By CHAD ABORAMOVICH
As tuberculosis gripped the United States in the early 1900s, there was a growing need for hospitals and places to treat the ever-growing number of people falling ill to the terrible disease. What was once thought to be the work of vampirism in 18th- and 19th-century New England was finally becoming understood more. Sanitariums were soon constructed across the country not only to house and attempt to cure all those who were suffering from the illness, but to remove them from the rest of society.
A survey done circa 1907 stated that Pittsford had the most sunshine of any town in Vermont, earning it the nickname “Vermont’s Sunshine Village.” Perhaps coincidentally, in 1907, a large piece of land in Pittsford was purchased by the Proctor family (owners of the Vermont Marble Company) with the purpose of building a tuberculosis hospital. Officially named “The Vermont Sanitarium,” the campus would consist of a hospital facility, along with several outbuildings and cottages that would house the patients.
At the time, it was a common theory that tuberculosis could be treated by exposing its victims to fresh country air, along with healthy food and exercise, so many sanitariums were built in rural locations. The Pittsford site was described as a beautiful land surrounded by mountains and protected by a dense evergreen forest to the north. To the south of the hospital was a steep ravine, which dropped 100 feet to a beautiful mountain brook.
The hospital was originally designed to house 100 patients, each having their own room. The buildings were designed with porches and connecting walkways to other buildings in the form of loggias, providing open spaces and lots of fresh air.
But tuberculosis treatments of the time were primitive and precarious. There was no cure for the disease, and patients were often at the mercy of the doctors who were only experimenting, hoping whatever they tried would be effective. But most often, if the tuberculosis didn’t kill you, the treatments would, which made sanitariums more like the end of the line than a respite. Stories of doctors removing ribs with saws, inflating balloons in the infected lungs to stimulate breathing and weighing the patient’s chest down with heavy sandbags were some of the gruesome treatments conducted behind the walls of these mysterious locations.
The sanitarium was deeded to the state of Vermont in 1921 and would remain active until 1967, when advances in medicine lead to a significant decline in the number of patients who required treatment. Eventually, the state of Vermont cut the funding of the hospital, saying it could no longer be justified.
Today the former hospital campus has been converted into the Vermont Police Academy, and much evidence of its less than pleasant past has faded into memory. But there are some artifacts that still remain, and are carefully shunned.
Sitting in a patch of dense woods on a road that has long since disintegrated are the remains of the Caverly Preventorium, a hospital complex opened in 1923 on 80 acres which treated children who were at risk of contracting tuberculosis. Preventoriums generally catered to children from poor families, who at the time weren’t considered intelligent enough to prevent their children from getting sick. In one article I read, a rather blunt and derogatory quote stood out: “It was assumed that if you were a child in a wealthy home, your parents knew enough not to cough on you.”
The two hospitals were often referred to by locals as “The Prevent” and “The San,” and it was common for children of “the Prevent” to have mothers up at “the San.”
According to Peggy Armitage of the Pittsford Historical Society, the Preventorium closed around 1947 and the complex was sealed up and left untouched. The buildings became displaced by decaying faith and the isolation of woods.
One of the buildings became a private residence for a while, but not for long. Drawn to the house’s already blemished reputation, the town of Pittsford took advantage of this and began using the building as the site for its annual haunted house every October, an event that continues to this day. But does something still linger here? Is it possible that a long history of tragedy and sorrow has forever stained the atmosphere of these buildings, writing its curses deep within the walls?
Ironically, it seems the town of Pittsford created a haunted house within a real haunted house. Stories of feeling watched in certain parts of the house have been reported. Some rooms were stronger than others, including a few rooms upstairs. Untraceable sounds, mysterious lights and phantom odors have been reported. One person, who remembered growing up here, reported that this house was responsible for getting him into researching the paranormal at a young age.
Perhaps the most famous story to come out of this house is of a nurse named Amy. The most commonly told story is that Amy died from contracting tuberculosis here, becoming a patient in her own hospital.
Another story states that one night she heard a child screaming upstairs. As she ran to check on the child, she tripped up the stairs and fell, splitting her head open and bleeding to death. Her wounded spirit is said to still roam the dark hallways and quiet rooms of the house, especially in areas that are off limits to haunted house visitors — areas of the house that are very much the same as they were decades ago.
Cody Hesse, who works for the Pittsford Fire Department and has been an active volunteer for the haunted house, shared some of his knowledge and own experiences. He recalled hearing stories of people seeing kids on the second floor and hearing the disembodied sounds of kids crying in the house. He also reported hearing of sightings of what was described as a nurse dressed in a dated uniform, seen walking up and down the stairs.
Hesse also told me about strange experiences the volunteers who set up the haunted house have witnessed. Every year, light bulbs around the house inexplicably burst in their fixtures. Props and personal items get moved or lost entirely. There is another room in the house where other employees say they’ve had costumes thrown at them by unseen forces.
Hesse reports that he has experienced unexplainable cold spots in certain areas of the house and personally heard phantom footsteps in rooms when he was reportedly the only one present.
“In my opinion, that place is definitely haunted,” he said.
Are the things inside lonely and under the weight of their despairs, looking for a little sympathy? Or perhaps, the loss of their life under such tragic circumstances have ignited feelings of vengeance and fire?
There seems to be a lot at work here. A dismal history, a place off limits and plenty of urban legends. It is here where facts and fiction collide, coming and going to let it bleed. It’s easy to romanticize about something sinister residing here, dissolving the monotony of daily life. But are these things true, or have we created bigger monsters than the actual stories themselves? I suppose it comes down to a matter of opinion, but I can’t help wonder if you dig down deep enough, what would you find? Could you live with it? I don’t have an opinion at this point, but I can say that this abandonment is something special and unique. And for those whose heartstrings it’s tugged on, it’s grown to become a part of them.
Share your story
Earlier this summer, paranormal investigator Paul Dulski from Haunted Vermont approached Chad Abramovich with an idea: to collaborate and create a documentary about the Pittsford Haunted House and Caverly Preventorium. Since then the project has grown in popularity. People have come forward with a surprising array of personal stories and a seemingly endless wealth of strange occurrences and experiences in the house. For more information about the documentary, to help out or to add a story of your own, email Chad at email@example.com, or click here for more info.