Ashtabula General Hospital
 

The Early History of Ashtabula General Hospital

by

Darrell E. Hamilton

 

       The Ashtabula Train Disaster of 1876 first gave rise to fact that Ashtabula needed a hospital. However, no real initiative was taken until 1882 when the Railroad Ladies Auxiliary formed the “Emergency Hospital”. The Emergency Hospital was exactly what it was named. It was for only emergencies. The hospital was used by mostly by railroad people who were from out of town or transients. Most local people who required an operation were either operated on their own kitchen table or if time permitting, were taken to Cleveland.

       The Emergency Hospital was located on Lake Avenue about in the vicinity of what now is 2712 Lake Avenue next to the Gulf. The hospital was in reality a small wooden shack measuring 16 by 24 feet. The small shack had but one bed in the beginning with a coal stove in the middle of the room. In October of 1901 Mayor Gee ordered another bed to be placed in the Emergency Hospital.
       Careful records were recorded of every individual who visited the Emergency Hospital. Their names, where the person was from and the reason for their visit to the Emergency hospital including deaths. In 1902 the number of patients admitted to date were 125. Of that number 28 died and there were 90 amputations.
       Those careful records were kept until a black man was admitted to the Emergency Hospital. For some unknown reason, the man did not want it known that he had been a patient at the small hospital. He took the records and destroyed them. The only record that remained was the statistics which were kept separately from the main records.
       The first real initiative to build a real hospital wasn’t taken until the spring of 1901 when at a regular meeting, the Tri-County Medical society read a letter from the Rev. Father Smith of Our Mother of Sorrows Church. Rev. Father Smith proposed to the physicians of the city and county that if they agreed to certain conditions, he would take up the project of establishing in Ashtabula a hospital. The medical society appointed a committee to take the proposition under consideration. This fact seems to have been forgotten by many local historians and does not appear in any of the hospital records that I can find. This date seems to be the earliest date that I have found that actually mentioned a true initiative to build a new hospital in which action was taken.
       From this a committee was formed and articles of corporation which were filled in February of 1902. Even with this the organization seemed to have no life. Very little was being done until Mayor John T. McMillan took charge on September 11, 1902 and made appointments to get the hospital association rolling.
       Almost every organization in Ashtabula got on the band wagon. Concerts, balls, street fairs and fund raisers in every shape and form from school children to bachelors and old maids got in the act.
       About a dozens sites in which to build the hospital was considered at one time before the decision was narrowed down to two sites. One was the present site and the other was at the corner of Main and Lake Avenues. $1,510 was paid for the present site on which the hospital sits.
       The hospital was originally scheduled to open on June 10 but because equipment delivery delays, The hospital would not open for almost three weeks later.
       On June 28, 1904 open house was held at the hospital so the citizens of Ashtabula could view all of the hospital before it opened.
       On June 30, 1904 the dedicatory ceremonies were held and attended by about three thousand people. The dedication stated at 8:30 a. m. Prosecuting attorney C. L. Taylor was to have acted as master of  ceremonies but was unavoidably detained elsewhere and attorney Clifford J. King was prevailed upon at the last moment to act as master of ceremonies.
       The opening ceremonies took place on the front portico which ironically is about where the open house for the one hundredth birthday celebration took place on Sunday.
       The first patient was admitted on June 30, 1904. After the first month thirty three patients had been admitted. Of that number two had died as result of accidents. The average cost to a patient for a day’s stay in the hospital was about a $1.60 a day. I guarantee this was before HMOs came about! Then again the hospital paid out only $130.00 salaries for the first month.
       Many donations were made by many organizations to furnish the hospital rooms including the surrounding communities. North Kingsville and Jefferson are two the communities that furnished an entire room.
       The Central Union Telephone company donated a phone and on about July 25, 2004 the hospital had a phone almost a month after the hospital opened.
       Only three nurses were originally hired for full time employment at the hospital but it came apparent that they were greatly overworked and more nurses were hired within the first couple months of operation.
       The article is a very brief history on the beginning of the Ashtabula General Hospital. I have uncovered a great deal of information which cannot be printed here because of space. The complete history will be printed in book form along with the history of Ashtabula and surrounding communities provided that I live long enough to publish it.
       Below  is part of a poem that was found underneath a patient's pillow after she had been discharged from the Ashtabula General Hospital. The poem was written in 1924.

Thoughts of a Patient

Here I am in my snow white bed.
All before was foolish dread.
Kindly nurses come at your call.
Kindness and watchfulness are over all.

How kind these strangers are to me.
Angels in disguise they must be.
They soothe the troubled mind to rest.
They smile and all seems right again.

My wish will ever be for thee,
Health -- Peace and many years be given.
And when at last the call is given,
May we meet our nurses all in heaven.

Gertrude Benson, Conneaut, Ohio