Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives, Walker, Minnesota

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MInnesota State Sanatorium for Fonsumptives

Aw-Gwah-Ching Santorium
Walker, Minnesota
Cass County County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year Established: 1907
Year Ended: 1962
Historic Function: Sanatorium

Walker Cass County

The Minnesota Sanatorium for Consumptives (consumptives being the name then given to individuals afflicted with tuberculosis), designed by architect Clarence Johnson, opened in late 1907. It is commonly referred to as Aw-Gwah-Ching, which means “out of doors” in Ojibwa. Aw-Gwah Ching was self-sufficient since its early years, having its own post office, railroad depot, farm, and dairy heard. Most prominent in the sanatorium was the presence of art and culter. In the 1920s, a community hall housed the sanatoriums performances of skits and plays. Patients and staff wrote and performed these plays. The Pine Knot was Aw-Gwah-Ching’s own newspaper, which was published from 1913-1924. Records in the history of the sanatorium show that Aw-Gwah-Ching participated in tagging 3,625 birds in a bird-banding project in 1928. According to an article from MPR “the most impressive part of the center's history is its art collection. During the Depression, Geving said, lithographs, watercolors, wood sculptures and other art forms were created and put on display at Aw-Gwah-Ching as part of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Arts Project.” Currently the collection is in storage and inaccesible to the public, yet it remains the largest WPA art collection in the state. The collection housed at the Minnesota Historical Society consist of 163 works of art and handicraft objects, ranging from oil paintings to sculputers and textiles. Other benefits of the WPA project was having the facility expanded and extensively renovated, making the location ideal to display the large art collection.


Site History

Six years of planning and preparation preceded its opening in December of 1907. In 1901, a three-member commission of physicians was established by the legislature to investigate the advisability of establishing a facility for tubercular patients [Laws 1901 c300]. As a result of the commission’s report, the 1903 legislature authorized the establishment of a state sanatorium near Walker, in Cass County [Laws 1903 c316]. A five-member advisory commission of the Minnesota Sanatorium for Consumptives was established to approve a site for the facility and to appoint physicians in every county to screen applicants. The members of the advisory commission were physicians appointed by the governor for five-year terms. All three members of the 1901 investigating commission were appointed to the advisory commission and two new members were added. The ultimate power to manage and control the sanatorium rested with the State Board of Control. The sanatorium was popularly, and its post office officially, known as Ah-Gwah-Ching. Ever since its opening, Ah-Gwah-Ching held more patients than it was designed for according to an article in the Walker Pilot. Soon after the opening of the sanatorium it became apparent that more than a single facility was needed to serve the state. Reported cases of tuberculosis rose from 1,471 in 1890 to 1,864 in 1900 and 2,270 in 1910. To meet this rising demand, in 1913 the facilities at Walker were supplemented by a system of county sanatoriums and the advisory commission was given the power to approve plans for them. The state provided up to $50,000 to each county constructing a sanatorium [Laws 1913 c500]. By 1924 there were thirteen county sanatoriums (most serving more than one county). A superintendent managed Ah-Gwah-Ching. Other staff included physicians, as well as, male and female nurses, who were supervised by a steward and matron, respectively. Treatment concentrated mainly on bed rest but in extreme cases included thoracic surgery. Nearly all sanatoriums had an X-ray machine for diagnostic purposes. In 1957, the official name of the sanatorium was changed to the Minnesota State Sanatorium [Laws 1957 c19]. After its closing in 1962, [pursuant to Laws 1961 c618] the sanatorium at Glen Lake (Hennepin County) was designated as the state facility for tubercular patients. The facilities at Walker became the Ah-Gwah-Ching Nursing Home, a state institution for geriatric patients. St. Paul, Minn. — The Ah-Gwah-Ching Center, located about two miles south of downtown Walker, Minnesota, once was home to hundreds of tuberculosis patients who lived and worked on the property.

Superseded by

1935, a prison camp was established there to handle overflow from the reformatory at St. Cloud. In 1962, Aw-Gwah-Ching was converted to a state-owned nursing home for people with "challenging behaviors," says the DHS. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, Aw-Gwah-Ching now stands empty and mothballed. Its last patients left early 2008 and it is schedualed to officially close in 2008.

Memories and stories

Photo Gallery

Related Links

More Info on WPA Art Project


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