There are people who still refer to the recently vacated Board of Education building on North Main Street as “the old hospital.”

That structure hasn’t been the county’s hospital since September 1979, more than four decades back. However, there was an old hospital that preceded the old school offices, this one a converted hotel on Pigeon Street, and once upon a time, it also was known as “the old hospital.”

In a county where old-timers prefer familiar phrases to street names or numbered addresses, this reporter had to learn the hard way that when an old-timer gives directions starting at the “old hospital,” it might mean the North Main building — the one now being renovated for low-cost housing. Or it might mean the foot of the hill at Pigeon Street, where the Bonnie Castle Hotel was converted into the Waynesville Hospital in 1917. That building became the first true hospital in the county, though it was very quickly followed by the one in Canton.

Before 1917, most Haywood County patients were treated at home or doctors’ offices. Though, at times, patients might have been housed overnight in a doctor’s office, most care was home-based.

Mission Hospital had been organized in Asheville in 1885, and seriously ill patients, if they could survive the trip, would sometimes be transported there.

Two doctors, Joshua Fanning Abel, and J.R. McCracken, led the effort in developing the first Waynesville hospital. Both men were Haywood County natives — Abel grew up on a farm along the Pigeon River south of Canton; McCracken on a farm in Crabtree. Both taught school briefly before studying medicine — Abel at the University of Maryland Medical School; McCracken at the North Carolina Medical College.

By 1905, both men had based their practices in Waynesville. By 1917, both men had served as the county superintendent of health, which may have added to their efforts to develop a hospital where patients could be cared for round-the clock.

Needed: pigs and potatoesThe hotel-turned-hospital opened in late July or the first of August, 1917. One of the first challenges for its supervisor and head nurse, Claudia Hubbard, was making sure the facility was supplied. Hubbard wrote a regular report for The Carolina Mountaineer/Waynesville Courier, describing the donations and making requests.

On Oct. 18, 1917, the newspaper reported that Hubbard was “anxious that someone should present the institution with two pigs, or sell them reasonably.”

Hubbard was apparently the ideal person to head up the hospital, given her work ethic, fundraising abilities and medical skills as described in the newspaper. In November of the hospital’s first year, Mrs. Alice Kuykendall wrote the newspaper, advising Waynesville women to visit and volunteer at the hospital.

“You will receive the warmest welcome you ever had from an angel, in the form of a nurse, whose face is as bright as the white cap she wears and whose smiles and welcome manners make one feel that she is in a corner of paradise,” Kuykendall wrote. ‘The nurses all wear white caps and aprons and everything is clean and spotless. ... I want all the mothers to go and get acquainted with the institution and nurses, for sooner or later you may have some of your children in their care.”

Hubbard’s regular reports detailed donations for the hospital, from the most generous to the most basic. A November 1917 report named an individual who gave one pound of butter. Another donor gave two chickens. Others gave: 12 towels, a box of dishes, six pairs of pillowcases, a quilt, tablecloths and napkins, two bed pans, eggs, six pumpkins, three bushels of apples, two bushels of potatoes and 15 pounds of beef. Each was listed by name. Dr. Abel donated an alcohol sterilizer. His name was also on the list.

For the first two years of its operation, Hubbard, apparently a widow, juggled efforts to provide foods, supplies, money, volunteers, nursing students and actual nurses for the hospital. One of her most outspoken goals was the purchase of an elevator for the two-storied wooden hotel.

She described the need one year after the hospital’s opening in August of 1918.

“If you could see Dr. McCracken carrying at times as many as six patients a day from the upstairs room down a winding, awkward stair to the first floor, you would get busy and give us an elevator,” she wrote to the citizens of Waynesville.

She put it more bluntly the next March, when she had collected about $138 of the $500 needed to install the device.

“You should appreciate the privilege you have to helping install one,” she wrote. “It is very probable that you will at some time be a patient here, and it would be unfortunate were we to drop you while carrying you up or down the ‘winding stair’ and break one of your limbs.”

‘How much do you care?’

During the hospital’s first two years, Hubbard constantly challenged citizens to meet the needs of those who were ill, particularly when many of the patients could not afford to pay for care.

“We buy our vegetables,” she wrote in August 1918. “Have not some of you enough to share with us?”

A few months later she commented, “We have $3 in the wheelchair fund. Is that how much you care?”

Hubbard frequently reminded readers that the hospital cared for many who could not afford to pay for services. She praised the doctors who were the hospital ‘stockholders,’ reminding readers they had never earned a dividend on their investment, and said making money had never been their aim.

