Graham Highland Park Sanatorium

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Graham Highland Park Sanatorium
Opened 1900
Closed 1917
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Single Building
Location Rochester, NY
Alternate Names
  • Graham Highland Park Sanatorium and Maternity Hospital


In the spring of 1900, Dr. Merritt E. Graham, a former Monroe County Coroner and the chief surgeon at the Hahnemann Hospital (the homeopathic precursor to Highland Hospital), opened an eponymous sanatorium, which boasted the latest in modern medical equipment and an envious hillside setting on South Avenue. Merritt Graham ran his pastoral practice for five years until his untimely death in August 1905. Following Merrit’s passing, his son Dr. Corden T. Graham took over the institution. By the close of October that year, the sanatorium had put on an addition, and rebranded itself as the Graham Highland Park Sanatorium and Maternity Hospital.

In addition to TB patients and expecting mothers, the sanatorium also admitted individuals who suffered from “nervous ailments” and various mental illnesses. At the time, it was maintained by many in the medical community that these conditions, like physical illnesses, could often be treated by a prolonged period of rest in a healthful environment. While this method of treatment was seemingly successful for a number of Graham’s patients, others only found escape from their troubles by escaping the hospital itself and taking matters into their own hands. One such incident almost led to the Highland Park Sanatorium’s demise. In November 1907, a well-respected professor from West High School named Fred Abell fled the sanatorium via a fire escape two weeks after his family had brought him to the facility. The next day, Abell’s body was found near the reservoir in Highland Park, where he had died due to exposure.

Abell’s death led the State Lunacy Commission to launch an inquest into Dr. Corden T. Graham and his institution. Their main charge was that Graham had no right to treat mentally ill patients since he didn’t have a license to admit them to his hospital. Graham defended his actions by indicating that his sanatorium only accepted patients that suffered from mild forms of mental illness, such as melancholia, and that other hospitals in the city also engaged in this practice. The doctor was indicted by a Grand Jury in 1908, but the indictment was later dismissed when the case was brought before a county judge. Judge Stephens contended that hospitals such as the Graham Highland Park Sanatorium allowed individuals suffering from mild mental illness to get treated without having to undergo a State-ordered commitment to an asylum. Moreover, patients could be temporarily admitted to institutions such as Graham’s and then reintegrate into society without suffering any of the stigma associated with having been committed (which was then a matter of public record).

Dr. Graham continued to run the Highland Park Sanatorium for almost a decade following the court case. After selling the hospital in 1917, he went on to become the surgical director of Base 19 Hospital in France during WWI and a Lieutenant-Colonel in the US Army Reserve. The hospital he left behind was converted into the apartment complex that remains perched atop the corner of South Avenue and Alpine Street today.