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Oregon Trails: History of Hospitals

February 10, 2012

By Ron Brown

MEDFORD, Ore. — From the time the first settlers began arriving in Southern Oregon, it was a battle for survival and most often the enemy was disease and injury. There were few doctors, much less anything like a hospital.

When most of us think of a hospital, we probably have in mind something like Providence Medford Medical Center or Rogue Valley Medical Center, but the first hospitals in our area were much less than that. Usually a house remodeled to receive patients when necessary.

The brick building in on historic “G” Street in Grants Pass is generally considered that town’s first hospital, at least the top floor was, in 1906. It was called “Southern Oregon General Hospital.” about five months later. Another large house at 305 Northeast 6th became the home for “Rogue River Hospital”. Meanwhile, “The South Pacific Hospital” was established in this house in 1906. It only operated one year. Then in 1907, this 10-room house became the new “South Pacific Hospital”, and at one time reportedly served as a maternity hospital. In 1913, this house a couple blocks over on northwest fourth, became “Good Samaritan Hospital”, which had about 30 beds.

Then, in 1928, the first real stand-alone hospital in Grants Pass was built here, on Northwest “A”, and became “Josephine General”. “Good Samaritan” became part of “Josephine General”. In 1964, “Josephine Memorial Hospital” was built next door and both are now vacant. At Washington and Midland in Grants Pass, at the same time this small private hospital, “Southern Oregon Medical Center” operated. It and Josephine Memorial were bought out by Asante and merged into the new Three Rivers Hospital. The so-called “tower” building is vacant, and is now plagued with serious mold issues.

The old Josephine Memorial Hospital and the tower building next door has been an albatross around the county’s neck for many years. County officials are not sure what will become of the property. They’d like to be able to get something done with it, but for now it just becomes useless real estate.

Ashland has had a hospital of one sort or another for more than a century. The first was begun in 1903 and settled into this building in 1907; but in 1909 a fire destroyed the roof and plans soon began to build a concrete building. It opened in 1910 as the Granite City Hospital. In 1921, millionaire Jesse Winburn bought the financially struggling Granite City Hospital and it became a community hospital in 1930, but it was Medford that was becoming the medical center of Southern Oregon.

Ben Truwe, Medford Historian, describes the foundation of the first hospital in the area:

“The first real hospital was started by a Dr. Warren T. Cameron in 1903 and that was down in the Palm-Bodge building in Medford, at Main and Front. The building is still there. I think he occupied the entire 2nd floor. He only stayed there for a few months, so then he bought the Barnum house on North Central and moved it there. I don’t know how long that survived, because I know by 1907 there is…I found a little article in the paper that’s complaining Medford has no hospital! And so a hospital was started shortly after that by Doctors Clancy and Conryoy who bought a different house on at south Central and 11th street and ran a hospital there.”

That became the hospital the Sisters of Providence took over.

“The sisters lived up in the attic, and complained about the sweltering up there in the Sunmer. And that became the nucleus that started the fundraising effort to, to build Sacred Heart hospital on the top of Nob Hill,” explains Truwe.

With the donation of a plot of city land and some $10,000 in donations, Sacred Heart was built at a cost of $100,000 and opened in 1911. It operated until it was replaced by providence hospital. Meanwhile, another hospital, the Dow Hospital, moved to Medford from central point in 1918. Then, in 1922, Medford Community Hospital opened on East Main Street. It served until 1958 when it was replaced by the new Rogue Valley Medical Center.

Klamath Falls’ first hospital was Samaritan Hospital. That opened in 1911 at 6th and Pine. Then the “Blackburn Sanitarium” opened. It later became “Klamath General”, which had the area’s first motorized ambulance. They called it an “invalid car.” Klamath Valley Hospital opened in 1920 at 4th and Pine. The average cost was just seven dollars a day! In 1929, Hillside Hospital was built. It merged with Klamath Valley in 1950. A new hospital, “Presbyterian community”, opened in 1965. That later became Merle West Medical Center. It’s known today as Sky Lakes Medical Center.

The most unlikely place for a hospital might have been Gold Hill. This house served as the first hospital about 1910. But it was in 1914, that a 50-by-50 foot two story brick hospital, in the rear right of this photo, was built on this site by Dr. R.C. Kelsey, where the city now has a shop building.

By the mid-20’s improved transportation made it easier for people to get to Medford and other population centers. So today, Medford, Ashland, Klamath Falls and Grants Pass still have their hospitals.

About 1870, S.E. Sumner set up the first full-time doctors office in Linkville, before it became Klamath Falls. He had no formal medical training, but was a nurse in the Civil War and worked as an orderly and veterinarian at Fort Klamath.