The Mad Ruins of Kentucky’s Waverley Hills Sanatorium

Mike GristHospitals, USA, World Ruins 13 Comments

The Waverley Hills Sanatorium in Jefferson County, Kentucky, opened in 1910 in the thick of a Tuberculosis groundswell, then an incurable disease rife in the swampy backwaters of rural Loisville. The infected went to Waverley to be quarantined, and most likely to die- their bodies trundled out down the ‘Body Chute’ by night so as not to disturb the other patients. Described as one of America’s most haunted locations, Waverley boasts a total body count of around 60,000 over its 51 year life-span. It was shut down in 1961 as TB was gradually being eradicated, changed hands a number of times, and now the current owners hope to re-furbish and re-open it as a haunted hotel.

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Waverley Hills.

I know it’s a little strange to have a ruin from another country on this site- which so far has been only the haikyo of Japan- but it’s only that way because I happen to live in Japan, not because I especially love Japan’s ruins (though they are rather good). If I was in the States, it would be ruins in the States. Anyway, as you may know from reading this site, I went to visit my family in Kentucky this summer, and so couldn’t resist taking a shot at some ruins there.

Now, the Urbex scene (Urban Exploration) in America is pretty huge. There are lots of forums, resource sites, photo-blogs, and historical pages packed with info on cowboy ghost towns, under-city storm drains, lapsed desert military facilities, and even live locations the Urbexers break into. Now- I’m not really interested in ‘live’ facilities, though I can understand the rush of adrenaline that breaking into them could provide. I’m interested in locations with history that have fallen by the wayside, the dead-ends of our architectural, commercial, and geographical evolution.

So I did some thorough research on Kentucky ruins on the web before flying out, thinking I could maybe fit several in. I found traces of 2 ghost towns- Fudge in the bottom left corner of the state in Fulton County, with a few buildings remaining from a once-town of 50 inhabitants on in-arable land, and Creelsboro on the right of the state on Lake Cumberland, destroyed when one of the many dams on that lake went up and flooded its valley. Neither of them though were easily accessible, and neither had much of anything left to see, though apparently The Flaming Lips shot a music video at Fudge with the ruins in the background. So I broadened the search and found several Breweries, one of which my cousin visited on my behalf and I’ll post the photos of later. I also found Martin Castle, a huge castle-like home built on the road to Lexington that had been destroyed in a fire- though rebuilt now. And of course, I found Waverley.

Waverley is the grandest remaining structure in ruins I found in Kentucky, with a real history my Grandparents could clearly recall within their lifetimes. My Grandmother said she used to remember seeing the Sanatorium buildings standing proudly on the hill on the main road into Louisville, though now they are hidden behind a screen of tall trees.

The great thing about Waverley though was that the owners were sensitive to the appeal their building held to Urbexers and ghost-hunters, and so ran several different tours through the premises to keep them happy. I would be able to explore my first ruin legitimately! I called them a few days before the date we’d agreed to go on, likely taking my mother, aunt, and cousins with me- only to be dismayed that all their tours were fully booked, were booked through ’til January, and there was no other way to see the location at all.

Sigh. I had no idea the place would be so popular. I should have called as soon as I’d had the idea, several weeks earlier, but maybe even that wouldn’t have been soon enough.

So, my mom and I decided to swing by anyway, see if they’d let us in, and if not see if we could just catch a glimpse of the buildings from outside. I’d read on several sites about the security measures on Waverley, including a posse of volunteer guards who patrol the place 24/7, stopping anyone seeking to gain entry, so didn’t have any illusions that I could sneak past them.

We rolled up to the location following signs to the ghost walk, stopping at a security gate bedecked with No Trespassing signs. I called the Waverley office again, they said ‘No Way’ again. Some businessmen up from Tennessee looking to invest in the hotel were hanging around outside, so we chatted to them. The younger one of them- Bluetooth headphone in place- told us how his friend went on the ghost walk once and was totally freaked out for days. They called through to the office, and a woman came down in a golf cart to talk to them. She said no to them too- turns out they’d driven 4 hours on spec, without an appointment. US business practise- I guess face-to-face is better for a pitch.

