Thursday, April 25, 2013

An ounce of Preventorium and some yellow journalism in Howell

We've run into a few state-run medical institutions in our travels. The older places tend to reveal themselves with telling street names like Hospital Road or Sanitarium Road. Take the bait and drive on the thoroughfares, and you might be rewarded with a still-operating facility like the Hagedorn Psych Hospital in Glen Gardner. Or, you might find that an old hospital complex has been transformed to open space like Hilltop Reservation in North Caldwell, site of the former Essex County Hospital.

Still, though, I was a little surprised to find a Preventorium Road in Howell. That was a new one on me. Obviously someone was looking to prevent something, but what? All I found was the Howell Township Municipal Complex, with town hall appearing to be the oldest of several buildings there.

The Howell Township Municipal Building.
Was it the main building of the Preventorium?
Depending on which source you consult, a preventorium could have a few different purposes. Either it's a place to send people who have symptoms but not a full-blown case of a disease are sent for treatment, or it's for people who may have been exposed to a disease but have no symptoms. According to the Howell Township website, the preventorium there was constructed by journalist Arthur Brisbane in 1907 to quarantine for children who had had contact with tuberculosis patients. Operating between 1912 and the early 1960s, the Preventorium held up to 230 children.

That's about all I've found about the hospital, but it got me curious about Brisbane. If you're familiar with the history of journalism, you might recognize the name: he worked for two of the the giants of 19th century newspaper publishing, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. He became one of the best known editors of the early 20th century and among the foremost practitioners of yellow journalism. Especially adept at publishing scandalous stories to boost circulation, he purchased and revived many failing newspapers, ultimately selling them to Hearst. He also offered media counsel to several of the business luminaries of his time, including Thomas Edison and John D. Rockefeller.

Besides his newspaper prowess, Brisbane became an accomplished real estate speculator, but his interest in New Jersey property may have had more to do with family history than land values. His father Albert was a utopian socialist involved in the Fourier movement of the mid 1800s, which was behind the creation of a phalanx community in nearby Colts Neck. About 60 years later, the younger Brisbane bought a large expanse of land in Monmouth County, including the old Howell Ironworks property, which had ceased operation in 1848. Building a luxurious house for his family, Brisbane also erected stables, an inn and a Boy Scout camp. He also provided land to the Federal government for use in New Deal programs during the Great Depression.

Toward the end of his life, Brisbane became interested in the history of the ironworks and started restoring it with an eye toward donating the property to the State of New Jersey. Today's Allaire Village represents the fruits of his efforts, offering a look into the operation of the state's iron mining industry and the lives of the people who worked within it. Brisbane's will also stipulated that the land be used only for historic and forest preservation purposes, making it a convenient destination for camping, hiking and wildlife observation. The family mansion was also deeded to the state and until recently was the Arthur Brisbane Child Treatment Center.


  1. A great history. Growing up in Howell, the Preventorium was a fixture. It is also interesting to learn of the utopian community in Colts Neck (previously Atlantic Township). Many times I travelled up Phalanx Road on the way to Brookdale Community College (where I worked as an electrician one summer during BCC's expansion). Nice to learn the history of that name.

  2. My brothers, sister and I were at the Preventorium abt. 1957 my mom had contracted Tuberculosis and was hospitalized in Brooklyn, NY, we four children were taken to The Preventorium. The Preventorium had land as far as our eyes could see there were acres of Apple trees and all kinds of berries which we picked for the cooks to bake pies for our deserts. I remember we lived in cottages according to our age groups and had a cottage mother to look after us we went to school there on the grounds and were taught different activities,I was taught how to sew and made a skirt which I was very proud of. The dining area was huge and before having any meals they would pick a child to say grace. We spent time outside on the playground (it was during the summer months) while outside we were able to mingle with our brothers, sisters and other children. Sundays was a special day for us because our families would come visit and bring us all kinds of goodies and homemade food. If we did not obey the rules as in anywhere else we were disciplined. We were not allowed to wonder around the buildings. We were to stay on the playground. All the children were treated equal, I was the oldest of my siblings therefore I remember much more than they do. It was an experience that has stood with me for a lifetime I am now 70 yrs. old and I have nothing but good memories of the Preventorium as do my brothers and sister.


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