A Silent Killer Came to Our House

Without warning, that which came into the Appalachian Mountains referred to as the Silent Killer or the White Plague, would leave our family without a father and even worse, a provider. Such was the case in that year 1943 when our Dad Clarence Carroll, would be diagnosed with the dreaded Tuberculosis (TB) disease that would take away the family breadwinner for nine years. Daddy was at age thirty-one at the time and was employed by the Catawba Sanatorium as assistant store manager since the late 1930s’. The irony is not lost on the fact, that Daddy would still be going to the Sanatorium, not as an employed store-keeper but as a patient “on the cure” to reside there, indefinitely.

Clarence Carroll, Elizabeth Carroll Nancy Carroll Camper, Jeanie Carroll Thompson, Barbara Carroll Shelor, Clarence (Ted) Carroll

Our mother, Elizabeth Garman Carroll was twenty-eight when Daddy departed and had four children to care for; Jeanie, Teddy, Barbara and Nancy all age nine and younger. Jeanie was the baby at eighteen months. I cannot remember the specifics of that day when he left although I knew something was wrong in the Carroll household. Sister Barbara, age five at the time well remembers the day he left us. She said “Mama was ironing Daddy’s pajamas on an ironing board by the side of the bed. Jeanie, just a baby at the time was lying on the bed. As she continued ironing, Mama was crying, and we did not know what was wrong”. Looking back, it was obvious she was packing Daddy’s clothes for his stay at the Sanatorium, which would be measured in years.

Our situation, by any reckoning, was not a good one. First and foremost, Daddy’s battle with TB was one of a very long process, and there were no guarantees of his survival and return to his family. Secondly, we as a family, with a mother in her late twenties who had four children to feed, clothe and raise. We had just moved into a newly built house on one acre of land beside the Catawba School. We had a roof over our head, but that came with a monthly mortgage. We had no vehicle, nor anyone licensed to drive one. It was a dire situation even by Appalachia standards. The Catawba Sanatorium built in 1909 was the first built TB sanatorium in Virginia. This facility was specifically for TB patients and was within walking distance of our home.

Daddy’s only hope-The Catawba Sanatorium

catawba-westend-infirmaryThe good news that existed through this situation was that we had a facility that was already in place and had been in operation for about thirty-four years when Daddy was admitted. What would be the chances that the first TB sanatorium to be built in the Commonwealth of Virginia would be in Catawba, Virginia? And to be within a ten-minute walk from our house? My answer would be “divine intervention” with regards to our family’s thinking, and there would be more “divine intervention” as you continue to read.

The Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Resort Becomes Catawba TB Sanatorium

Catawba Valley is thought to the first settlement in what in what would become Roanoke County. James McAfee appears to be the first to receive a land grant in Catawba which records show him acquiring two tracts of 350 acres in December of 1740. James McAfee and his sons would acquire more land in Catawba in 1749. They would get wanderlust in 1771 and head off to Kentucky. The McAfees would own the land that would eventually become Catawba Sanatorium, although it would change hands and others would own parcels that totaled 700 acres in the 1850s’. The owners were businessmen from Salem and would invest in a resort that would be charted by the Commonwealth of Virginia as the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Company in 1858.  This property contained limestone and Sulphur springs on it, and the intent of ownership was to market the resort as a “healing” and rest resort for the elite. The Catawba location at the foot of North Mountain drew many wealthy folks to enjoy the peace, tranquility, fresh air, beauty, quietness and of course the springs that would have healing qualities. At the height of its success, it would have about 300 guests present in the main hotel. This would continue until the Civil War caused the resort to close its doors. The Roanoke Red Board met in 1864 and voted to dissolve the corporation.

In 1876 it was sold to Josephus Flavius Chapman who along with his son purchased the Red. They ran it as a resort, also, marketing it as a “healing” place. Chapman bottled the water and sold it as “Catawba Iron or All Healing” water being valuable in the treatment of lung diseases. The Chapman children would, in 1901 sell it to the Commonwealth of VA. Additional land was sold to the Commonwealth by the Chapmans in 1908. The first ever TB sanatorium for TB treatment in Virginia would be the Catawba Sanatorium. That is where our daddy was going for treatment.

And our family was facing how to survive in the years ahead.

IMG_20180624_195633055_LLOur status was that our small wood frame home was about three years old setting on a one-acre lot beside the Catawba Elementary school. The lower half of our property faced South boarding along the old Catawba Mountain Road which would be the new Rt. 311 in the early 1950s’. That area was fenced and had a barn with a milking stall, a small feed room and a small area for hay storage. We had one milk cow and several chickens. A garden spot was in the front part of our lot below the grapevines and near the house. We had indoor plumbing but had to heat the water for dishwashing and bathing.


