Asheville Archives: An exercise in perseverance at Highland Hospital

ADVOCATE OF OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES: Dr. Robert S. Carroll, founder of Highland Hospital, poses with the facility's nursing staff, circa 1910. Part of the hospital's treatment involved physical activities, such as swimming, hiking and tennis. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

On Sept. 29, 1912, the Historical and Trade Edition of The Asheville Citizen declared: “Every year Asheville becomes better and more favorably known as a health resort, and no one thing has done more to make its remarkable advantage recognized, than the location here of Highland Hospital[.]”

Dr. Robert S. Carroll founded the facility in 1904. Originally located on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville, it was first known as Dr. Carroll’s Sanitarium. An advertisement in The Asheville Citizen’s Sept. 23, 1904, edition notes that the establishment “[o]ffers superior accommodations for a limited number of Nervous, Chronic and Drug Habit cases.”

In 1907, the sanitarium relocated to 75 Zillicoa St. By 1912, two more buildings were added to the property’s 38 acres. That same year, the establishment was renamed Highland Hospital.

The 1912 edition of the Historical and Trade Edition of The Asheville Citizen went on to proclaim: “A more complete combination of hospital, sanatarium and home could hardly be imagined.” Amenities included steam-heated rooms, many of which had open fireplaces. The paper also noted the facility’s “splendid pool for swimming and diving and all conveniences for massage and electric treatment.”

Physical activity was a large component of the hospital’s program. In the same article, The Asheville Citizen wrote:

“In addition to music, reading and parlor games, tennis and other outdoor sports for which there is ample room, drives unsurpassed in beauty and variety, horseback riding over perfect roads and through scenes of unrivaled diversity, with climbs which invigorate, strengthen and inspire are provided for the patients. Trips to surrounding points of interest are arranged from time to time, tramps along trout streams, hunting excursions in the mountains, camping parties, climbing expeditions, anything that will bring back the bloom of health again to the cheek, and the old vigor to the weakened constitution.”

The hospital’s attention to physical exertion is further examined in Nancy Milford‘s 1970 biography, Zelda. Throughout the mid-1930s and up until her death, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald — wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald — sought treatment at Highland Hospital. Tragically, on March 10, 1948, she and eight other patients perished in a fire at the facility. (See “Tuesday History: The Fire at Highland Hospital,” March 21, 2017, Xpress)

In her book, Milford shares a unique activity assigned to patients. She writes:

“An example of Carroll’s system was his belief in the benefits of an exercise he had devised which involved climbing a hill. The patient was to climb a particular distance, up and down the hill, so many times each day. Each individual had a certain level of achievement, determined for him by the doctor. This was not hiking, nor was it supposed to be a particularly enjoyable exercise; it was to teach the disturbed to overcome obstacles by learning perseverance. A nurse who was at the hospital at that time said that the exercise ‘was to accustom the patient to the reality of endeavor, endless and routine. The monotonous plodding along of everyday life might be a sound analogy.’”

The biographer goes on to note that additional physical activities included “calisthenics, medicine ball, and volleyball in the mornings and at 10:30 [patients] took nourishment such as milk and whole-wheat bread with peanut butter.”

While exercise and diet were imposed on all who sought treatment, Milford adds that additional guidelines were enforced on the hospital’s female patients. She writes that Carroll forbade “the use of mirrors, for he felt that primping in front of them, as well as the use of rouge and lipstick, were false modes of concentration on the self.”

Carroll donated the hospital to Duke University in 1939. By then the facility was composed of nine buildings, as well as a 400-acre parcel in Beaverdam. Carroll stayed on as Highland’s director until 1944. Psychiatric Institutes of America purchased Highland Hospital in 1981. The hospital closed in October 1993.

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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