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Baldwin Sanitarium

Part of Kalamazoo's Medical History


The 22 June 1911 headline reads: “NILES SANITARIUM MAY MOVE TO KALMAZOO”, which is the first Kalamazoo Gazette reporting on the Baldwin Sanitarium’s plan to relocate to 729 Oakland Drive (aka Asylum Avenue). At the time, there had been growing protest voiced by Niles residents who objected to the sanitarium’s location within the residential area. Baldwin apparently looked to Kalamazoo as an ideal location to resume his practice.

“Residents of Niles have protested against the hospital, it being situated in the residence section of the city. This would be entirely overcome here as the building is surrounded by a large grove and away from residences.” KG, 22 June 1911

1908 Sanborn Map (Kalamazoo), Library of Congress

So, in the fall of 1911, Dr. Zell Lyman Baldwin (1864-1929), former mayor of Niles (1901-1902), came to Kalamazoo to purchase the existing Fletcher Sanitarium (later renamed Kalamazoo Sanitarium) facilities. Dr. Charles Agustus Fletcher was a local physican who ran the sanitarium at the corner of Austin Street and Asylum Avenue (WMU’s Walwood Hall stands at the location today). Fletcher and his associates opened the facilities in 1893. Baldwin’s medical background was in treating chronic ailments like tuberculosis with the newly developed method of “intravenous medication”. According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, “the idea is to destroy the germs and their poison: after this has been done, it does not take long for the average person to rebuild.” One of the conditions Baldwin focused his expertise on treating was goiters, which Baldwin believed was related to the eye. On September 30, Fletcher and Baldwin completed the deal to bring Baldwin to Kalamazoo.

“A company has been organized with a capital of $150,000 and the property known as the Kalamazoo Sanitarium on Asylum avenue has been purchased and will be thoroughly refitted and enlarged to care for the necessities of the new business.” KG, 1 October 1911

In the same article, the Gazette noted that, “the sanitarium is excellently located, having a high elevation, large grounds and beautiful surroundings which make it an ideal spot for a health home.” On 3 October 1911, an Idaho man named Edgar Simons became the first patient under the care of the Baldwin Sanitarium. At the time of its opening, the hospital was treating around 35 patients from various states throughout the country.

But almost as soon Baldwin arrived in Kalamazoo to treat patients, local residents voiced concerns to the city council about the public risks associated with such a facility. Nine days later, the Gazette reported that “petitions are being circulated asserting that it is a public menace and nuisance.” The nearby Training School for teachers connected to Western State Normal School, comprised of elementary and junior high school children, was cited as cause for concern. Once again, Baldwin was forced into looking for a new location for the sanitarium. Also, a year after opening the tuberculosis hospital, the partnership between Baldwin and Fletcher dissolved, leaving Baldwin the sole “owner and manager.” On 9 April 1914 the Kalamazoo Telegraph Press reported that Fletcher’s sanitarium burned down. The building at the time of the fire was being repaired in order to serve as a dormitory for students attending the nearby Western Normal School.

Move to Monroe Street

The Baldwin Sanitarium Postcard, c.1915-1930

In the 1914 city directory, Baldwin’s new facilities are listed at 502 Stone Street. By the 1919 edition, the address was changed to 500 Monroe Street. Today the area is occupied by Western Michigan University’s Public Safety Department parking lot. In 1920, a city commissioner asked for a formal investigation into the conditions of the facility.

“Commissioner Truxton Talbot asked the City Commission last evening to appoint a committee to investigate conditions at the Baldwin Sanitarium, in this city, and to secure proof from Health Officer A.H. Rockwell concerning statements relative to the hospital, which the doctor is alleged to have made to parties in other states.” KG 16 March 1920

What came of the investigation is unknown, but the city directories indicate that even after the doctor’s death in 1929, the sanitarium remained operating under Baldwin’s widow Mary E. Baldwin and a Dr. H.O. Peterson for three or four more years. Around 1929, just prior to Baldwin’s death, the official address for the hospital moved to 621 S. Rose Street, likely Baldwin’s home residence. Baldwin’s obituary provides a small amount of information about the doctor’s interests, saying,

“For many years Dr. Baldwin experimented with different salts of the earth, perfecting a balanced cell salts. As a result of his unusual mentality, and flair for investigation, the physician made many other interesting experiments, one of them engaging his attention up to a few days before his demise.”

“In his personal life, Dr. Baldwin was generous and impulsive. He gave of his time and talents generously. Strongly attached to the artistic, it was the pleasure of the deceased to draw around him persons gifted along these lines. Music and the stage meant much to him. He had done much for members of both these professions.” KG 1 May 1929

In 1948, the Kingscott & Associates firm petitioned to have the property re-zoned; likely in order demolish the facility, and replace it with their firm’s offices.

 

Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, January 2023

Sources

Articles

“Niles sanitarium may move to Kalamazoo”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 June 1911

“Kalamazoo Sanitarium has been sold; to become tubercular hospital”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 October 1911

“Idaho man is first patient”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 October 1911

“Council to be asked to order new Baldwin Sanitarium removed”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 October 1911

“Notice of dissolution of partnership”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 October 1912

“Doctor is fined for endangering health”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 May 1913

“Physician plans to erect big sanitarium on Monroe Street”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 October 1913

“Fletcher Sanitarium burns”
Kalamazoo Telegraph Press, 9 April 1914

“Fire at sanitarium”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 October 1919

“To probe sanitarium”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 March 1920

“Baldwin Sanitarium has holiday dinner”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 December 1922

“Medico-Physical to hear Z. L. Baldwin”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 September 1928

“Dr. Z. L. Baldwin, sanitarium head, expires, aged 65”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 April 1929

“Dr. Zell L. Baldwin rites held today”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 May 1929


Local History Room Files

Subject File: Baldwin Sanitarium

Subject File: Fletcher Sanitarium

Name File: Baldwin, Zell L.

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