{lost in family history: the Stone Sanitarium in Fargo}

I’m not “lost” as in unable to find my way home, but my imagination and research skills have been on overdrive. A few times I’ve caught myself wanting to jump in the car and head for the American Great Plains.

I’ve been going through several boxes of old photographs and like most of us, I’m sure, wishing I’d asked a few more questions while loved ones were here to answer them. Jay’s mother, born in 1907 and living a full 90 years, regaled us with stories I always found fascinating, but there are still remaining gaps.

About a year ago I was watching a segment of “American Experience,” with interest in the deadliest killer in human history, tuberculosis, and at the same time following a trail of early 20th century backstory connecting the battle against the deadly bacteria to a steady increase in easterners moving to Southern California.  “The Land of Sunshine,” was heavily promoted for its healthy year-round climate and promise of curative powers.

I was captivated by old photos and references to hospitals and sanitariums of the past, some quite near where I now live, and I grabbed my computer. Jay’s maternal grandfather, Dr. Guy Stone, owned at least two sanitariums in the early part of the 20th century, but knowing little detail,  I wondered what kind of sanitarium he operated.

Professor Google came through again!

Right off the bat I began to pull up newspaper articles and archival material related to Dr. Guy’s sanitariums. Guy was born in 1877 and was just a decade or two younger than the famed Kellogg brothers and their famous, perhaps infamous, Battle Creek Sanitarium with emphasis on healthy eating and lifestyle as a path to wellness.


This photo of Dr. Guy isn’t dated, but I love his snappy suit!


According to North Dakota State University archives, Guy purchased two properties in Fargo at some point in the 20’s and 30’s and opened the Stone Sanitarium spanning the “spectrum from health spa to hospital.”  I’m sorry to not know if Jay’s grandmother, Agnes, a nurse, ever worked alongside her husband.


This is one of my favorite photos of Guy and his three daughters, although I feel a sadness knowing this snapshot was probably taken in 1915, just months before a family tragedy. Within a year three year-old Dorathy Aileen died from complications related to rheumatic fever, likely contracted from her older sister, Jay’s mother, Marian. Marian spoke often of her rheumatic fever, but very little of her sister.

Eighty-one years later while closing down her apartment, however, we came across a little box with several beautiful children’s dresses that appear by the embroidered initials to have belonged to Dorathy.

Dorathy died 100 years ago last month. We know she died in Sioux City, Iowa, but I haven’t been able to find any information to verify the rheumatic fever story or where she is buried. Somehow having those little dresses has made me want to know more about her.

What I do think about is the impact on the family. The limits of medicine and medical treatment must have been particularly painful to a man completely immersed in a philosophy suggesting that good health could be maintained with proper preventative measures.


Finding this little book for sale on Ebay was pure serendipity. I snatched it quickly and I’m glad I did. Subsequent searches reveal it’s only available in libraries and North Dakota historical institutions.

Published in the 1920’s, this 64-page brochure/book offers photos of the facility, from surgical unit to therapeutic baths. In it the good doctor recommends:

Why not take an inventory of yourself? Get an expert to inspect your stomach, size up your liver, test the efficiency of your kidneys, listen to your heart and lungs, count your blood cells, feel  your arteries, find your blood pressure, take your weight and measure your strength.

Marian never did have much need for medical intervention in her older years. She had a few ailments, but for the most part treated them with a heavy dose of positive thinking…and vitamins.

Ultimately these family stories may mean more to my children and grandchildren through direct ancestral connection to the Stone family line. But I really did love Jay’s mother and I feel a strong sense of kinship, too.

I never thought that Fargo, North Dakota and Sioux City, Iowa would be so uppermost in my mind. The Fargo sanitarium sites have been razed, but I’m wondering what else we might find? And if we can focus more narrowly on where the family lived in Sioux City, well…I’ve never seen the prairie!


41 thoughts on “{lost in family history: the Stone Sanitarium in Fargo}

  1. Wow … but yes – another thing we have in common is that when we get on a mission, it’s jump into that research until we reach a certain level of satisfaction. The last time for me was the nearby tombstone about Dead Man’s Hand/Deadwood, SD. … so you now can stop at Deadwood to/from Fargo!

    Meanwhile, love the story and family connections. Amazing that you found that book! Now all you have to find is that dapper suit for Jay.

    1. I’ve really wanted to visit Deadwood, too, Frank, so I think there is so a field research may be in store. And yes, finding that book was just incredible to me. If I hadn’t seen it on someone’s Ebay page as part of my Google search I never could have imagined it even existed. It is fun to get lost in research, I think! Thank you for stopping by…during your break. 🙂

  2. A healthy dose of positive thinking… and vitamins. Today we call this (and believe in the practice on natural medicine. It’s worked in the past and it still works (for some) today. 🙂

    1. I agree with you, Eric. I totally believe the mind-body connection in health is extremely valuable. Marian seemed “ahead of the curve” considering her age, but after reading her father’s pamphlet we could see his early influence in what must have been somewhat untraditional in his day, too. She was a character, and I think he must have been also. 🙂

  3. I love your story. My mom passed away a year ago. She would tell stories about her family, friends, and people that lived in the surrounding villages . While I was visiting my brother we tried to remember the old stories but a lot of them are already lost. I wish I had written them down.

