Have you ever heard of San Haven Sanitorium? An abandoned asylum found in the middle-of-nowhere North Dakota, San Haven has turned into a broken, desolate place that attracts ghost hunters, urban explorers, and curious travelers alike. Want to know more about abandoned San Haven? Read my experience exploring this notoriously haunted spot in ND.
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Over the course of my travels, I’ve been to a lot of weird places.
Like abandoned mine towns in Montana, the bone church in Czech Republic, the horrific Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21 prison) and killing fields in Cambodia, Bran Castle in Romania (aka “Dracula’s Castle”), Edinburgh’s underground city of the dead, and countless cemeteries across Europe.
Hands down, San Haven takes the cake as the creepiest, most bone-chilling place I’ve ever been. Those other places don’t even compare to the eerie feel this abandoned asylum radiates.
And this isn’t just because of its ruined, decaying buildings with their smashed windows, broken staircases, and a cavernous elevator shaft (that a young boy apparently fell down and died in years ago).
The moment we pulled up to this place in my trusty road tripping van, something felt… off. Wrong. Almost sinister.
And as I stepped into its crumbling front door — which is, of course, wide open to the world — this feeling only intensified.
There was no doubt in my mind the previous San Haven patients who were left to perish and die in this desolate place were watching. Their lonely, left-behind souls lingering within the shadows.
No doubt, San Haven is hauntingly beautiful.
Aside from the endless graffiti (which definitely includes poorly drawn penises), there’s something alluring about the decaying buildings.
The shattered glass lining the floors, empty rooms with nothing but a single chair in the corner, gaping windows letting in a soft summer breeze or icy North Dakota winter winds, a forsaken suitcase tossed carelessly to the ground, and thick vines ominously snaking their way through the corridors makes for an other-worldly feel.
So why was San Haven left to decay and crumble into a place where urban explorers and adventures flock to?
Here are some interesting facts about San Haven and its short, yet depressing history:
- Firstly, San Haven is located just a few miles northeast of a small town called Dunseith, North Dakota. (It’s seriously in the middle of f*cking nowhere.)
- It was founded in 1909 as a Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Oddly enough, my great-grandmother and grandma went to for treatment, as I’m originally from this area.
- After tuberculosis simmered down, San Haven later became a hospital for the developmentally disabled.
- There was actually a section of San Haven that housed something weirdly called the “School for the Feeble Minded” (no joke).
- Over the years, San Haven expanded into a ridiculously large complex of structures complete with underground tunnels to connect the buildings. It was so large, it was given its own zip code!
- At one time, San Haven held over 900 patients, including some of my own family members.
- San Haven was so large that state resources couldn’t cover all of the costs for maintaining the facilities. Which, unfortunately, resulted in insufficient care of the developmentally disabled.
- This resulted in a lawsuit in 1980 between the North Dakota Association for Retarded Citizens and the State of North Dakota.
- In December of 1987 San Haven closed. The facility stood vacant until 1992 when the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribe purchased it from the State of North Dakota.
- Since then, San Haven has stood waiting for a chance to be either reborn or torn down. Over the years, urban explorers and adventurists have flocked to San Haven, resulting in some unfortunate accidents. In 2001, a young boy fell down the elevator shaft and died.
Creepy, right? San Haven’s dark past and ghostly feel will give anyone the heebie-jeebies.
Heck, I didn’t even know my own great-grandmother and grandma received treatment at this place until I showed my grandma the photos after visiting! How wild is that?
Tell me, have you ever heard of San Haven Sanitorium? Or have you ever visited this place for yourself? Let me know in the comments below!
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Emily LuckowJuly 2, 2021 11:36 pm
I enjoyed your article! Thank you!
I have become pretty serious in abandoned adventures since late last year. It’s been an interest for many more years then that but I’ve concentrated on it more so. I have always wanted to check out a Sanitarium. Can you tell me more? Like can we just drive up & take pics & what not or? I wouldn’t mind a contact if you know of one, just to say hey I’m there. But if not I’ve winged it too. I’m bummed I was out in that area a few weeks ago & photographed an old school, little did I know the holy grail was not far away.
Any tips would be appreciated, thanks!
A fellow Abandoner,
Abandoned History, Emily Luckow:) MN
AnnaMarch 13, 2023 12:08 am
Interesting to see photos of this place. I actually lived on the grounds briefly as a child because my father was a doctor doing his residency there (around 1980). We went back to visit later and I do remember it being very creepy! There was a small house on site at one point but I haven’t been able to find photos of it.