Waverly Hills Sanatorium

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Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium Historic Buildings
Waverly Hills Sanatorium main entrance
Location:Louisville, Kentucky
Architect:James J. Gaffney (1863–1946); Dennix Xavier Murphy (1854–1933)
Architectural style:Other
Governing body:State
MPS:Jefferson County MRA
NRHP Reference#:83002746[1]
Added to NRHP:July 12, 1983
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Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium Historic Buildings
Waverly Hills Sanatorium main entrance
Location:Louisville, Kentucky
Architect:James J. Gaffney (1863–1946); Dennix Xavier Murphy (1854–1933)
Architectural style:Other
Governing body:State
MPS:Jefferson County MRA
NRHP Reference#:83002746[1]
Added to NRHP:July 12, 1983

The Waverly Hills Sanatorium is a closed sanatorium located in southwestern Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky. It opened in 1910 as a two-story hospital to accommodate 40 to 50 tuberculosis patients. In the early 1900s, Jefferson County was ravaged by an outbreak of tuberculosis (the "White Plague") which prompted the construction of a new hospital. The hospital closed in 1962, due to the antibiotic drug streptomycin that lowered the need for such a hospital.

Waverly Hills has been popularized on paranormal television as being one of the "most haunted" hospitals in the eastern United States. The sanatorium was featured on ABC/FOX Family Channel's Scariest Places On Earth, VH1's Celebrity Paranormal Project, Syfy's Ghost Hunters, Zone Reality's Creepy, the British show Most Haunted, Paranormal Challenge, and Ghost Adventures on Travel Channel.[2]

Plans have been developed to convert the sanatorium into a four star hotel which will cater to the haunted hotel crowd as well as regular hotel patrons.[3][4]



The land that is today known as Waverly Hill was purchased by Major Thomas H. Hays in 1883 as the Hays' family home. Since the new home was far away from any existing schools, Mr. Hays decided to open a local school for his daughters to attend.[5] He started a one-room schoolhouse on Pages Lane and hired Lizzie Lee Harris as the teacher.[5] Due to Miss Harris' fondness for Walter Scott's Waverley novels, she named the schoolhouse Waverley School.[5] Major Hays liked the peaceful-sounding name, so he named his property Waverley Hill. The Board of Tuberculosis Hospital kept the name when they bought the land and opened the sanatorium.[5] It is not known exactly when the spelling changed to exclude the second "e" and became Waverly Hills. However the spelling fluctuated between both spellings many times over the years.[6][7][8]

Original sanatorium

In the early 20th century, Jefferson County was severely stricken with an outbreak of tuberculosis. There were many tuberculosis cases in Louisville at the time because of all the swampland, which was perfect for the tuberculosis bacteria. To try to contain the disease, a two-story wooden sanatorium was opened which consisted of an administrative/main building and two open air pavilions, each housing 20 patients, for the treatment of "early cases".
"In the early part of 1911, the city of Louisville began to make preparations to build a new Louisville City Hospital, and the hospital commissioners decided in their plans that there would be no provision made in the new City Hospital for the admission of pulmonary tuberculosis, and the Board of Tuberculosis Hospital was given $25,000 to erect a hospital for the care of advanced cases of pulmonary tuberculosis".[9]

On August 31, 1912, all tuberculosis patients from the City Hospital were relocated to temporary quarters in tents on the grounds of Waverly Hills pending the completion of a hospital for advanced cases.[9][10] In December 1912 a hospital for advanced cases opened for the treatment of another 40 patients. In 1914 a children’s pavilion added another 50 beds[11] making the known “capacity” around 130 patients.[12] The children's pavilion was not only for sick children but also for the children of tuberculosis patients who could not be cared for properly otherwise. This report also mentions that the goal was to add a new building each year to continually grow so there may have even been more beds available than specifically listed.

Sanatorium expansions

Due to constant need for repairs on the wooden structures, need for a more durable structure, as well as need for more beds so that people would not be turned away due to lack of space,[13] construction of a five-story building that could hold more than 400 patients began in March 1924. The new building opened on October 17, 1926, but after the introduction of streptomycin in 1943, the number of tuberculosis cases gradually lowered, until there was no longer need for such a large hospital. The remaining patients were sent to Hazelwood Sanatorium in Louisville. Waverly Hills closed in June 1961.

Woodhaven Medical Services

The building was reopened in 1962 as Woodhaven Geriatric Center, a nursing home. Primarily treating aging patients with various stages of dementia and mobility limits, as well as the severely retarded, Woodhaven was closed by the state in 1982 allegedly due to patient neglect, as is sometimes common in these environments of under staffed and overcrowded institutions. Rumors later inaccurately termed Woodhaven as an insane asylum lending to many urban legends.


