Completion and Consumption: Ties to Tuberculosis in the Peabody Collection

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Last month we were happy to announce that the Peabody officially completed its collection inventory! Special recognition goes out to our previous Inventory Specialists John Bergman-McCool and Emily Hurley, our financial supporters, as well as our volunteers, work-duty students (past and present), and Peabody collection staff who’ve participated in inventorying the collections from 2017 to present.

Reflecting back on all the drawers I personally inventoried and rehoused, there was one particular item and site that I wanted to share. This item is a large, chipped stone knife from the Swamp site in North Reading, MA.

Item 42/6529 – One large, chipped stone knife from the Swamp site in North Reading, MA.

After looking through the Peabody’s accession file cards, I found more items from the same site consisting of various stone points, perforators, gouges, and knives. The most interesting discovery from my search was the location where these items were found. The land in which the Swamp site was located was at one point in time the location of the North Reading State Sanatorium.

Accession file card detailing the objects were found by Mr. Margerison at the North Reading Tuberculosis Hospital site and sold to Dr. Moorehead by Mr. Margerison’s son.

According to a 1933-1935 survey by the Council on Medical Education and Hospitals of the American Medical Association, the term “sanatorium” is an institution operating exclusively for the treatment of tuberculosis. Originally called the Martin’s Brook Sanatorium, the North Reading State Sanatorium was one of four hospitals in Massachusetts for patients with tuberculosis, opening in 1909. The property consisted of 23 structures on 87-acres of land, including a church and school.

During this time, tuberculosis (also known as consumption) was the leading cause of death in both the United States and worldwide, most prevalent amongst teens and adults under 40. Fresh air was considered one of the best ways to treat the disease and was one reason why the North Reading location was chosen for the sanatorium.

View of an open porch – a method of protecting porches by canvas curtains in stormy weather. John A. Fox, Architect. North Reading State Sanatorium, North Reading, MA.
Image from the Tuberculosis hospital and sanatorium construction, written for the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis by Thomas Spees Carrington, 1911.

In her 2013 presentation, “The Martin’s Brook Sanatorium: The History of Care in North Reading and the Commonwealth,” Dr. Clarisse A. Poirier of Merrimack College shares that the earliest structures on the property had no walls in order to give patients plenty of fresh air. Canvas curtains would also be set up in colder weather in order to protect patients from the elements. In addition to the open porch design, the North Reading Sanatorium buildings were “lean-to” structures with a central interior sitting room that overlooked a wing of open porches on either side.

The “lean to” design of the North Reading Sanatorium structures. Image from the Tuberculosis hospital and sanatorium construction, written for the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis by Thomas Spees Carrington, 1911.

By 1926, the sanatorium became a facility solely for children with tuberculosis. Adult patients were moved from North Reading to other facilities at Lakeville, Rutland, and Westfield. By 1945, North Reading received children suffering from the rheumatic fever epidemic and in 1958 the facility received children suffering from any chronic diseases.

North Reading, MA State Tuberculosis Sanatorium West Ward, circa 1910 postcard

After the sanatorium closed in 1962, the property became the John T. Berry Rehabilitation Center until 1995. Part of the land was then sold in 2006 to Lincoln Properties and the other half in 2017 to Pulte Homes. From 2005 to 2008, the Public Archaeology Laboratory (PAL) completed archaeological data recovery programs for five ancient Native American sites located on the property. These projects were completed in advance of the business/residential properties that would later take over the 87-acres of land that once held the former North Reading Sanatorium and John T. Berry Rehabilitation Center. Today the site is now the location of the Edgewood Apartments and the Martin’s Landing Condominiums off of Lowell Road.

The John T. Berry Rehabilitation Center (also known as the JT Berry State School) 1962-1995. Photo courtesy of Asylum Projects.

The archaeological investigation yielded more than 14,000 items consisting of chipped and ground stone tools, knapping debris, fire pits, storage and trash pits, and rock clusters. The evidence identified that the site was pre-contact and used by Middle and Late Archaic populations about 8,000 to 3,000 years ago.

The items in the Peabody collection from this site were discovered by a Mr. Margerison and sold to Dr. Warren K. Moorehead by Mr. Margerison’s son before 1940. Perhaps Moorehead’s decision to obtain these items from the North Reading State Sanatorium site stemmed from his own battle with tuberculosis.

Moorehead had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1895. A year later he became associated with Robert S. Peabody, curating artifacts from various sites for Peabody’s personal collections. He moved to the east in 1898 to recover from his illness at Peabody’s cabin in Saranac Lake, New York. This was also the location of the Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium at Saranac Lake (also known as the “Cure Cottages”) established in 1884. Perhaps Moorehead spent some time here as well during his recovery.

Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium, Adirondack Mountains, Saranac Lake, NY. Postcard circa 1902-1903. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

What many do not know, is what was believed to be the cause of Moorehead’s illness. In 1888, Moorehead was involved in an excavation accident where a wall of earth collapsed on him in the excavation unit, burying him alive. According to an article in the Phillips Academy student newspaper, the Phillipian, Moorehead was paralyzed from the waist down for several days after the accident and he later developed a case of pulmonary tuberculosis as a result.

To learn more about Moorehead’s experience on being buried alive, check out my blog – Buried Alive: A Grave Situation for W.K. Moorehead.

After his accident and development of tuberculosis, Moorehead eventually (with the help of his friend Robert S. Peabody) made his way to New England. By 1901, Moorehead arrived to the newly-founded Department of Archaeology at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA (now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology), serving as curator, 1901-1924, and Director, 1924-1938 before his death in 1939. A private struggle for life by Moorehead, but none the less an extraordinary rebirth by the time of his curatorship at the Peabody at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: