The Location and the Name
After several other sites were disqualified, the Sanatorium Commission arrived at a site that today rests just east of I-35 where the highway intersects with Midway Road—though no such markers existed in 1912. The doctors liked what they found there, and proclaimed it as the most ideal location for a sanatorium in the state—far superior to the site in Walker, Minnesota, where the state TB hospital was located.
After securing the property, the commission pronounced it the most ideal location for a sanatorium in the state. The site took up 80 acres adjacent to the Northern Pacific and Canadian Northern rail lines—good for cutting construction costs. The doctors even analyzed the shape of the surrounding hills and concluded that the airflow around the site was perfectly suited for TB patients.
Keep in mind that at this time, practically every structure was heated by burning wood, coal, or coke to create steam. The city, as an industrial boomtown, labored under a layer of soot belched from a thousand chimneys and a hundred ships. Flour mills, sawmills, and metal manufacturers lined both sides of the St. Louis River, all powered by coal—and that was before US Steel erected its giant facility at Morgan Park. Obviously, TB patients needed some insulation from the pollution typical of their time. Nopeming was far from the city’s industrial center, far from belching smokestacks.
On April 19, 1911, bidding for construction began and the curious task of naming the institution surfaced. The Sanatorium Commission recognized the possibility of patient stigmatization compelled to stay at an explicitly public TB hospital, ruling out the predictable “St. Louis County Sanatorium” or something similar. Instead, a city-wide naming contest was held.
Names were suggested by a variety of people: nurses, charity administrators, and the general public. According to the contest’s rules, names were organized into the categories “Indian, historical, English… and those connected with the history of the anti-tuberculosis movement,” according to the announcement. The English names were too common, the historical names “were mainly French and hard to pronounce,” and so the winner came from Ojibwe: “Nopeming,” meaning “out in the woods” or “in the forest.”
The name was suggested by Rev. Frank Piquette, who spent most of his life as a missionary to the Ojibwe (also called “Chippewa”) but at that time served as minister at Methodist Episcopal Church in Sawyer. “Nopeming” won not only because of the geographical appropriateness, but because the land had long been a hunting ground for the local Ojibwe bands. The word itself also struck the commission as romantic and reminiscent of the poem “The Song of Hiawatha” by Longfellow.