A tunnel was constructed at the same time as the main building beginning on the first floor and traveling 500 feet (150 m) to the bottom of the hill. One side had steps to allow workers to enter and exit the hospital without having to walk a dangerous, steep hill. The other side had a set of rails and a cart powered by a motorized cable system so that supplies could easily be transported to the top. Air ducts leading from the roof of the tunnel to above ground level were incorporated every hundred feet to let in light and fresh air.

Removal of bodies

As antibiotics had not been discovered when Waverly opened, treatment consisted of heat lamps, fresh air, high spirits, and reassurances of an eventual full recovery. Once tuberculosis hit its peak, deaths were occurring about one every other day. The sight of the dead being taken away in view of patients was not good for morale which plummeted, causing them to lose hope or the will to live and become depressed, which only contributed more to the death rate. With deaths occurring at such a high rate, the tunnel took on another use, and when patients died, the bodies were placed on the cart and lowered to the bottom where a hearse would be waiting to take them away discreetly, out of patient view, saving morale.The doctors also thought this would combat the disease and keep it from spreading.

Recent developments


Simpsonville developer J. Clifford Todd bought the hospital in 1983 for $3,005,000. He and architect Milton Thompson wanted to convert it into a minimum-security prison for the state, but the developers dropped the plan after neighbors protested. Todd and Thompson then proposed converting the hospital into apartments, but they counted on Jefferson Fiscal Court to buy around 140 acres (57 ha) from them for $400,000, giving them the money to start the project.[14]


Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro

In March 1996, Robert Alberhasky bought Waverly Hills and the surrounding area. Alberhasky's Christ the Redeemer Foundation Inc. made plans to construct the world's tallest statue of Jesus on the site, along with an arts and worship center. The statue, which was inspired by the famed Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, would have been designed by local sculptor Ed Hamilton and architect Jasper Ward.[15] The first phase of the development, coming in at a cost of $4,000,000, would have been a statue of 150 feet (46 m) tall and 150 feet (46 m) wide, situated on the roof of the sanatorium. The second phase would convert the old sanatorium into a chapel, theater, and a gift shop at a cost of $8,000,000 or more.[16]

The plan to construct this religious icon fell through because donations to the project fell well short of expectations. In a period of a year, only $3,000 was raised towards the effort despite efforts to pool money from across the nation. The project was canceled in December 1997.[16]


After Alberhasky's efforts failed, Waverly Hills was sold to Tina and Charlie Mattingly in 2001. The Mattinglys hold tours of Waverly Hills and host a haunted house attraction each Halloween, with proceeds going toward restoration of the property. They're also currently restoring all the windows in the decrepit building while restoring the interior of the old sanatorium also.[17][18]


Much of the following information comes from a hand drawn map and accompanying pages of building descriptions that were obtained from the Waverly Herald. The exact date is not on the pages that were acquired however it is estimated that it was from the May 1953 issue.[original research?]

Originally the home of the Hayes family, this building was already standing when the land was purchased in 1908. It was used by the sanatorium as a nurses dormitory, and later as staff housing. It was eventually destroyed by fire.

See No.15 on the above map

Original sanatorium 
The original wooden structure, opened on July 26, 1910, was an administrative building which contained offices, treatment rooms, and a kitchen. It was torn down due to its poor condition.[9]
Pavilion buildings 
The wooden pavilion buildings were built at various times in the operation of the sanatorium. The first two were standing in 1910 when the original sanatorium opened. One housed 20–25 male patients, the other 20–25 female patients. Later, with the construction of the new Main building, the southernmost pavilion building was moved to the parking lot to make room for the north wing. This building was used as housing for male staff members.

See numbers 3 & 11 on the above maps. Also see 2,12,13 for additional pavilion type buildings on the property.

Hospital for advanced cases 
This two story structure opened December 18, 1912[9] and was designed to care for 50 advanced cases of pulmonary tuberculosis.

Later, with the opening of the Main building, this building became the Colored Hospital, and later still was used as staff housing.
See No.21 on the above map

Main building 
This building was given an official opening ceremony and dedication on October 20, 1926. It was considered state of the art.[citation needed] It is one of the few buildings still standing on the property.


