In its lifetime, the Jackson Sanatorium has had many names and uses. First, it was a rehabilitative health center, where Dr. James Caleb Jackson created the first breakfast cereal. After the Civil War, American icons visited its halls.
Nathaniel Bingham began construction of the Jackson Sanatorium in 1854. Bingham fell ill and Dr. James Caleb Jackson, an adamant believer in hydropathy, completed the building. He renamed it “Our Home on the Hillside.” Our Home became a place where patients came to rehabilitate and relax after nervous breakdowns.
Jackson encouraged a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables and unprocessed grains to supplement hydrotherapy. For a source of grain, he made tough, bland nuggets from bran and graham flour, called granula, and made them chewable by soaking them overnight. In 1887, John Kellogg created a biscuit made of oats, wheat and corn meal. He called it biscuit Granula, so Dr. Jackson sued his colleague for infringement of the name. They settled the case by changing the name to granola.
Jackson had a determined method for healing. Hydrotherapy and a diet with minimal or no meat were the cornerstone of his therapy. However, he believed sunlight, moderate exercise and fresh air were also key factors to health. The architecture of Jackson’s sanatorium represented his ideals.
Each room had tall ceilings and doors with movable blinds to maximize air circulation. Big windows increased natural light in every room. On the roof there were round wooden platforms encased with glass. The patients could sit in the glass rooms year-round to soak up the sun, and attendants would rotate them every hour so the patients could get continuous sunlight. Jackson’s Sanatorium was built for healthy living.
After the Civil War, wealthy people came to cleanse their bodies and minds in the natural springs of Our Home on the Hillside. Our Home also became a popular lecture site, featuring speeches from Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Horace Greeley.
In the 1870’s, James Caleb Jackson handed the responsibilities of Our Home on the Hillside to his son and daughter-in-law. In June 1882, the main building went up in flames. The couple persevered, rebuilding with fireproof materials, and prospered for decades until declaring bankruptcy in 1914. At that time, the army briefly used the building as a psychiatric hospital for World War I veterans. After many failed attempts to reopen the health resort and hotel spa, the sanatorium was closed for good in 1971.
The Jackson Sanatorium remains in Dansville, unused and deteriorating. The windows and balconies are rusted and the floors are covered in inches of dust. Some of the rooms remain in perfect condition, while others have collapsed ceilings or floors. In January 2008, the New York State Restore Communities Initiative allotted $2.5 million for restoration of the building.