A Prominent Institution | Prairie Public Broadcasting

A Prominent Institution

May 23, 2019

In the early 1900s, tuberculosis was a serious concern. The North Dakota Anti-Tuberculosis Association was founded in 1909, with the legislature allotting $10,000 to establish a tuberculosis sanitarium. By 1913, additional efforts were underway. Statistics on TB were collected, teachers who tested positive were fired, and students with TB were banned from schools.

R.S. Lewis was president of the board for charitable institutions, like one for the blind at Bathgate and one for the deaf at Devils Lake; and on this date in 1913, he announced that the Dunseith Tuberculosis Sanitarium would be one of the most prominent institutions in North Dakota. It was common to locate such facilities away from population centers to calm fears that the disease might spread. In that sense, the location a near Dunseith was ideal. Construction had been delayed for of lack of funds, but with $37,500 in new funding the facility had opened in 1912.

Lewis was particularly interested in the sanitarium because the state was scheduled to take control of it on July first.  Lewis said the sanitarium was ideally located and was in “tip-top” condition.

It eventually grew into a sprawling complex housing 900 patients. The buildings were connected by tunnels, and it was so large that at one time it had its own zip code. The name changed to San Haven in 1923. The local postmaster subsequently changed the name of the post office from “Montair” to “San Haven.” It was inspired by the Latin word sanitas meaning cleanliness or health.

In the 1950s the treatment for TB shifted, with patients remaining at home instead of moving into institutions. That left empty beds at San Haven, and it became a destination for developmentally disabled patients. In 1973 Grafton State School took control, and the mission officially changed to reflect the new use.

San Haven was closed in 1989. The abandoned buildings attracted adventurers and ghost hunters. One adventurer was killed when he fell down an elevator shaft. The neglected site has perhaps a dozen abandoned and crumbling buildings.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


The Washburn Leader. “Valuable Work at Dunseith.” 23 May 1913. Washburn ND. Page 1.

Ghosts of North Dakota. “San Haven Sanitarium.” http://www.ghostsofnorthdakota.com/2011/02/12/san-haven-sanatorium/ Accessed 19 April 2019.

Substreet: History Underground. “San Haven, North Dakota.” https://substreet.org/san-haven/ Accessed 19 April 2019.