“No one has been turned away unaided, and the penniless and those who pay have the same care,” she wrote.

“Many within a few blocks have never been within the building,” she wrote in one report. “… Many of the citizens of this city are more than able to keep a bed or room for use of those unfortunates who are unable to pay for needed care.”

Many supplies, including furnishings and dishes, had been loaned to the hospital by well-wishers. When those dishes and furnishings had to be returned, Hubbard was campaigning again for donations, thanking those who had loaned the items but pleading for replacements.

Graduate class of 1

The hospital recruited nurses, who were trained on the job. A drive for nursing students in the summer of 1918 encouraged women with high school educations, ages 21 to 35, to apply. A year’s training could result in a formal graduation and pinning ceremony. The first nursing class to graduate consisted of one student, but Judge Felix Alley gave the speech for the occasion, and the Waynesville Orchestra performed.

Things were about to get much tougher for the outspoken hospital director. In October 1918, the hospital was overwhelmed with Spanish Flu cases, both among the patients and staff. At one point, Hubbard and three of her nurses were sick with the flu, as were most of her patients. If it had not been for the Red Cross and assistance from the U.S. Army hospital at Sulphur Springs, she wrote, the hospital would not have survived.

Nurse Lillian Maria Johnson, a relative of Hubbard’s who had traveled from South Carolina to work in Waynesville, died of the flu.

“When the influenza epidemic came and the hospital was filled with patients and many of the nurses were stricken down with the contagion, she proved that she possessed the high ideal of self sacrifice of the real nurse,” the newspaper wrote of Johnson. “Even after she was ill and should have given up, she felt so strongly the great need of the sick about her that she fought until her strength failed and even in the last moment, her thoughts were of others.”

Hubbard survived the flu and endured the death of her father and mother during the two years she served in Waynesville. When news of her mother’s impending death was telegraphed to her, Hubbard was too busy with hospital affairs to reach her mother’s side. But in September 1919, Hubbard resigned her position as hospital supervisor, citing her own ill health, and prepared to return to her home in South Carolina. The hospital had lost a vocal and ferocious champion.

Increasing demand, poor facilities

In some ways, conditions were improving. Late that same year, Haywood County’s commissioners bought stock in the hospital, providing financial assistance to the institution. Within a few more years, the Pigeon Street site would become commonly known as the Haywood County Hospital. But the structure had been designed as a hotel, not a hospital.

Increasing numbers of patients and an increasing variety of ailments only emphasized the hospital’s shortcomings. Car accidents and in-hospital birthings were on the rise, for example.

In 1925, Dr. McCracken, apparently frustrated by the limitations of the hospital, installed his own mini-hospital in his office, with two beds and modern hospital equipment. During the 1920s, grand jury reports on the hospital usually complimented its staff on cleanliness, but expressed many concerns about the risk of fire in the wooden structure. Reports also increasingly warned that the hospital was running out of room.

In July 1924, the grand jury reported that the county had no facilities for “colored patients,” and recommended renovating a cottage on the grounds of the Pigeon Street hospital for its use.

Moving toward the modern eraIn 1923, local doctors convinced Haywood County commissioners to call for a Dec. 22 vote on borrowing $50,000 in bonds for hospital improvements. Voters approved those bonds, but only by 113 votes. Next, supporters went all-out, hoping to fund a new, modern hospital, convincing commissioners to call for a vote set for July of 1925.

Despite pulling out the big endorsements, including the presidents of Champion Fibre, Junaluska Tannery, Unagusta, Waynesville Furniture and Haywood Electric Power Company, that vote failed. Believing support was strong for a new hospital among unregistered voters, commissioners tried again, and on June 5, 1926, the bonds were approved by an overwhelming margin, 4,204 votes for to 1,668 against.

The new hospital opened on Dec. 31, 1927, signaling the end of a decade of service for the first “old hospital” on Pigeon Street. It also gave Haywood the distinction of being the first N.C. county to construct a publicly owned hospital.

Next week: We take a look back at Canton’s first hospital, which opened at almost the same time as the old hospital in Waynesville, prompted by another epidemic — typhoid.

(Sources for this story include “Heritage of Healing: A Medical History of Haywood County” by Nina L. Anderson and William L. Anderson, published by the Waynesville Historical Society in 1994; and multiple issues of the Carolina Mountaineer and Waynesville Courier from 1917 through 1926.)

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