Natural Healing in the Adirondacks (Graduate Research)

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As the due date is drawing nearer for my graduate research (Romanticism and Ruralism: Changing 19th Century American Perceptions of the Natural World), I have found myself focusing on one last area of study that is actually pivotal to my entire argument. This is the idea of the growth of naturalistic rural sanitariums, and the implementation of natural healing in the Adirondacks. Focusing specifically on the Trudeau Sanitarium in Saranac Lake, I am in the process of formulating an argument that correlates European Romantic ideology, American landscape painting, landscape design, the rural cemetery movement, and the belief in the healing powers of the natural world.

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A visual and ideological culmination of the transmission of Romantic ideology into 19th-century American culture through literature and art is the creation of nature-oriented sanitariums, drawing from the experience of picturesque travel, landscape images and beliefs in the healing powers of the natural world. This movement resembles the Rural Cemetery movement, as these institutions were moved away from cities and into a natural setting as a means of employing nature as a healing agent for the patients within. A key example of such a sanitarium is the Trudeau Sanitarium in Saranac, NY. Within this institution (founded in 1884), founder Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau utilized conceptions of the natural world as a means by which patients could attempt to heal pulmonary tuberculosis. Situated in the uppermost portion of the Adirondack region, the location of this sanitarium is essential to understanding its function. “The Adirondacks are the most widely known as a health resort, and this chiefly because of the remarkable success which’ has been accomplished in the altitude and open-air treatment of tuberculosis.”[1] Not only was the open-air treatment suggested for the curing of respiratory ailments, but also hunting, hiking, swimming in the Adirondack lakes, and painting the natural scenery. All activities were intended to cure the physical ailments of the patients, while at the same time bringing them closer to the natural world in which they were drawing rejuvenation and renewal.

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In terms of the actual medicinal value of natural environment as interpreted by Trudeau, he wrote “bad surroundings of themselves could not produce tuberculosis, and when once the germs had gained access to the body the course of the disease was greatly influenced by a favorable or an unfavorable environment. The essence of sanatorium treatment was a favorable environment so far as climate, fresh air, food, and the regulation of the patient’s habits were concerned, and I felt greatly encouraged as to the soundness of the method of treatment the Sanitarium represented, even though it did not aim directly at the destruction of the germ.”[2] While Trudeau was the first to suggest this open air cure, contemporary practitioners of medicine now recognize the physical benefits to be reaped from exposure to a clean, natural (and generally cold) climate. In his piece “Climate and Health, with Special Reference to the United States, Robert Ward stated ““Climate, it is true, is but one element in the treatment, but it is an element of great, and in most cases of paramount, importance. As has already been pointed out, atmospheric conditions are critical in that they affect the micro-organisms which are the specific causes of disease; they strengthen or weaken the individual’s power of resistance; they encourage or they discourage rest and recreation out of doors, and outdoors is the best treatment of all.”[3]

In his autobiography, Trudeau writes of his familiarity with the natural world, and his belief in its healing powers (both spiritually and physically) for patients of respiratory disorders such as tuberculosis. He states, “this same love of wild nature and hunting, which was a passion in my father, was reproduced in his son, for when stricken with tuberculosis in 1872 it drove me, in spite of all the urgent protests of my friends and physicians, to bury myself in the Adirondacks – then an unbroken wilderness, and considered a most dangerous climate for a chest invalid – in order to lead an open-air life in the great forest, alone with Nature…”[4] Upon his decision to move to the wilderness of upstate New York, Trudeau expressed a sentimentalization of the natural world that lead him to believe it was this climate, and only this, that could heal his fatal illness. Whereas the contemporary understanding of pulmonary illness regarded fresh air as an antagonist to the condition, Trudeau held the belief that it could actually function as part of the cure, and therefore implemented his famous ‘open-air’ treatments. Trudeau writes of how being in the midst of the Adirondack forest inspired a rejuvenation of life within him. He states, “I was carried up onto my airy porch in the little cottage, with the stillness of the great forest all about me, the lake shimmering in the sunlight, and a host of recollections of many happy days… Again, imperceptibly the fever began to fall, and strength – and with it the desire to live – to return.”[5] What Trudeau describes here is no less than a picturesque scene, almost like what one might see in a landscape painting of the shimmering water and calm forest. Trudeau describes the imagery of the forest as if he is examining a work of art, and draws from it both physical and emotional renewal.


[1] Ward, Robert. “Climate and Health, with Special Reference to the United States.” The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 12, No. 4 (1921): 369.

[2] Trudeau, Edward Livingston. An Autobiography. Doubleday Page & Co., 1916.,  206.

[3] Ward, Robert. “Climate and Health, with Special Reference to the United States.” The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 12, No. 4 (1921): 361.

[4] Trudeau, Edward Livingston. An Autobiography. Doubleday Page & Co., 1916.,  10 – 11

[5] Trudeau, Edward Livingston. An Autobiography. Doubleday Page & Co., 1916.,  98

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2 responses to “Natural Healing in the Adirondacks (Graduate Research)

  1. Pingback: The Open-Air Treatment of Pulmonary Tuberculosis | HEALTHCARE·

  2. Pingback: Restoration of Historic Hotel Saranac | Imponderabilia·

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