There was a single coal-burning furnace in the middle of the basement floor with a heat register above it to heat the house. You had to stand close to this one register to get warm. The house was usually cold, and snow would sift through the windows on occasion during a windy snowstorm. There were two small bedrooms and being the only male, I slept in a fold-up, rollaway bed. Later, plywood flooring was laid on half of the attic area where I got a bed and a small dresser. It was like sleeping in a refrigerator in the winter. I did get to sleep with a bed pig some, and the girls did too. A bed pig is a porcelain or clay hot water bottle shaped like a pig that was used as a bed warmer.  The bed pig was brought over from Scotland by our ancestors. I got so used to being cold growing up that I can handle cold weather very easily now. I liked sleeping with that pig.

Food, clothing and other necessities of life.

We had a milk cow which provided milk, butter, and buttermilk. Mama milked the cow until I was seven or eight and then she let me milk once a day. I always liked to milk and squirt milk from the teat to the cat who was always there at milking time. Mama caught me one time and stopped that. We would get rid of the cow a few years later trading her for cash and a rabbit hutch and two rabbits. I did not like taking care of the rabbits, but that was one of my jobs. I assume we sold some and ate some, although I can’t remember Mama telling us we were having rabbit for supper. Talking to my cousins at times they would say that their mothers would cook up meat that they did not know where it came from. In the mountains it did not matter; food was food and eat or go hungry. Our rabbit raising lasted less than a year because they took up valuable time and the rabbit food pellets were a wasted expense. I did not cry when the rabbits left.

We had a garden that we ate out of and Mamma canned all kinds of food.  We grew European Concord grapes that came from the Old Country, they were planted at most all houses in Catawba and all over Appalachia. They made great jelly. We picked berries of all kinds from the fields and mountains.  We gathered walnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts, and chinquapins. Chinquapins are like the American chestnut but much smaller and very tasty.

We raised chickens for eggs and meat. Also, at a young age, Mama taught me how to kill a chicken for frying. First, I would chase a reluctant chicken, catch it and take it to a wood chopping block. I would lay it down on the block with the head and neck on the block and with a hatchet or ax cut the head off. Then I would throw it under an overturned bushel basket and let it a flop for less than a minute and it would go limp. After that, we would put it in a container of scalding water, remove it and pick all the feathers off. If Barbara was nearby, I would chase after her with the headless chicken before picking the feathers. I believe Mama put a stop to that like she did with my squirting milk in the cat’s mouth.

Kinfolk of the Carroll and Garman families would help us out as well as other folks in the valley. Catawba people would help each other in time of need and no one was going to go hungry for sure. As hard as we had it we always had something to eat. We could buy what we needed from Keffer’s store on credit and often someone would put money towards that bill. We will never know this side of heaven, who all helped us during that very trying time.  Helping others in need still goes on in Catawba today.

Our mother was the youngest of the Garman family of seventeen and as a result, spoiled rotten. But in that time of her childhood and youth, she worked and learned how to survive. She was prepared to care for us during that time. Cooking and sewing were learned growing up in Appalachia. That would come in handy after Daddy was gone. Mama had a Singer sewing machine and she was an excellent seamstress. She made dresses for the girls and I remember her making me a shirt or two. She made aprons, curtains, and other items all on that old Singer sewing machine. Almost all the time in those early years the cloth needed to make things came from feed and flour sacks. We would buy feed from Keffer’s store and use the cotton sacks to make clothes. The sacks had pretty designs on them and would make attractive clothing. Cloth would be bought at times, but the sacks were always utilized. This was true for all Catawba households.

The Long Journey of being Cured.

Dr. J.B. Nichols was the Director of the Sanatorium and had been in that position since 1917 when Daddy arrived. He would remain in the director’s position and retire in 1953, the same year Daddy was released to live at home permanently. Dr. Nichols was an excellent director and a fine man. All our family thought highly of him, and he helped us greatly to get through this difficult time. There were five resident doctors on staff at the time including a Catawba resident, Dr. Lula Woods Garst who lived near the Sanatorium. We were often guests at her home. Dr.Garst, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond was among the first women doctors in Virginia.

