There was a time when those who weren’t feeling their best could check themselves into a sanitarium for a focus on their own wellness, and the people of the SouthCoast likely did so at the Acushnet Sanitarium.

While there is some debate in modern medicine about just how effective sanitarium treatments were, they were all the rage in the latter part of the 1800s – although more often than not, they were sanctuaries for the wealthy and the powerful and not very accessible by the working-class folks.

The Acushnet Sanitarium was located at the corner of Main Street and Belleville Avenue, one block east of Lund’s Corner, essentially on the Acushnet-New Bedford line.

According to this vintage advertisement for the sanitarium, it offered things such as massage and salt glows – treatments still in use today – but it also offered some of the popular therapies of the day, mostly focusing on hydrotherapy.

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo

It was the belief at the time that a variety of different types of baths had lasting effects on the person’s health. Some of the hydrotherapies offered in this advertisement include electric light baths, hydroelectric baths, and something called a Scotch douche.

We may laugh at the word today, but “douche” is just the French word for “shower.” A Scotch douche was a hydrotherapy that would alternate between hot and cold water, on certain sections of the body. It was believed to help with a variety of afflictions from asthma to diarrhea to sciatica and even obesity.

The History of the Acushnet Sanitarium

According to the book A History of the Town of Acushnet, written and published by Franklyn Howland in 1907, the Acushnet Sanitarium was opened in the early 1900s by Dr. Joel Packard Bradford.

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo

Dr. Bradford, born in 1873 on the family homestead in Acushnet, originally began studying medicine at the University of Michigan “but on account of lung trouble was obliged to complete his studies at the University of Colorado, where he received the degree of M.D. in June, 1900,” Howland wrote.

Howland stated that Bradford had been “connected professionally with a branch of the Boulder, Colorado Sanitarium, and a branch of the Battle Creek Sanitarium at Philadelphia.”

“He returned to his native town in 1905, where he has since practiced medicine. He has had a strong foe to life and prosperity in the form of tuberculosis but he has maintained the fight with great fortitude and success,” Howland wrote. “In view of the growth of the north end of New Bedford and there being no hospital privileges there, Dr. Bradford opened The Acushnet Sanitarium, near Lund's corner, where not only hospital facilities are installed, but special attention is given to physiological therapeutics and medical dietetics.”

When the Acushnet Sanitarium closed, the building went on to become a bar and boarding house with several name changes over the years, according to Jim Casey, who grew up in the area. He said it was most famously known as the Circus Lounge in the 1950s and 1960s.

Today, it’s the location of Trio Liquors and Metro Pizza, across from the Tarkiln Hill Car Wash and Dee’s Hot Dogs.

Google Maps
Google Maps

The First Sanitarium

Dr. John H. Kellogg opened the Battle Creek Sanitarium, the first of its kind, in the Michigan town of the same name in 1866. Kellogg created it as a wellness destination that focused on things such as a strict vegetarian diet (featuring a lot of nuts), hydrotherapy, and several other sometimes controversial methods – including frequent enemas.

It went on to great success in its initial years, even rebuilding bigger and better following a fire in 1902. However, because “The San,” as it was called, depended so much on its wealthier clientele, the facility went on the decline following the stock market crash of 1929.

Kellogg, of course, went on to create corn flakes along with other members of his family, giving way to the Kellogg food company.

A highly fictionalized version of Kellogg was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the 1994 comedy The Road to Wellville.

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Sanitarium vs. Sanatorium

Although the two terms are used interchangeably, they don’t mean exactly the same thing.

Sanitarium comes from the “sanitas” in Latin, meaning “health.” These were considered health resorts, places you went to in order to increase your health.

Sanatorium comes from the Latin “sano,” which means “to heal.” Sanatoriums were places where people would go when they were already sick, suffering from afflictions such as tuberculosis. There, they would use a therapy plan that focused on plenty of fresh air – which, as the science of today tells us, probably did little to help.

Kellogg claimed to have invented the word “sanitarium” by just adjusting the word “sanatorium.”

These days, people often confuse the two, but in the days of the Acushnet Sanitarium, it was very much a place for people to come and get special treatments like you might find today in a medical spa or similar resort.

The Other Sanitariums of Acushnet

It seems Acushnet had multiple sanitariums during their heyday.

In 1900, Mrs. Lizzietta E. Ashley purchased the Nye estate in town to open up her own sanitarium after previously caring for invalids at a different location. Howland praised Ashley in his book for her dedication to creating what became known as the Pine Lawn Sanitarium.

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo

“It required courage, energy and perseverance to undertake so great a task, for not only was a large sum to be paid for the estate, but much outlay must be made in alterations and additions to make the house suitable for the purpose for which it was desired,” he wrote. “All these Mrs. Ashley has exhibited, and ill the years since she purchased the estate ‘Pine Lawn Sanitarium’ has become widely known and appreciated.”

In a listing from the 1930 census, two such facilities are listed: the Acushnet Sanitarium and the Hahler Sanitarium.

Although there were likely many sanitariums and sanatoriums in the area, it’s unsure if all of them offered a Scotch douche.

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