History of

The Essex Mountain Sanatorium

     The history of The Essex Mountain Sanatorium begins with The Newark City Home, which was established in Verona New Jersey in 1873 on property which is today the grounds of the Verona High School.  The purpose of the home was to both reform the children of Newark who "were treading the downward path" and to serve as an orphanage.  On the evening of January 9, 1900, the main building of the home was destroyed by fire.  As a locomotive passed in the vicinity, the conductor sounded his whistle to warn the residents of the burning building.  There were no casualties.

Newark City Home c. 1876

     After the fire, the trustees had decided that the whole institution should be changed from the congregate massing of children in one building, to the "cottage system", a system in which boys and girls are segregated and children are grouped into "families", with each "family" consisting of not more than 50 children. Under the new system, a separate cottage would be needed for the girls.  Later that year, a site roughly a quarter-mile northwest of the boys' cottages was chosen for its location, and money was appropriated for its construction.

Newark City Home for Girls c. 1902

     The cornerstone for the "Newark City Home for Girls" was laid on the crest of the second Orange Mountain (known today as Second Mountain) in Verona, the highest point in Essex County, on October 30, 1900.  The building was completed and opened in January of 1902, but the number of delinquent girls was small and in most cases homes for them could be secured in private families.  Four short years later in 1906, due to this decreasing enrollment, the girls cottage was phased out and the building stood vacant.

     In 1906, there were at least 3,000 cases of Tuberculosis in the city of Newark and 842 deaths from the disease.  Without adequate accommodations for the T.B. sick, The Board of Health was helpless to cope with the disease unless proper facilities were provided.  Through the efforts of two Montclair women, Mrs. E.A. Prieth and Miss Mary Wilson, a proposal was introduced to establish a sanatorium in the now vacant girls cottage.  Although there were no legal obstructions to the turning over of the girls cottage for a sanatorium, the plan drew strong opposition from the citizens of Verona.  A campaign was started to keep the sanatorium out.  Threats were made that an injunction would be sought in the courts to stop the opening.

     Before any direct action could be taken by the protesters, the first few patients were admitted into the building under the cover of darkness at midnight of a gray November day in 1907.  To evict the physician and his patients would require more court proceedings and these were never pursued.  Those first few patients of the "Newark City Home for Consumptives" did not stay long however, as extensive repairs were needed to the building which had deteriorated during its vacancy.  A hurried remodeling job was done and on January 21, 1908, the sanatorium received the first 2 patients of the 129 who were to be treated there during its initial year. (for a more detailed account of Mrs. Prieth's and Miss Wilson's efforts, read "Four Women and a Sanatorium" - Click Here)

City Home for Consumptives c. 1907

     Over the next decade, Tuberculosis gradually became to be considered a county problem.  Legislation followed which placed responsibility for the care of the T.B. sick with the county and the Newark Board of Health suggested in 1917, that the Board of Chosen Freeholders take over the institution and enlarge it to handle the needs of the 4,012 persons suffering from Tuberculosis in Essex County's 21 communities.  After acquisition of the hospital in 1917, the county initiated a massive building campaign and immediately instituted the erection of eleven new buildings. These buildings were completed and opened to patients in 1922.

Hospital Construction c. 1930

      Construction continued and the last major buildings to be added to the site, the Hospital Building, which was the largest building of the complex, and the Community Building, which housed the Auditorium and Chapel, were completed in late 1930.  The original unit of the complex, the girls cottage, now served as the Administration Building.  Coincidental with the addition of these new buildings, the sanatorium grounds were increased from 32 acres to nearly 200 acres, a large part of it being farmland where the institution would grow its own vegetables.  The farm was worked by prisoners of the penitentiary in North Caldwell.

     For its time, the sanatorium was a state of the art facility.  During its years of operation it boasted of a 50% recovery rate and was regarded as one of the finest treatment centers in the nation, if not the world.  Its location on the crest of the Second Mountain, with its pure air and water, was considered the Colorado Springs of the east and second only to Denver for beneficial results in the treatment of Tuberculosis.  In addition to treating patients sent from all portions of the county, the sanatorium became a haven for World War 1 veterans that had suffered lung injuries during the war.

     Through the first half of the twentieth century, great strides were taken in the treatment of Tuberculosis.  With the pasteurization of milk and development of the B.C.G. vaccine by the French, science slowly began to gain ground on the disease.  With the discovery of Streptomycin, an antibiotic drug that essentially cured Tuberculosis, in the early 1950's, the number of patients at the sanatorium began to slowly decline.  By the 1970's, as a result of the decline, many of the sanatorium's buildings were no longer in use and the county struggled to find ways in which to utilize them.

Essex Mountain Sanatorium c. 1952

     The sanatorium's vacant wards were used to care for the overflow of mental patients from nearby Overbrook, the psychiatric hospital located on Fairview Ave. in Cedar Grove, while the Medical Staff Building was used to house its doctors and their families.  Turning Point, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, was established in The Male Employee Home in 1975.  Also, much of the sanatorium's vast farmland was used as a compost site for Essex County.

Essex Mountain Sanatorium c. 1987

     It was science's victory over Tuberculosis that inevitably sealed the sanatorium's fate.  Ultimately, the two were hopelessly linked.  The eradication of T.B. meant the end of a need for the sanatorium.  In 1977, the last patient was released and the sanatorium officially closed its doors and ceased all operations.  On December 1, 1982 the county locked the gates to the hilltop property and completely abandoned the complex.  The Essex Mountain Sanatorium, now alone and forgotten, sat idle on top of its mountain.  And it waited.  Five years later, we would arrive.


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