When our daddy entered the Sanatorium, he was quarantined in a room so that the status of his TB infection could be observed. This is normal for newly admitted patients and was strictly enforced due to passing on the disease through coughing, etc. In the early stages of confinement, Mama had to talk to him from outside his room. We children could wave at him when he came to the window. I’m not sure how long Daddy was in quarantine, but over time he could with us interact in person.

Most patients that arrived at the sanatorium had already been infected with TB. The symptoms at the outset are coughing, fever, generally feel bad, which could have led folks back then to feel like they had a cold or flu. Regardless of the degree of infection, the process of the treatment was the same; rest, nutritious food and plenty of fresh air. The quality of the Catawba air was perfect for curing this disease. Exposure to the outdoors, both winter and summer was critical. No one could stay in a room, due to lack of ventilation. Daddy, along with others, would sleep on the long porches that were screened in. Patients did this in winter time in the cold and snow. Daddy told us that the blowing snow would “sift” through the screen and fall on their bed covers. Those top covers would be removed come morning and the snow was shaken off. This does not sound like something that would be true, but it was. The only way to cure TB then was fresh air regardless of the temperature.

During Daddy’s stay in the 1940s, streptomycin became available which helped by attacking the bacteria and hastening the overall treatment of TB. But the process of curing someone and allowing them to get strong and healthy to return to their homes was still lengthy.

Daddy working in the sanatorium’s store in the mid 1930s

By 1937, the sanatorium had 340 beds, a store, post office, school, barbershop, and a chapel.  Patients who were not bedridden had the opportunity to learn basic secretarial skills, including typing. There was an excellent library which over time would have several thousand volumes. Leathercraft was also an option for patients, and our daddy learned how to make wallets. I saw some that he made and they were very professional looking.

In 1928 patients were provided with radios; each person in each building was given headphones.

Hospital ChapelChurch services were conducted twice a week in the chapel.  The chapel was constructed of Catawba stone at the cost of $8000. Later an amplifying system was installed in the chapel for services and other programs to be broadcast to bed patients.

Some Interesting Facts About Catawba Sanatorium.

As the Catawba Sanatorium grew in size beginning in 1909, it would employ a significant number of Catawbians (a few from Craig and Botetourt) people providing the local folks to have a better standard of living. Catawba natives have always enjoyed a reputation for being reliable, honest and hardworking employees, so it was a natural for the Sanatorium (and later on when it became Catawba Hospital) to employ them. It benefitted Catawbians in many ways, most notable to not have to cross Catawba Mountain twice a day to work in the Roanoke/Salem area. Living in the Valley near the Sanatorium/Hospital was a huge convenience. The health care and retirement benefits were welcomed.

The Sanatorium property included a fire and a weather station. The Sanatorium had its own fire company of two trucks which were skillfully manned by their own employees in case of fire. A fire threat was real with the original wooden buildings and no fire department nearby.   The sanatorium also had its own weather bureau and accurate weather records were kept in the office of the business manager.

Catawba Sustainability Center2A farm was set up in the first decade of the TB Sanatorium’s existence with a barn constructed in 1918. The farm would become a source of milk products to the Sanatorium when the pasteurization and bottling of milk began. The farm had over thirty dairy cows and two bulls. Hogs were kept in a free-range environment on the wooded ridge opposite the farm feeding on mostly acorns and food scraps. No vegetables were grown for the Sanatorium because the Catawba growing season was too short and it was cheaper to buy them at the Roanoke Farmer’s Market.

My grandfather Elbert W. Carroll managed the farm in the 1930s until he was killed in an accident on the farm in 1941. Daddy worked on the farm until he took the job at the Sanatorium as assistant store manager.  I worked on the farm during the summer, but not as a paid employee.  I mainly worked in the haymaking time and did other odd jobs. There were three generations of Carrolls connected to the Sanatorium farm.

Life Without Daddy Continues for the Carroll Family.

I mentioned divine intervention and promised more evidence of that. As I stated earlier, being within walking distance of the sanatorium was an act of God. But there would be more. Before his being admitted for TB treatment, Daddy would drive us all to the Catawba Valley Baptist Church which was five miles from our home. One of the oldest churches around, this was the home church of Daddy’s family, and we really enjoyed going there. But his absence left us with no way to get to that church. However, there was a Catawba Methodist Church just across the road from our house, and we would attend that one for many years. When Daddy returned home for good in 1953, he would go back to Catawba Valley Baptist church and was serving there as Superintendent of Sunday School at his death in 1972. We continued at the Methodist church with Daddy going there on special occasions and us going with him to his church on special occasions.

school backgrnd.jpg
Barbara, Ted, and Jeanie

We also had the Catawba School grades 1-7 right beside our home and Mama worked there for several years as a cook. Minor Keffer’s store and the post office was a three-minute walk away when we needed food, feed, ammunition and everything else that we needed for country living. Praise God for all those places that did not require transportation.

