The state of North Carolina built Gravely Sanatorium, which opened in 1953, to provide treatment for people facing a then- leading cause of death: tuberculosis. TB was such a problem in North Carolina that many young men were rejected for service in WWII because of it. More than 3,000 new case were discovered every year by the 1950s.
Gravely Sanatorium’s ultimate use for more than two decades was as a treatment facility for another leading cause of death: cancer. N ow the building, replaced in August 2009 by the new N. C. Cancer Hospital, is coming down and the space will be used as a garden and labyrinth for the UNC Health Care medical campus.
The Sanatorium was named in honor of Lloyd Lee Gravely, a former state senator and successful international businessman in Rocky Mount, NC, and his wife, Clark Hoofnagle Gravely. Mr. Gravely served as chair of the board of directors of the state sanatorium system and was a tireless advocate before the state legislature for treatment and facilities. He himself suffered from the disease for many years and he lost his beloved wife, Clark, to complications from tuberculosis.
Built by the state as one of four state sanatoriums in NC—McCain, Black Mountain and Wilson being the others—Gravely served as the referral center for TB patients because of its proximity to N.C. Memorial Hospital.
Over the years, treatment for TB became more successful and fewer patients needed therapy. The state transferred Gravely to UNC Health Care in 1974 to be used for a variety of programs, including a chest hospital, pulmonary and infectious diseases clinic, family medicine clinic, and rehab facility, among others.
Mr. Gravely’s eight grandchildren, three of whom live locally, have known the building well over the years. Frances Gravely, granddaughter of Mr. Gravely, first saw the inside of the Gravely b uilding in 1976 when she was working at the hospital in the pathology department and wandered over during a lunch break. Her husband, NC State Industrial Design professor Haig Khachtoorian, was successfully treated for cancer there, and Frances had her mammograms in the breast imaging area. She calls the new landscape area a “green greeting for patients and families coming to UNC.”
“The Gravely Building was relatively small, compared to the other hospital buildings, and set off,” Frances recalls. “It had its own personality, an independent character, like my grandfather.” Ms. Gravely’s sister Susan adds, “So many people throughout our lives were touched by their time in Gravely: people who received their training there, were there as patients, or had family members there as patients. Some told me they took pictures of the building because their experience there made such an impact on their lives.”
Granddaughter Clark Lee Merriam, who was present at the groundbreaking ceremony in 1951, remembers her grandfather’s “humility and pleasure at the honor and his conviction that [Grand] Mother Clark was the true motive force behind it.” She remembers vividly how frequent hospitalizations for tuberculosis flare-ups took her grandparents away from their home and lives.