    1. Gerlinde, I’m sorry for the still very recent loss of your mother. I wonder if over time you and your brother will remember some of the details of stories you can’t quite put together right now. I have found that looking through the boxes of old photos seems to trigger some recollections, even though in our case a lot of time has passed. If you do, write down even the fragments! You never know who may come up with a little more detail. I think this must be the most common regret we all share when we’ve lost a beloved family member. No matter how old our loved one is we seem to think we’ll have more time, and we trust our memories! I’m so glad you enjoyed the story from our family history, and thank you so much for sharing.

    1. I’m VERY good at going down rabbit holes when I start asking questions, Nancy. Occasionally I’m rewarded with a good outcome, but often NOT! I did dig up a little dirt on the good doctor, though. There’s a reference in one of the newspapers to him getting his license back. Now I want to know how he lost it in the first place. 🙂

  4. Ah, like you I wish I had gotten more information when people were alive. Unlike you I haven’t come across enough “stuff” to really dig into. It’s on my “ta-do” list. My were first generation Germans so I expect a lot of my history lies there.

    1. We’ve had very good success with the tools associated with ancestry.com, Kate. We haven’t yet gone back far enough to need the tools that connect internationally, but I’m curious about that, too. It does take a lot of time, and so I will give it a good run of time and then I have to just stop for a while because I could get completely absorbed by it. I think that it must be the most natural thing that we all share in our wish we had more time with loved ones and our desire to remember more! I hope you have the opportunity to do a little family history “digging” and begin the documentation. I am sure other family members would be happy to learn from your research! 🙂

      1. My parents are first generation so I would need to go international almost immediately. I did ancestry.com a few years back but just the free offer and found out a lot. Now I’m even tempted to get the DNA testing. I love history.

    1. I have several friends, Jim, who have shared this same frustration and told me more about what it feels like to be limited in what they can know “for sure” of their ancestry. Ultimately it’s our living stories that should mean the most. I hope you are very consciously documenting your childhood and memories to share with your children.You have some interesting stories that should become the start of a very cool family history! Something tells me you’ve already though of that! 🙂

  5. That’s great history you found there. We had a preacher in the church I grew up in who was sent from New York to California as a young man ‘because of his health.’ We also had a retired doctor who work at a sanatarium as a young doctor before setup up practice in San Jose. Interesting stuff.

    1. Early 20th century history is so interesting to me when I think about how many advancements were being made, but at the same time, before antibiotics and a better understanding of disease control it must have been very frightening. I’m not sure if I actually remember, or just think I do because of the reading I’ve been doing, but I think I have a vague memory of some of the SoCal sanitariums when I was a child–that does make me sound really old, though, doesn’t it? LOL!

  6. Anonymous

    I knew you had relatives all over the South, and now the great white North! This is fascinating! And does anyone else see the resemblance between Jay & Doc Stone?!

    1. I don’t see the resemblance, but I think that’s because I so clearly see Jay’s resemblance to his dad. But his brother REALLY looks like Doctor Guy…so perhaps you can see that family resemblance after all. 🙂

    1. Jay’s mother was really funny when it came to her beliefs about illness and taking responsibility for her own “cures.” We actually have so many funny stories and then a few where she really should have gone to the doctor. One time she just “happened” to comment on the phone that she “may” have broken her arm. I went over and checked and her entire arm was black and blue and she had it in a homemade sling. Sometimes mind over matter really isn’t the best way to go! LOL! We sure do miss her, though. She still had a lot to teach us, and I think we’re even more ready to hear it now than then! But isn’t that always the way when we look back!

      1. It sure is the way Debra. Maybe you can write some stories about her. I love the people stories the best. And mind over matter is NOT the best, like you say, I can’t tell you how many people’s home’s I’ve gone in where their make shift ways were just……oh. Just not the best idea at all. 🙂

  7. This post moved me Debra – just two days ago we started clearing the house of my partner’s mother. She actually died two years ago, but we kept putting it off. We both found so many memories – photos, letters, saved cards and crocheted tablecloths… I was very close to her and also wish she had spoken of her past life more – especially to her sons. A lesson perhaps to us? I do hope you manage to find out more about the family history and can record it for your grandchildren.

    1. Cathy, I can just feel right along with you the poignancy of what you’re describing in going through photos and letters and all the personal effects that belonged to your partner’s mother. We have had to clear out a couple of family estates in the past many years and each time it is like a treasure hunt finding pieces of their lives that become clues to more, but still with missing pieces. And then the emotional toll of the work can’t be dismissed. One of the things we talk about is how fortunate we are when we’ve spent a lot of personal time with a beloved family member. Ultimately it’s the memories we share that mean the most, even if we’d like to know more about their history or filling in the pieces of incomplete story. I feel for you going through this process right now. It’s hard. I hope you don’t feel too much pressure to do it quickly. It does take time!ox

      1. Thank you so much Debra. You are quite right, we should not try and puzzle things together when they are possibly best forgotten, and concentrate on the memories we do have. Luckily we are now under no pressure to clear the house. It is emotionally exhausting, even after all this time, but I am glad we have made a start and can do it together too. 🙂

