It was called the “White Plague.” Tuberculosis caught untold numbers of people in its grasp, leaving thousands dead. In the late 1800s, doctors had few means to treat the deadly disease, and its contagious nature added to the danger and overwhelmed the few medical facilities that existed in the United States in the nineteenth century. Arkansas was no exception. And in the early 1900s, the state created a new facility to help these patients, the Arkansas State Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
Tuberculosis is an infection of the lungs caused by a particular species of bacteria that can infect both adults and children. In the 1800s, it was often called “consumption” because of how the disease would essentially consume the patient’s ability to breathe. While most people infected by tuberculosis never develop symptoms (known as latent tuberculosis), those who do fall ill from it (active tuberculosis) face serious problems. The disease is fatal in half of the active cases if untreated. Up until the early twentieth century and the development of antibiotics, no treatments or vaccines existed. The disease would slowly break down the ability of the lungs to function. Thousands died slow, painful deaths as a result. While almost anyone was susceptible and the disease did not spread easily, those with weakened immune systems were most at risk from catching it.
The state legislature established the sanatorium in 1909, offering $50,000 for construction of the first building. A board of trustees settled on a site of 970 acres near the small community of Booneville in Logan County, with the first patient being admitted early the next year. The rolling hills and clean, dry air, and quiet community were seen as an ideal place for patient rest.
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