Years of Expansion, Service, and Challenges
Early Additions: Trudeau and Willcuts Annex
Almost immediately after the first fifty patients were settled in their rooms and receiving treatment, Nopeming’s waiting list began to grow unmanageably. The county held far more TB sufferers than Nopeming had rooms—and not enough trained staff to accommodate serious expansion. In the spring of 1913, many patients were forced to sleep in tents. Everyone made do until more facilities could be furnished.
It took until 1915 before another building, the Trudeau (image), was added. The facility housed an on-site nursing program affiliated with Duluth’s hospitals. Two years later a temporary building, called Willcuts Annex (image), was constructed to relieve pressure on the complex until better accommodations could be funded.
Less than a year after patient fist moved into the Annex was completed, they had to be evacuated—a line of fire in the distance and clouds of smoke blowing in from Cloquet signaled a deadly emergency.
The Fire of 1918 Threatens Nopeming
Often simply referred to as “The Great Fire” by locals, an incredibly destructive forest fire devastated northern Minnesota on October 12, 1918. Entire cities were but erased, nearly 500 lives were extinguished, and more than 50,000 people were directly effected.
Thankfully, Nopeming received warning hours before the fire lines wrapped around the base of the hill it crowned. By then, all its patients and staff had been evacuated to Denfeld High School in West Duluth and the National Guard Armory east of downtown.
While the threat was extreme, Nopeming lost no buildings that day. A few patients contracted influenza at the crowded refugee centers after the fire, and a wave of the illness spread through the patient population—a minor crisis in and of itself. A temporary quarantine was set up separating the infected patients from the rest of the population. Though the quarantine was short, the county bought one of Duluth’s first compact movie projectors to ease the boredom—perhaps the only happy note—until word came that the patients could safely return to their home in the woods.
Rushing to Expand the Sanatorium
Eight years after the sanatorium opened its population had almost double—by 1922 more than 200 patients called Nopeming their home. Most of the staff lived on campus as well, though there was a shortage of rooms for them as well.
When the sanatorium was filled to capacity, the infected took rooms at Duluth’s two largest hospitals, St. Mary’s and St. Luke’s. When these big local institutions complained to the county, it responded by drawing plans to dramatically expand Nopeming.
In 1926 saw the addition of the Chateau, the first building designed as a modern hospital. This building would go through for major expansions between 1927 and 1948, and housed patients until the 1980s.
By 1930 the Nopeming campus contained 31 buildings, including a steam plant, water filtration plant, sewage treatment plant, houses for the doctors, cottages for the nurses (image), and several cabin-style structures around the grounds for patients to rest inside between short walks in the fresh air—a common prescription. For the staff, tennis courts; for the patients, a new cafeteria (image) with a stage—many plays would be performed there.
Nopeming became, if not entirely self-sufficient, a very cohesive community.