Battle Creek’s most striking building has a striking history to match.
It began as a fancy health spa, went out of business when the stock market crashed, became a military hospital during World War II, and then was later turned into a federal building and named after three former patients who became senators.
Now called the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center, public tours are now offered on Tuesdays. Call 269-961-7015 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to register. They will notify participants of tour availability based on community COVID-19 transmission levels the Friday before their registered date.
While visiting, you’ll still see remnants of the days when it was the world-famous Sanitarium, designed and built by the Kellogg brothers.
Dr. J.H. Kellogg was the idea man, using cutting-edge medical science combined with Seventh-day Adventist beliefs in healthy living. Younger brother W.K. Kellogg had the business know-how.
While the brothers are celebrities for inventing Corn Flakes, it couldn’t have happened without the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Here’s what you need to know:
The Kellogg brothers
In exchange for a medical scholarship, Dr. Kellogg agreed to run the Seventh-day Adventist health institute. He renamed it the Battle Creek Sanitarium and asked W.K. to help him run it.
That’s not the building you see today, though. The Old Main burned to the ground in 1902 and the stone building was quickly built and opened in 1903. The relationship between the two brothers was already wearing thin, but W.K. suspended his efforts to create a cereal company long enough to make the new building a reality.
The original Seventh-day Adventist health institute focused on the water cure, which was kind of like a Roman spa. While Dr. Kellogg expanded the institute’s treatments, the new building still had an entire wing dedicated to different baths, salt scrubs and swimming.
Guests had to drink a required amount of water during the day (Dr. Kellogg would have loved seeing everyone carrying around Hydro Flasks nowadays).
Of course, there was another part of the water cure that made Dr. Kellogg infamous: regular enemas. Sometimes it was water and sometimes it was yogurt.
America had a diet problem at the time, with bloating and constipation being common problems. So it’s not too surprising that Dr. Kellogg focused on the colon. He knew there was something good about yogurt for the gut, some kind of helpful little organisms, way before Jamie Lee Curtis was promoting Activa.
Being physically active and getting fresh air were part of the Seventh-day Adventist teachings. The new Sanitarium was surrounded by designated areas for riding bicycles, sitting on the porch in all kinds of weather and aerobic classes.
Dr. Kellogg’s rooftop exercise to marching band music was so famous that it was made into a record so people could do it at home. Think of it like the first YouTube workout videos.
There was also a wing of the Sanitarium that had exercise equipment, much of it designed or modified by Dr. Kellogg.
Go to a medical spa today, and you’re likely to see electrical stimulation on the menu for body sculpting. Or you might buy a lightbox to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Early versions of these treatments could be found at the Sanitarium. You can still see some of the inventions at the Kellogg Discovery Center at the Seventh-day Adventist Village.
While the Sanitarium had a surgery and a medical college – and Dr. Kellogg very closely guarded his scientific credentials – many of the patients expected luxury.
Crystal, china and silver sparkled on the dining tables. There was entertainment every night. An indoor tropical conservatory provided warmth all year round.
Luxury was part of the San’s downfall. Against the wishes of Dr. Kellogg, a large tower was added. It’s now the first thing you notice about the old building. It was designed to attract the highest paying customers and was finished in 1928 – the year before the stock market crashed. Things went downhill quickly after that.
The Sanitarium attracted many famous guests, such as Mary Todd Lincoln and Henry Ford.
Amelia Earhart gave Dr. Kellogg a ride in an airplane. The presence of “Tarzan” Johnny Weissmuller gave the place a special glow of health.
Another of Battle Creek’s famous residents, activist Sojourner Truth, spent some time there.
Of course, there was also C.W. Post who found inspiration for his fame while a patient at the Sanitarium. The businessman left and started his own cereal company after experiencing the San’s health foods.