Catawba Hospital Began as a Health Resort

The land on which Catawba Hospital stands has a history of healing dating back to 1857. That was the year several businessmen from Salem, VA discovered the potential of sulphur and limestone springs on Catawba mountain. In June of 1858, they opened Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Resort. The 700 acre resort extended up the mountain from the Catawba Valley. It lies ten miles north of Salem on the northern border of Roanoke County, VA. Joe Chapman later bought the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs resort. Chapman catered to people who wanted to escape to the mountains for the good, clean, healthful air and the peace and quiet that this remote resort offered. Chapman advertised his water as being valuable in the treatment of lung diseases. He shipped the spring water around the country and dubbed it, (Catawba Iron or All Healing). At the height of its popularity, the main hotel accommodated 300 guests. Residents of Roanoke were repeat guests at the resorts which continued to operate until 1908.

By the early 1900s, the resort attracted many tuberculosis victims. In 1908, the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased the property from the Chapman family. The Commonwealth appropriated $40,000 to establish the first Tuberculosis Sanatorium.

Wooden Pavillions Housed Tuberculosis Patients

Initially wooden pavilions housed TB patients. Patients in 1909 were treated to fresh air (cold or hot), plenty of sunshine, rest and as much food as they could handle. These were the only known treatments for Tuberculosis until the advent of thoracic surgery around 1920. Tuberculosis was eventually brought under control with the invention of Streptomycin and Isonicotinic Hydrazide (INH) in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Red Sulphur Springs Gazebo Remains

The only evidence of the Resort today is an ornate iron pavilion over one of the springs and an old two-story building nearby. The Gazebo, which covered the mineral spring, still stands at the northeast point of the Hospital campus behind the Garst Building. The marble fountain at its center is etched with the names of many of the former patients of the Sanatorium. Uphill from the Gazebo is the only remaining building from the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs. The Infirmary stood where the Main Hospital Building (Nichols Building) now stands. Erected in 1918, it was designed to house 1260 patients at a time when the Sanatorium’s census was escalating rapidly.