Nomadic hospital survives

Eds. Note: This five-part series begins with a compilation of excerpts from "Ashland Community Hospital: A Century of Caring" by Kay Atwood.

In March of 1907, Dr. Francis G. Swedenburg began practicing medicine in Ashland; little did he know that the town would someday celebrate the 100th anniversary of a local institution that traces its history back to that very date.

Swedenburg began his practice at the Ashland Sanitarium, which was started by Dr. Joseph Herndon and located on the current site of Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Elizabethan Stage.

Almost immediately seeking a location for "a local hospital," in October of 1907, Swedenburg secured the former Fordyce Roper residence on Main Street. The building was later towed up Second Street by a team of horses to the current location of the Winchester Inn. Nurses Susie Arnold and Josie Benson leased the new Southern Oregon Hospital, caring for local residents and travelers alike. Enormous contributions to its success were made by the local residents who raised money and supplies, and encouraged their fellow citizens to volunteer.

These ideals of community involvement would prove to be a thread woven through the entire existence of the hospital.

When Southern Oregon Hospital's roof exploded into flames on March 11, 1909 because of a defective flue, the hospital was moved to 586 E. Main St. where it was re-opened within days of the fire. It was decided that, rather than rebuild the burned hospital, a new one should be built and a tract of land was purchased on Siskiyou Boulevard near the intersection of Palm Street, roughly where the Stevenson Union sits now. The Granite City Hospital opened on April 30, 1910 and, though it struggled financially, a steady stream of Ashland residents passed through its doors.

In 1912, the Hospital began a training school for nurses. In the years before World War I, a succession of nurses would lease and run the hospital. Surgeries were conducted in the third floor surgery suite under the skylight and modern electric lights. According to Swedenberg's record book kept from 1911 to 1913, "several surgeries were executed weekly including appendectomies, tonsillectomies and surgeries for ovarian cysts, carcinomas, abscesses and broken bones."

In the fall of 1918, Granite City Hospital faced one of its most serious medical emergencies when the Spanish influenza hit the population. Many residents of Ashland became critically ill and died. the end of October all public gatherings were banned to prevent contagion. Nurses at the hospital struggled to care for critically ill patients until late December when the epidemic began to wane.

In 1921, the hospital was purchased by Jesse Winburn, a New York advertising tycoon who retired to Ashland. Winburn formed a friendship with Swedenburg and set out to make the hospital "the most complete and modern place of its kind in Southern Oregon."

He remodeled the building and then gave it to the city, renaming it the "Community Hospital."

After years of struggling with financial hardship, the city formalized its ownership of the hospital in November of 1930 with a ballot measure that passed by an overwhelming majority.

Though owned outright by the city, the hospital was continually faced with economic hardship. Many residents and travelers could not afford to pay their medical bills and the hospital was left to absorb the expenses. The Depression era meant much of health care was provided in the homes, and hospital care was often paid for with what patients had to give.

Dr. Harvey Woods accepted at various times a piano, a rifle and loads of wood, eggs or garden produce.

"We didn't ask," he said. "They volunteered. They had pride. They appreciated what we did for them."

This dilemma, of how to provide proper care for those who could not afford it, would afflict the hospital for many years to come.

Tidings correspondent Grayson Berry contributed to this report

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