Room 502

An episode of the Sci-Fi Channel television show Ghost Hunters featured the cast's investigation of Waverly Hills, including a local myth about the death of a nurse by murder or suicide in Room 502. Legend says the nurse found out she was pregnant by the owner of the sanatorium without being married and had contracted tuberculosis, so she hanged herself with a light bulb wire outside the room she was in at the time.[19] The room was also investigated by the show Ghost Adventures and Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files. Both shows found evidence of paranormal activity.

Death rate

Some urban legends claim that "100,000 deaths" occurred at the Sanatorium. According to Assistant Medical Director Dr. J. Frank W. Stewart, the highest number of deaths in a single year at Waverly Hills was 152. Stewart wrote that the worst time for deaths was at the end of the Second World War when troops were returning from overseas with very advanced tuberculosis cases.[20] Some independent researchers suggest that since 162 people died at Waverly Hills in 1945, the highest total number of deaths possible over 50 years was approximately 8,212.[21]

"Body chute" or "Death tunnel"

In recent years the popularity of the Sanatorium as a haunted attraction and exaggerations of numbers of dead that were moved through the first floor tunnel have led to nicknames such as “Death Tunnel” or “Body Chute.”

Waverly Hills in entertainment

Sounds of the Underground music festival

Waverly Hills Sanatorium hosted the last show of the touring music festival Sounds of the Underground 2007 on August 11. The show featured prominent acts in the extreme metal and metalcore scene, including Job for a Cowboy, The Acacia Strain, Hatebreed, Shadows Fall, Chimaira, GWAR, Lamb of God and The Number Twelve Looks Like You. Similar festivals or concerts will likely not happen again at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, due to complaints made by local residents.[23]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/All_Data.html. 
  2. ^ Ghost Adventures : TV Shows. Travel Channel (2011-02-28). Retrieved on 2011-11-27.
  3. ^ Davis, Alex. "Spooky Waverly Hills may return as hotel", Courier-Journal, 7 August 2008.
  4. ^ Renovations hopeful for haunted hotel, Fox41.com
  5. ^ a b c d Detert, Fred. "How Waverly Hills Got Its Name", Waverly Herald, circa 1953.
  6. ^ Postcard (with 2nd E), located in display case in the laundry building at Waverly
  7. ^ Postcard (without 2nd E)
  8. ^ Endowment booklet (with 2nd E)
  9. ^ a b c d Report of Board of Tuberculosis Hospitals (1915). Freepages.history.rootsweb.com. Retrieved on 2011-11-27.
  10. ^ "History of Waverly Hills", The Waverly Herald, pages 3 & 4
  11. ^ "History of Waverly Hills", The Waverly Herald
  12. ^ Wilson, Dunning S.; Dittmar, L. J. Report of the Board of Tuberculosis Hospital, Dr. Dunning S Wilson was Medical Director of Waverly Hills. L. J. Dittmar was President of the Board of Tuberculosis Hospital.
  13. ^ "Sanatorium Has Waiting List for Treatment, Effective In Early Stages", The Louisville Times, 5 December 1928.
  14. ^ "Famed hospital now a white elephant", The Courier-Journal, 13–14 August 1986, p.1.
  15. ^ "World tallest Christ statue planned for Waverly Hills", The Courier-Journal [Louisville], March 1996: 1.
  16. ^ a b "Jesus statue 'would take a miracle'." Kentucky Post 12 December 1997: 1.
  17. ^ Seewer, John. "Haunted houses mix big-budget scenes and settings for ghoulish getaways", The Canadian Press, 2 October 2009.
  18. ^ "Waverly Hills Sanatorium Haunted House", Louisville Courier-Journal, 3 October 2009.
  19. ^ GhostHunters Episode 214 Waverly Hills Investigation (2003-03-29)
  20. ^ Sunrise/Sunset-Autobiography written by Dr. J. Frank W. Stewart who was Assistant Medical Director at Waverly Hills. Worked at Waverly Hills from 1945–1955
  21. ^ Official Waverly Hills Sanatorium/ Woodhaven Geriatric Center Memorial & Historical Resource. Whsmemorial.tripod.com. Retrieved on 2011-11-27.
  22. ^ Interview with Jason and Grant from Ghost Hunters[dead link]
  23. ^ "PLEASURE RIDGE PARK: Waverly Hills rock concert was its last: Neighbors outraged by noise, vulgarities", Courier Journal, 22 August 2007. "There will be no more loud rock concerts at the old Waverly Hills hospital in Pleasure Ridge
    Park like the one on Aug. 11 that upset nearby residents, metro officials say."

External links

Coordinates: 38°07′48.53″N 85°50′30.22″W / 38.1301472°N 85.8417278°W / 38.1301472; -85.8417278