Provo Had a “Pest House” for Those with Communicable Diseases.
Contagious diseases like measles, diphtheria, and small pox reigned among the most dreaded scourges of frontier life. No vaccination for measles and diphtheria existed, and the isolation of the patient was one of the only ways to prevent the spread of these diseases. Even though many Provo residents had been inoculated for small pox, travelers sometimes carried the illness into town. They were promptly isolated until they recovered or died.
Provo did not have a specific place set aside for isolating infected patients until the spring of 1873 when a wayfarer, Captain R.C. Thomas, entered the city with little more than the clothes on his back and a case of small pox.
The Provo City Council rapidly authorized the purchase of 50 or 60 acres of land near the mountains and constructed a “pest house,” so called because it was used to confine people suffering from a pestilence, or a communicable disease. Thomas recovered in a little more than two weeks.
In 1877, a transient from California who was also suffering from small pox entered Provo. Workmen added another room onto the pest house for the use of attending nurses, and the new patient moved in. He survived, but a local teenage boy contracted the disease and died.
Increased fear of contagious diseases motivated the city council to pass an ordinance in 1878 that provided for quarantine and sanitary regulations. This ordinance required the appointment of a quarantine physician. The isolation at home of those who were ill with a serious disease and the marking of their residence with a yellow flag were now required by law. The ordinance also levied fines for those knowingly transporting sick people into Provo or for violating any part of the ordinance.
With infected people now confined to their own homes, the use of the “pest house” dwindled and it gradually became dilapidated. Workmen finally razed it in the 20th Century.