We had good times and experiences regardless of the struggles.

We were able to visit relatives (especially on the Garman side) quite often. There was always someone who would pick us up and take us to Grandad and Grandma Garman’s house, or to Aunts and Uncles homes to visit with our cousins. Homemade ice cream and playing games were our entertainment. Sometimes we would spend the night. Saturday night dances and music by the Garman brothers and others were held at the old mill, which is now part of the Grace Assembly of God campus. I can remember going to Lakeside, a rodeo, and a circus in the Roanoke/Salem area. Extended family and nearby neighbors treated us like their own children. Barbara and I spent summers with Wilma and Gene at the Garman homeplace. These were really fun times!

Each summer on the 4th of July all of Daddy’s family (Carroll’s) would come over to our house for a picnic. We would get our first watermelon of the summer. We children would set in the yard and watch the old, winding Catawba Mountain road for their cars to come. This was an exciting day for us, and they all would visit Daddy at the Sanatorium afterward. The Carroll family helped us financially to keep our home.

We had an old radio and listened to it a lot with some of our favorites being the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers/Dale Evans. I liked listening to Country Music on WCKY Cincinnati 1, Ohio at nighttime especially the WCKY Jamboree. This AM station had a powerful signal at nighttime and came in very clear in the Easter U.S. including the Appalachian Mountains. I was not the only one listening as most mountain folks that had a radio were tuned in, also.

We played croquet during the summer in our front yard. My vivid remembrance of this game was when sister Barbara hit me in the forehead with her mallet. I still have the scar. She stands firm to this day that she committed this assault to punish me for cheating.

Other (non-violent) games we played included Uncle Wiggly, Rook, Monopoly and Checkers. Putting puzzles together was a fun and challenging thing to do.

Barbara recalls the time during World War II and experiencing frightening thunderstorms

“Daddy was hospitalized during World War II and I am sure that was difficult and a little scary for Mama. I can remember going to Minors  (Keffer store) with ration stamps for sugar. He had a big jar on the back counter where he would put the stamps. I believe the amount I received was one pound. It was like gold at the time.”

“There were ‘blackout times’ which were drills that were taken seriously. The reason was so that if enemy planes flew over, they would not be able to see lights. Electric lights had to be turned off and lanterns had to be snuffed out.  Each locality had an air raid warden who would come to your house, knock loudly on the door, and yell ‘black out, black out’. Bill Bishop was usually the person coming to our home, scaring us with the warning. We would cut all lights off and go on to bed or huddle together on the floor. Sometimes we would cut the radio on. Sometimes the president would speak.”

“Sometimes we would have bad, summertime thunderstorms which would frighten all of us and Ted’s dog Skippy. Skippy would hide under the back porch. Mama would sit in her rocker in the living room and gather us four around her as we sat on the floor. She would read to us as the thunderstorm roared outside. On one night during a storm, lightning struck a large locust tree in the back yard and ran into the house. The house did not catch fire but the floor we were sitting on got very hot. We jumped up off the floor because of the heat. The tree that was struck split down the middle. After that, Mama became very fearful of thunderstorms and from then on when one started, she took us to a nearby neighbor’s house. The Keffers, Fringers and Uncle Kermit & Aunt Virginia always welcomed us in until the storm passed. Another thunderstorm stuck the Catawba Sanatorium main barn and burned it down. That was about one-half mile from our house, and we watched it burn to the ground. The blaze was huge and scary. For years we all were frightened when a bad storm came through. The experience was one that we all would never forget and Mama would share it many times in the future.”

Daddy finally comes home to stay

Our daddy would come home for brief visits later in his confinement years. At first spending one night on a Friday, then two nights and finally the whole weekend. We would wait in the kitchen and get really excited when he came in the back door. He would always bring us a roll of Necos (thin wafer flavored candy) and a carton of six Dr. Peppers. Those were wonderful times, especially for me because I would not be the only male in the house!

After nine years our Daddy would come home to stay in 1953, almost a decade since he left. He would be cured of TB but the wear and tear of the disease would shorten his life, leading to his death by cancer in 1972 at age 60.

