The History of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Louisville, Kentucky – In 1883, the plot of land where Waverly Hills now stands was purchased by Major Thomas H. Hays to build his family home. Since it was too far from any schools, Hays opened his own on the property for his daughters. Lizzie Lee Harris, the teacher he hired, was a fan of Walter Scott’s Waverley novels and named the schoolhouse “Waverley School.” Mr. Hays liked the peacefulness of the name and dubbed his own property “Waverley Hill.” The Board of Tuberculosis Hospitals kept the name after buying the land, but changed the spelling to “Waverly Hills” for reasons unknown.

At the turn of the century, a majority of the Louisville population had been infected with tuberculosis. Waverly Hills Sanatorium opened in 1910 as a two-story wooden building with a patient capacity of 40 to 50. It proved to be too small for the number of cases of tuberculosis. A funding grant of $25,000 was provided to rebuild the sanatorium to accommodate for cases of pulmonary tuberculosis. On August 31, 1912, patients were relocated outside to tents during the remodeling period. By 1924, the capacity had been increased to four-hundred patients. The children’s pavilion, however, proved to cause more harm than good: sick children were housed with the healthy children of tuberculosis patients. The infection spread as a result of improper quarantining. A short film entitled “On the Frontlines” (1936) illustrated the revolutionary new medical treatments at several tuberculosis hospitals. It is one of the few films to depict Waverly Hills Sanatorium in use.

Contrary to many sources, Waverly Hills never operated as a psychiatric hospital. The top floor did care for mentally- and developmentally-challenged patients, but the hospital’s primary use was treating tuberculosis. As a result, Waverly Hills Sanatorium is often incorrectly regarded to as Waverly Hills Sanitarium. Among the treatment methods used at the hospital were lung compression with sandbags and rib and/or lung removal.

The most notorious feature of Waverly Hills is its “death tunnel” or “cadaver chute.” The tunnel was implemented as a way of transporting deceased patients to a hearse below without lowering the morale of other patients. Death was kept out of their line of vision. Urban legend claims the hospital had a death rate of 100,000, but the actual number is believed to be 8,212. One infamous death was that of a pregnant and unmarried nurse who contracted tuberculosis while working at the hospital. Feeling destitute, she hung herself with a light bulb wire in Room #502. Her spirit is one of the most active ghosts haunting Waverly Hills Sanatorium.

By 1943, Waverly Hills Sanatorium had begun its downfall. Streptomycin, a tuberculosis vaccine, had effectively reduced the number of cases of the disease. The remaining patients were transferred to the Hazelwood Sanatorium, also located in Louisville. Waverly Hills Sanatorium closed for good in June 1961.

The property was repurposed as the Woodhaven Geriatric Center in 1962. The center specialized in caring for aging patients with dementia, mobility challenges, and mental disabilities. It closed down only twenty years later due to patient negligence.

Today, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium is open to thrill-seeking paranormal enthusiasts and tourists. Tour admission fees are used by the owners to help with renovations, restorations, and property preservation. The hospital is widely-regarded as the “most haunted location in the world” due to the countless number of stories, videos, and photos proving how rampant the paranormal activity is. Dozens of television shows have highlighted the sanatorium. During the early 2010s, there were rumors that a section of the hospital would be transformed into a hotel, but there have been no recent updates on the claims.

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