203. Pest house

203. Pest house

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The PEST HOUSE is a quarantine facility typically found in every Michigan community around 1900.

Our Pestilence (Pest) House was built in the 1890s and was rediscovered in 2004 in the form of a long-deserted machine shop. It was moved to Heritage Village and completely restored in 2005.

Pest is short for Pestilence which means contagious, deadly disease. Once introduced to a community, a disease like diphtheria, cholera, and smallpox could spread quickly. Mackinaw City was a destination port city and was very vulnerable since boats from other ports might have a sick person on board who could be spreading the disease. To protect healthy citizens from the person with the disease, they were taken to the Pest House where they were cared for until they were well. One in three patients did not survive Smallpox.

Most communities had a Pest House. People in town would build it with volunteer help. The Heritage Village Pest House is unique because it survived. After Pest houses became outdated, no one needed them around. They deteriorated and fell apart or were dismantled and destroyed. Ours is the only one known to us that survived and has been fully restored.

A typical Pest House would have had many beds and often more makeshift beds on the floor. Beds may have been separated with temporary curtains. Men, women and children would all be taken care of in the same building. The single caretaker would have been someone who liked to care for people and was immune to small pox either having survived it or having had cow pox. Doctors when available would check on patients and order medicine. The caretaker would keep patients warm, fed, and comfortable sometimes with help from community members who would leave cut wood and food on the rock outside the door to help out.

Before 1900, no one realized how important hand washing was in preventing the spread of disease. Even if they had known, it wouldn’t have been easy because there was no running water in the Pest House. Care givers had to haul water into the Pest House from an outside well, even in the winter. Then the water would need to be heated with a wood stove requiring wood and constant attention to keep it going to keep the building warm and keep water warm to care for the patients.

During our educational tours with students, they learn about being vaccinated against the horrible diseases of the past and understanding the threat of contagious diseases in the 1900’s.