in 1912, and began printing a magazine in 1915 called “Grit and Grin.” Entirely published by patients, with some editorial input from staff, the magazine had a public circulation of about 2,700 copies. The name was changed to “PEP and Courage” in 1916, when Firland had a contest to create a slogan. PEP stood for Patience, Endurance, and Principles, the watchwords for overcoming tuberculosis. Each ward had an editor who wrote charming stories about the patients in his or her ward. Patients entering and leaving Firland were generally listed.

Firland dining

The Firland campus on Fremont Avenue grew, and by 1937 was able to treat up to 250 patients—although a seemingly small number compared with 3,000 cases at any given time in King County. The campus was nearly self-sufficient, relying on both staff and ambulatory patients to do the work of the various facilities. The book History of Firland, published by the sanatorium print shop in 1937, says: “The occupational therapy department is self-sustaining and not a burden to the tax payer.” Patients were often at the facility for a number of years, so vocational training and occupational therapy were crucial for a smooth reintroduction into society.

Once they were well enough to move around and perform duties, patients had many choices in what they could do. Firland had a farm, large storage facilities for food and supplies, a print shop, a laundry, kitchen, bakery, mechanical arts, photography, domestic arts, barber and beauty shops, clerical work, and radio. Some were even paid positions. During the Depression, the WPA contracted with the Firland facility to train workers from the outside community to learn trades such as sewing and printing. Additionally, patients could “go” to school, studying both elementary and high school subjects—students graduated from Lincoln High School in Seattle, sometimes while still flat on their backs in bed. College classes were available as well. Instructors from all three levels regularly visited the Firland campus to administer lessons.

Firland II

The Navy hospital, built in 1943-44 on property leased from the State of Washington at NE 155th and 15th NE, was used through the end of World War II, after which it was no longer needed by the Navy. In September 1947, the City of Seattle Health Department and the King County Health Department merged, turning the care of tuberculosis patients over entirely to the county. On Thanksgiving Day, 1947, 399 patients from Firland Sanatorium and from another Seattle sanatorium were moved to the Naval hospital, which was given the name Firland. By December 1948, it housed 750 patients. The old campus was leased to Crista Ministries under the name King’s Garden, and the Crista Ministries organization eventually purchased the historic property from the county.

Firland wardLife was very different for patients at the new Firland. While patients had been afforded some privacy in the gentle, quiet rooms at the old campus, now they were lined up like soldiers in long, impersonal bunkhouses and given sponge baths assembly-line fashion. Gone were the named wards and ward-reporting for the “PEP” magazine, the name of which was changed to just “Firland Magazine,” and then finally just “TB Magazine.” There was no longer a farm to keep up, but occupational and vocational work was carried over to the new facility.

The end of World War II brought new TB patients to Firland, many of whom were veterans with other challenges besides tuberculosis. King County launched a renewed onslaught against TB, and visiting nurses sought out those in the community who needed treatment. TB tests were administered to the general public in schools and workplaces. The advent of antibiotics and, through both research and “trial-and-error,” a growing understanding of how tuberculosis could be treated with antibiotic “cocktails,” gradually reduced the number of TB patients who needed hospital treatment.

In 1952, Washington State expanded the use of the Navy hospital to include a facility called “Fircrest” for severely developmentally disabled citizens. These residents were kept separate from the TB patients by means of a chain link fence. When the Firland Sanatorium closed for good in 1973, the sheltered workshop remained in service; it may be the longest continually operating such workshop in the United States. The state property has continued to be used for many different state, county, school, and non-profit organizations and departments.

About the author
Victoria Stiles is Executive Director of the Shoreline Historical Museum in Shoreline, Washington, where both Firland campuses were located.

About the photos
These 1927 photos show the exterior,
the Walter H. Henry Memorial Doorway, a dining room, and a ward at the Firland Sanitarium in the Richmond Highland section of Shoreline. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives.