By Nathan Mayberg
LIBERTY June 7, 2005 Sullivan County Historian John Conway and Liberty architect Robert Dadras are seeking to create a historic district in the Town of Liberty to preserve the remnants of the Loomis Memorial Sanitarium for Consumptives, arguably the most famous and important part of Libertys history.
It was the second sanitarium ever built in the country, according to Conway.
A new urgency has arisen, since one of the buildings once used by the sanitarium and possibly built by its leadership is now occupied by part of the town highway barn and is slated to be torn down and replaced due to structural problems.
Conway asked the town board for more time to find a way to preserve it. Town of Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo said he is willing to give Conway and Dadras a chance to find an alternative and stated at a recent town board meeting that the new barn could be built without disturbing the barn which was used by the Loomis facility.
Councilman Maurice Gerry has also indicated that he was willing to give the two time.
The sanitarium became well-known as the destination of thousands of people between the turn of the 20th century and the early 1940s seeking a sanctuary from tuberculosis, one of the deadliest diseases in the history of mankind.
The center was a memorial to renowned Doctor Alfred Lebbeus Loomis, who thought up the idea of a sanitarium first in the Adirondacks with Doctor Edward Livingston Trudeau. Others took up the mantle when Loomis died and built the facilities in Liberty in the model of some of the finest architects in the country, including J. Russell Pope and Bruce Price.
Some of the buildings are considered to be among Sullivan Countys greatest architectural achievements, even 100 years later. The Mary Lewis Reception Hospital, the Babbitt Memorial Laboratory and the casino (recreation center) still stand out. Some are used as homes, while the old hospital, most recently a seminary, is currently unoccupied.
The funds for the original project came from the wealthy relatives of those who needed help for their debilitating illness.
J.P. Morgan, one of the wealthiest men in America at the time Loomis opened, had a relative staying there and donated about $60,000 for one of the buildings. (Morgan had another connection to Liberty he bought Liberty Light Company and sold electricity.)
The barn, said Conway, was the center-point, where fresh milk and eggs were produced for the patients. The freshness of the milk and eggs was another advantage for its time, since there was no refrigeration early in the 20th century, and most dairy products had to be shipped into New York City, where many of the patients came from.
Those who ran Loomis stressed proper (and natural) nutrition and exercise as a way to fight their sickness. The fresh mountain air was also believed to be important.
On the property, patients played golf and croquet. That was quite different than the average hospital, where individuals were confined to a bed with little or no movement. Conway said that hospitals were looked upon as a sentence to death.
According to Conway, between 1894 (when the facility was built) and 1921, the death rate in New York City from tuberculosis dropped by more than 60 percent.
Doctor Herbert Maxon King, a renowned doctor, was the first to install X-rays to diagnose the disease at Loomis.
The Loomis sanitarium was a town unto itself, featuring its own water and sewer departments, firehouse and bakery.
At its height, the sanitarium treated over 230 people at a time. The depression during the 1930s, however, left few people able to operate a professional medical facility.
It was bought in 1938 by Bernarr MacFadden, who operated it for a few years. It was eventually sold again and renamed the Liberty Loomis Hospital.
I dont think anybody today realizes what Loomis meant to Sullivan County and the medical profession, said Conway, who traveled to the National Library of Medicine in Maryland dozens of times to research old documents on the facility.
Conway said he and Dadras hope to create a historical district in Liberty, where the buildings used by Loomis could be preserved close to their current condition.
For more on the Loomis Memorial Sanitarium for Consumptives, you can visit Conways Website, sullivan retrospect.com. His book on the sanitarium should be published within the next year.