Piedmont Sanatorium

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Piedmont Sanatorium

Established 1918
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Burkeville, VA
Alternate Names
  • Piedmont Geriatric Hospital


The first location considered for Piedmont Sanatorium was in Ivor, Virginia. Ivor's citizens detested the idea of building a sanatorium for blacks in their town. After rejecting the location in Ivor, the Piedmont Sanatorium committee visited a site in Lynchburg, Virginia. Here again, the committee met opposition from the citizens of Lynchburg and "any idea of such purchase was immediately abandoned." By 1917, a real estate agent named Mr. Barnes was hired to negotiate the purchase of a site in Burkeville. To avoid a situation similar to what had taken place in Ivor and Lynchburg, the committee asked a group of citizens from the Burkeville area to sign a statement which said the sanatorium could be built there. Despite the signed statement, complaints emerged for the third time. The State Board of Health received a letter from an attorney named Mr. H.H. Watson who wrote on behalf of a group of citizens who did not want the sanatorium to be located in Burkeville. This time, the State Board of Health ignored the opposition and continued making plans for the erection of the new Piedmont Sanatorium.

The experimental nature of Piedmont Sanatorium is evident in the pavilion architecture at that facility. Initially, only one pavilion was planned for Piedmont Sanatorium. This building, named for Miss Agnes Randolph, was a one-story frame structure that was left open on one side and "screened with heavy curtains." The pavilion cost $8,041, When construction began at Blue Ridge Sanatorium, this facility received three wood frame pavilions complete with sleeping porches which have been described as simple and unassuming. Nevertheless, they were covered in stucco giving Blue Ridge a more permanent and appealing nature than the modest and experimental Piedmont. Also, the Piedmont pavilion provided space for 25 patients, whereas the Blue Ridge pavilions provided space for 120 patients. It seems that the State Board of Health did not want to invest a great deal of capital at Piedmont until they were certain that the facility would succeed.

The Administration building cost $14,286.00, a good deal more than the cost of the first pavilion. The structure is made of solid brick laid in five-course American bond. It has decorative fenestration with segmental arches supporting the weight of the wall above each window. It also has a two story porch with a decorative railing which somewhat resembles Chinese Chippendale and four square columns with simple capitals at the top. The interior is spacious with relatively high ceilings. The staff dined in an upstairs room that has an elaborately coffered plaster ceiling. Overall, the building resembles the elements found in colonial revival buildings. In looking at the relationship between the administration building and the patient pavilions at Piedmont, a hierarchy is established which orders not only the built environment but also the regimen of daily life at Piedmont. Brick is normally considered to be more substantial than wood and, in this case, the brick of the administration building communicates that the power of the institution lies with the administration and not in the patient occupied space. Further supporting this message was the administration building's location between the first two patient pavilions. The two-story structure towered above the small pavilions and created a point from which the patient pavilions could be kept under watch.

Everything at Piedmont was hierarchically ordered and routine. Patients were expected to follow a specific regimen as part of their treatment. A pamphlet given out to all new patients sheds light on what this routine consisted of. Every morning, patients were awakened at 7:15 a.m. They had breakfast and then rest followed by lunch, and more rest. From 1:45 until 4:00 p.m., the quiet hour demanded that noone should speak. Some patients who were further advanced in their treatment exercised at certain times of the day. At 6:00 p.m. the patients ate supper and at 9:30 p.m., they went to bed. This routine is very similar if not identical to the one at Blue Ridge sanatorium.

An important goal of the treatment of tubercular blacks was their eventual re-entry into productive society. In 1919, Miss Helen Morris was hired as the sanatorium's first occupational therapist. She led the patients in handicraft activities. Some patients were taught skills that they would be able to use once returning to the real world. Piedmont patients were also expected to serve as role models for tubercular blacks who could not come to Piedmont. The Piedmont staff taught their patients the proper ways to dispose of sputum and other ways to handle the ills of tuberculosis in hopes that their patients would return to their home communities and teach other African-Americans about tuberculosis. Educating the black population about tuberculosis took place both on and off the Piedmont site. Patients at the sanatorium were required to attend weekly lectures to learn more about tuberculosis. Field clinics were established to diagnose blacks in other areas of Virginia and to give advice on dealing with the disease. By focusing on the black population as a whole, rather than merely the patients who received treatment at the sanatorium, Piedmont provided widespread benefits to society.

Shortly after the sanatorium opened, a nursing school for black women was established on the Piedmont site. The Nursing School at Piedmont Sanatorium offered a tuberculosis specific curriculum. The program was only for two years and allowed black women to become certified specifically in tuberculosis nursing. If these women wanted to become registered nurses, they had to complete a third year of training at St. Phillips Hospital in Richmond. The ultimate goal of establishing the nursing school for tuberculosis, it may be assumed, was to have these nurses work with the black population at large to fight tuberculosis.

The architectural landscape of Piedmont Sanatorium in the middle decades of the twentieth century looked remarkably different than it had at the beginning. In addition to the Carter Building, the Works Progress Administration building, and the new Nurses' Dormitory, a wooden chapel with a south-facing tower had been constructed in 1923. Blue Ridge Sanatorium also had a chapel which was completed in 1925. This Gothic style building was made of stone and closely resembled the chapel at Catawba Sanatorium in southwestern Virginia. Once again, Blue Ridge's superiority to Piedmont is asserted in the differences in building materials. Furthermore, the inclusion of a polygonal apse at the Blue Ridge chapel makes this building's plan architecturally more significant than the simple rectilinear form used for the Piedmont chapel.

The modern building at Piedmont Sanatorium, which was constructed in 1940, added 79 beds for adults and space for children. It was a modern streamlined building made of concrete with large windows in the central portion of the façade. Blue Ridge Sanatorium also received a similar building with help from the Works Progress Administration. A conscious effort was made to have the design of Blue Ridge's modern building compliment the other architecture at the site. No such allowance seems to have been made at Piedmont. The Blue Ridge building is brick and has elaborate art-deco ornamentation around the windows and entranceway. An examination of the plans for these two buildings shows that the sleeping porch was still used at the time of construction for the Blue Ridge building, but sleeping porches were omitted from the Piedmont building.

By 1965, Piedmont Sanatorium closed and black patients were admitted to Blue Ridge Sanatorium for the first time. An anonymous history of Blue Ridge Sanatorium provides an account of the integration, The staff in general received the new arrivals as people who were sick and needed care.

In 2004, the state Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse proposed building a facility to house 150 of Virginia's most dangerous sex offenders on PGH grounds. The facility would be self-contained and not occupy the same buildings as PGH. Reasons for selecting the Burkeville site included its proximity to Nottoway Correctional Center, which could provide backup security help, and the nearby temporary sex offenders unit in Dinwiddie, whose workers could easily transition to the new facility. The offenders in question fall under the control of the DMHMRS, rather than the prison system, because they have completed their prison sentences but still meet the criteria for civil commitment as sexually violent .


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