  8. I almost missed this, Debra – and glad I didn’t. Wow! Once an old box of photos is opened by me, I know a day, a week or more will be lost in the pages, books, photos and googling of history (not that history can ever be lost).
    There is a rather large building not far from here. I pass it often. It was a sanitarium and hospital. Now, it serves some medical purpose, though I’m not quite sure what. There was a building where we used to live that must have been used for the same treatments. We called it the old hotel, as its last life had tenants, most of them itinerary. A good friend and I used to look at it and fantasize about turning it into a senior living home – for us! 🙂 It was eventually torn down.
    I’m sure we will hear more about Dr. Guy as you dig deeper. If there is an historical society in Fargo or Sioux City, and I’m betting there is, you are sure to find more information. I think you need a road trip. 🙂 Tom and I discovered some interesting family history a few years ago when we stopped in the little town of Williamsburg, Iowa.

    1. Thank you for the suggestion of contacting the historical societies, Penny. I wouldn’t take their time to do what I can do myself, but if at the end of my “digging” I can’t go any further I might try to find some help! What I’m enjoying the most is that while researching detail about these particular family members and reading newspaper clippings and old letters, I’m also learning more about the American way of life at that time. As much as I sometimes think I know about early 20th century history, I uncover how much I definitely do not! It’s a good thing we have strong relationships with libraries, isn’t it? I do think a road trip would be so much fun! 🙂

  9. Rolling over all the stones in my garden made me feel closer to my family history and what they had to do so I could be here today. Everyone should do this, it’s amazing to see what’s under the stones.

    1. What a wonderful visual image to share. Thank you. You made a very special connection if you could take what you learned and gain appreciation for those who came before you. I appreciate you stopping brand sharing some of your experience, booguloo!

  10. Debra, I think you have ben quite productive and fruitful in finding out about your mother in law’s physician father and his sanitarums. The multiple locations indicate quite an investment of time and money.
    In Delaware, Ohio, there was a large sanitarium for tuberculosis here. Once TB vaccinations were more common, the resort hotel near our local sulphur spring was purchased by church and community to make into Ohio Wesleyan University. President Roosevelt came to stay during its “heyday.”
    I like hearing why families live longer. Our parents became patients of a holistic and homeopathic doctor who had us eating more fresh vegetables and fruits along with their having natural food wastes of peelings and stems taken out daily to a compost pile. My parents felt the worms and fresh loam were great for delicious garden results. We were mainly Cleveland suburbanites but during our younger days had a babysitter who lived on a farm. 🙂

  11. I can hear the prairie calling, Debbie. 🙂 I was just thinking what a dapper man Dr. Guy looked in his suit when you got to the sad bit about Dorothy. Medicine has come on an extraordinary journey since those days, hasn’t it? It was nothing unusual to loose 2 or 3 children before they were even born. Mam lost two so I guess I’m lucky to be here.

  12. Don’t you just love the way the computer has changed how we get history. How wonderful that you not only found out more history but also that little book. A delightful post, Debra.

  13. Anonymous

    You are so cute and funny! I just love it! My family had so many crazy stuff I have always been a little afraid of digging in the past to see what I would come up with! You are so brave! and yes I believe in Natural health comepletely! Love Deb

  14. Wow, that is absolutely amazing to see pieces of history come alive before your eyes! So glad you found that pamphlet on eBay…makes me wonder twice about what I may do and say that will be left behind for my future children and grandchildren! Can’t wait to hear what more you dig up! 🙂

  15. How fascinating this is! I love the photos attached with the history of your family. I’m listening to a CD on the book The Relaxation Revolution, which researches and statistically proves how a positive attitude, relaxation, and belief in yourself and your health can heal. I think Marian proved this is true.

  16. Very interesting, Debra, and what luck finding that book! Makes one wonder what else may be around, hiding right out in the open like that. Having ancestors that lived here in America, does make researching your lineage easier. Even so, I’ve found that every tidbit I discover may may provide an answer but it always leads to more questions. Unfortunately, like so many of European descent, my research stops/starts at Ellis Island. I was lucky to be able to tap into Zia’s recollections for many things but, even so, I wish I had “caught the bug” 10 years earlier. Much has been lost with little chance of recovery. I know you’re going to continue your research and I hope you’ll share some of its returns. I’m fascinated.

  17. A fascinating story about the past.You did some excellent research on finding out more about the Stone family—and I am sure your work will be of great value for your children and grandchildren, as you point out.

  18. Queen Elizabeth turned 90 today…the oldest royal queen of England so far. That’s amazing Jay’s grandfather lived a long life and such a fascinating history. I do hope you get to investigate some more Debra by visiting the prairie. Happy trails!

  19. Rachel

    Hi! I found your article through a google search. The sanitarium on 8th st s in Fargo still stands, and is currently for sale. Thought you’d like to know since you thought they were razed.

    1. Thank you, Rachel! I can’t be sure where I heard it had been razed! My mother-in-law spoke of this place so often in relationship to memories of her father’s work! 🙂

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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