I took a shot of these signs:

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The sign on the right threatens a $250 fine, which wouldn’t have phased me too much, but another sign said $5000, plus jail time. That made me think. So, we sat and thought for a while. After a while we decided to roll round to a nearby half-built subdivision we’d seen on the way in, to try and get at least a glimpse of the main Sanatorium building.

It proved to be a game-saving pitch. I was able to clamber through scraggly forest and underbrush in an old streambed, seeing no fresh trespassing signs or warnings, crossing no fences, and emerge at the top of an embankment that became the Waverley car park. Woo hoo! My heart was yammering faster than any haikyo I’d ever done in Japan, because this place was live, because the security in the US have guns, and because of the $5000 fine. I fired off a few quick shots then escaped to the safety of the car.

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Gargoyles squat atop the front arch.


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The left wing, four stories high.

I wish I had more to show, even though there’s probably very little to see on the inside. Some shots of the ‘Body Chute’ would have been good, even though they would just look like a dark concrete tunnel. Still, I’m very glad to have got even the shots that I did. Look forward to my cousin’s shots of the closed-down Brewery he went to sometime soon.


Location – Louisville, Kentucky.

Entry – Not easy, failure by phone several time, failure at the front gate despite the woman coming down in a golf cart, visual access through a stream-bed scraggly forest from a nearby half-built sub-division.

Highlights – The satisfaction of getting a few shots of the place, learning about the history of the place, my grandparents looking at the photos with surprise and saying- ‘gee Mike, you got some good shots!’


You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:

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Comments 13

  1. Your grandparents were right, these are your most colorful shots yet.

    Wise not to trespass, at least not in broad daylight.

    So you didn’t go on the ghost walk?

  2. Bummer you couldn’t get in. Looks like you made the best of it though. Looks really creepy all decaying with the bright blue sky behind it….

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    Jason- Cheers, I did adjust them some on the histogram in iPhoto, but then I always do that- so maybe just the bright light and bright blue skies made the difference this time. Ghost walk- I wanted to, but they wouldn’t let me on the tour.

    Mike- Cheers, it’s a very interesting place with all the history. I want to say it’s shame the owners are so strict with it, but that’s silly because it’s thanks to them that the building is still there at all, and not completely vandalized or demolished. What was your haikyo?

    Tornadoes- Yes it does, I suppose it isn’t that old really, they were adding buildings even as late as the 1920’s, so it could be one of those, and it was in operation as an old people’s home til around the 60’s, so only 40 years or so uninhabited.

    Brady- True that, and yes I do like bright blue skies and color in these ruins photos, just a different kind of aesthetic from the usual ‘creepy ruins!’ kind of deal.

  4. Wow, you’re really upping the stakes trying a place with threats of prison time! Good job though. There’s an abandoned Print Club (プリクラ) building in Shibuya now if you’re feeling adventurous. Looks pretty amazing, but impossible to get inside though.

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    Paul- I know right, but I only really skirted the trespassing zone and didn’t have to cross any fences or go by any signs, so I wasn’t taking too much risk. Purikura club- directions? Though I would never break in, so probably a moot point. Also wanted to go in the Shiespa in Shibuya- the one that had the gas-explosion deaths last year- but certainly no way in there.

  6. This place was just featured in the “stuff you should know” podcast on urban exploring. I was like, whoa, I know about that place from Mike! to my iPod.

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  8. This place is crazy popular cause it’s got some wild ghost stories. It’s been featured on Ghost hunters twice (once was a live) and they got some pretty interesting experiences out of it. If I ever make it over to Kentucky I’ll definitely try to book a tour. Hope you get to go see it at night some time.

  9. Hey.
    I love your Pictures and the adventure stories that go with them.
    I have been taking “ruins” pics for years, I love going to “criminal” site, ie. murders, recovered body sites. and reputed haunted sites especially. I had no idea that other people were interested in ruins sites. Really glad to have found your site. keep up the good work.

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    AMgirl- On ghost hunters twice? I know someone shot a movie there. I guess it has a quite reputation now. I wonder how much money the owners make out of their tours. Apparently they`re booked months ahead of time, as I learned when I went there.

    Jessica- You and me both.

    Cindy- Thanks, and sounds like you`re really into the dark side of it all. Do you like the TV show Dexter? I`m a big fan. Do you have your photos online somewhere?

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