New Collection on NYH takes us inside an isolated community

Our latest WNYLRC collection on New York Heritage comes from the Museum of disABILITY History, taking a look at J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital through postcards and magazines.

The hospital opened in Perrysburg, NY in 1912 as an in-patient tuberculosis treatment center. However, there was no cure yet for the highly-contagious disease (only symptom management), so for the 1 in 170 Americans living in a sanitorium during this time, they were essentially in exile.

Tuberculosis patients and beds lined up in open air around building, c. 1930s.
Postcard showing tuberculosis patients and beds lined up in open air around building, c. 1930s.


The isolated group of patients and staff members during this time formed their own community. The J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital collection includes issues of Grit-Grin, a magazine produced by the residents and staff, providing a venue where they could express themselves.

Title page of Grit-Grin, August 1939.
Title page of Grit-Grin, August 1939.


Grit-Grin Magazine, August 1927
Cover of Grit-Grin, August 1927

Content included columns documenting stories about the patients, events happening within the immediate area, and drawings and poetry. The social isolation experienced by the patients is an important context to view this material. The social fear of tuberculosis was a barrier that kept people away. Patients were often unable to see family or friends for weeks or even years.

Column from January, 1928.
Column from January, 1928.

And this hospital was not an unusual case. Take these examples:

In fact, there was enough material on the topic for a presentation at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in 2013, summarized here. The author proposes the idea that involvement in creating publications like these could have helped patients recover more quickly.

The J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital was used as a tubercular facility until 1960, when it was turned over to the State of New York for use as a developmental disability center. The building still stands but has been abandoned since 1995. If you are interested in its current state, the blog Untapped Cities has a fascinating photo essay about the building.

Coincidentally, the J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital was the subject of a Buffalo News article this week, related to a book on the subject being published by the Museum of disABILITY History.

Don’t forget to look at the J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital collection on New York Heritage.