Enjoy articles like this? Then you would love Echoes From Catawba Volume 1, Growing Up In Catawba Valley, Appalachia.   Click here to order Echoes From Catawba Volume 1  hardcover, collector’s edition: $27.99, includes shipping.  Also available on Amazon. Paperback: $18.99 and Kindle: $5.99

Also available at the Salem Museum Book Store in Salem, Virginia and The Emporium on Main Street in New Castle, Virginia.

11 thoughts on “A Silent Killer Came to Our House

  1. I so enjoy reading this in hopes of hearing you mention some name I may recall. I too am a Carroll from what they used to call Morgansville right near Catawba.

    1. Thank you for your comment and glad you enjoyed reading the article. I cannot place where Morgansville was located near Catawba. Always glad to hear from Carroll 🙂

  2. So much enjoyed this story. My mom, Dorothy Wood, worked at Catawba Hospital for many years, along with my aunt, Grace Davis. I remember Clarence Carroll as superintendent at my church, Catawba Valley Baptist and going to his home for homemade ice cream. Good memories !

    1. Thank you, Kay, for the kind comments and precious memories. It means a lot that you knew my dad and visited our home. I love writing these stories and hearing from folks like you who are connected in some manner. Continue reading and I will continue writing. Plan is to release one book each year until God finishes with me. Thanks again, Kay.

  3. I really enjoy your articles. I am amazed at the strength and courage the families of Catawba and especially the Garman linage used living in the mountains of Catawba. I have a better understanding of where I get these traits. You see I am a granddaughter of Oscar Garman who never got a chance to know this heritage because of a death of a mother and brought up in a different generation. I’m proud to be a Garman and proud to pass the heritage to my six kids and 11 grandkids even all the way over here in Texas

    Hope Garman Sarver

    1. Hi Hope. Good to hear from you again as you are a faithful follower of Echoes. Your comments are very accurate and telling of what our heritage is all about. It thrills me to know you are passing this on down the line. I am going to do an article on Oscar in the future. Thanks again for your kind note-Ted

  4. Wonderful article . I have my grandmother’s diary . She too was a tb patient around 1917 .She wrote of Dr Nichols . My mother was 18 months old when her mother went to Catawba Sanatorium. My infant mother went to live with an aunt . I have letters my aunt Eva wrote to my grandmother’s describing my mother’s first tooth and steps . Grandmother was in and out of Catawba for many years . She did come home but passed away at 67 when I was 7 .Grandmother recovered but the disease weakened her . She lived next door to us so she was part of my life , and I got to hear her stories . In 1972 15 years after her passing I had the good fortune to be hired as a teacher at Catawba Elementary right next to your home , It was a wonderful 8 years and I got to know your sweet mother well . So nice to meet you at the reunion this fall ! Kathy Freis Gross

  5. Hello Ted. Your mother and mine are related. My grandfather was Tuck Garmen and my mother was Phyllis Garmen. I remember your mother as Aunt Elizabeth as we went to the church across from your home. Love the stories you share. They bring back so many good memories .

    1. Thanks, Brenda, for commenting on the writings I am doing. I like to hear the feedback when folks can read and relate to some really wonderful times and forever memories. I love writing and have dedicated my life going forward to continue to write and preserve these special times in books for folks to enjoy now and generations to come. I very much appreciate your kind words. I would love to meet you sometime. Maybe that will happen.—-Ted

  6. Thank you so much for taking time to write about our family. I am a grand daughter of Your Aunt Gertrude the oldest of the 17 children. My mother was Avis Damewood Garman & loved your mom, Elizabeth.
    I have many fond memories playing with Barbara. Avis & Louin Garman had 8 children & we all went to the brick school house. Your book brought back many wonderful memories. I live in Leesburg, Va.
    Frieda Jane Garman Rager

    1. Frieda, it is really great hearing from you! As I do these writings, I continue to be blessed with kin and friends from Catawba popping up having read Volume 1 of Echoes From Catawba. You were a bit older than me but I remember you and your siblings. Talked to Ted last year when he stopped at the Catawba Farmers Market. The next book Volume 2 of Echoes will be a biography of Aunt Earl Taylor and the primitive life she lived. It will be released in November of this year. In the process of moving back to Salem to be near Catawba for my future writings. I will cover all of the children of the family that Aunt Gertrude was born into including Aunt Gert. Each volume will have stories similar to the format of Volume 1 that you have read. If you have FB follow us Ted and Tina Carroll and our page Echoes From Catawba, plus the blogsite—-if you so desire. Thank you again for your comments, which are much appreciated. Wishing you well.—- Ted Carroll

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