Riverside/Shorewood Sanitarium

Riverside/Shorewood Sanitarium

By Cynthia Sommer (April 2015)

The establishment of institutions and quarantine facilities in Milwaukee in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s is not surprising when we think about the large influx of immigrants, stresses on society and the rise of communicable diseases.  Due to the state of medical knowledge that was available at the time,   these institutions were built on the outskirts of town and away from residents.  The undeveloped parts of the East Side became a haven for several institutions – Sisters of Charity Hospital, a temporary quarantine facility on Milwaukee-Downer College (now UWM) grounds for an 1890’s outbreak of smallpox, St. Rose’s orphanage, Industrial School for vagrant girls, and Riverside/Shorewood Sanitarium for mental health patients.   Columbia-St. Mary’s (Sister’s) Hospital is one of the few buildings left but the stories and traces of the other institutions are still among us.  The preserved greenspace associated with the condos built between 1999-2001 near Edgewood and Maryland Avenues, provides some clues about one of these institutions – the Riverside/Shorewood sanitarium.

The story of the Riverside/Shorewood sanitarium starts with the establishment in 1898 of a “Woman’s Hospital” for surgery by Dr. Frank Studley in one and eventually two houses on Humboldt Blvd. near Capital.   With the influx of nervous and “hysteria” cases to this private 15-bed facility, the name changed two years later to Riverside Sanitarium.   It became an “institution devoted to the care and treatment of mild mental and nervous diseases, insanity, alcohol and drug habitués and chronic invalids”.  An early publication described it as a “quiet home-like retreat” with patient expense of “$10 per week upwards according to the case” and “within the means of every class, particularly of those whose only recourse is the County Hospital or the Insane Asylum.”

The eight acres of wooded land surrounding the hospital had rustic paths, a quiet forest and a grand view from the west bank of the Milwaukee River – a place adapted to the care “of those requiring rest and quiet”.  Routine treatment for the majority of cases consisted of “hydrotherapy, needle spray, massage, Swedish movements and exercise”.  Today, many stress relief centers provide similar approaches.

The success of the sanitarium resulted in the construction by 1905 of a new three-story hospital on land bordered by Maryland, Edgewood, Prospect and Stafford Avenues.  Forty-two shareholders paid $100 each to cover the cost of the building and land for the hospital.  The main building consisted of 24 patient rooms, an office, lab, dining room and seven rooms on the top floor for employees.  In the early days they would raise their own chickens and cows for milk because of the distance to town.

Rapid expansion of the original building followed with construction of a second connecting building in 1907 with 10 additional patient rooms and then a third L-shaped building (the Annex) in 1911 with 20 more patient rooms.  In 1930, the name of the institution was changed from Riverside Sanitarium to Shorewood Hospital-Sanitarium. The facility was sold to Columbia Hospital in 1969 and the word “sanitarium” was dropped from its title.  The last patient left on June 1, 1978 and was charged an average daily room rate of $40. The property was finally sold to the City of Shorewood for 1.3 million dollars for future development.

The hospital was administered by Dr. Frank Studley from 1898 to 1933 until his untimely death while testifying in court on a case.  Dr. William Studley, his son, and also a specialist in neurology and psychiatry, assumed the responsibility of the hospital until it closed in 1978.  While other accepted mental health treatments at the time were used, such as psychotherapy, drugs, insulin and electroshock therapy, the healing properties of nature were still felt to be important.

Between 1930 and 1945, Dr. Wm. Studley planted over 160 trees on the property, creating a local arboretum and most certainly a restful place for his patients.    Many of the rare types of trees still survive and include bald cypress, paper bark maple, persimmon, yellow wood, pecan, catalpa tree, and ponderosa pine.  Native trees that already existed in the area included red oaks, white oaks, ironwood and basswood and the property also contains at least eleven large champion trees.  There are two ancient Indian trails that run through the property.

At the time of condo development, there was much public outcry to preserve as many of the trees as possible prior to construction on the property.  Today, you can walk through the pleasant paths in the area and view the trees, each with an identification tag.  Dr. Wm. Studley hoped that this small arboretum “can be enjoyed by neighbors, school children and botany classes from the University.”  Check out this hidden retreat in the neighborhood.