The Steuben Sanitarium – Hornell, NY (1910)

Because most of them have disappeared, the sanitarium is not well-known to most people today.

In the early 20th century, tuberculosis or “consumption” was a leading cause of death in all age groups.

There was no cure for the disease, but sanitariums offered rest, exercise to strengthen the lungs, steam baths and saunas to relieve congestion, and diversions to prevent the anxiety that crippled many of those whose breathing was impaired.

Mountains were favored places for these grand resorts, and one was erected in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains at Hornell, NY.

Hornell was booming in 1910 as the center of railroad transportation and as the main maintenance and repair center of the Erie Railroad.

Located fifty miles south of Rochester, in the Canisteo River valley, the city was also known for the profusion of trees that adorned the town -giving it the nickname, “Maple City”.

The Steuben Sanitarium was organized in 1895, and was a state-of-the-art facility – featuring elaborate temperature controls that maintained a constant 72 degrees and an innovative air-exchange system that replaced the air in every room every 15 minutes.

The site had its own electrical power plant, gardens, and dairy.

In July of 1910, Darlene Hawley visited Hornell.

She mailed a postcard to her friend, Genevieve Roth, in Dundee, Illinois.

(Dundee is a village in north-central Illinois; it is considered a far northwest suburb of Chicago.)

The face of the postcard bears a photograph of the Steuben Sanitarium.

On the reverse, Darlene writes, “This is a beautiful city with mountains all around”.

Darlene also noted, “lovely big trees”.

It does not seem that Darlene visited the Sanitarium, although many people did travel to see it.

Alas, the town of Hornell suffered greatly through the mid-twentieth century.

Flooding in 1936, the slow decline of the railroads, ill-planned renewal efforts that destroyed old stately homes and landmarks for highway and new building construction, and the loss of population.

Flooding from Hurricane Agnes in 1972 destroyed the last railroad lines of the Erie Railroad, and the company went out of business.

The Steuben Sanitarium was razed.

(Hornell still has many buildings identified as Historic structures, and a new train service center was developed in the 21st century – but the population of the area remains less than it was in 1910.)

One hopes that Darlene enjoyed the remainder of her stay in Hornell and that Genevieve was delighted by the postcard remembrance.


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