The Morris Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children is a historic hospital complex in Cabell County, West Virginia. The facility was built in phases from 1936 to 1941 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for children stricken with polio.
The vision of a hospital for crippled children stemmed from local farmer Walter T. Morris.1 Morris’ great-nephew, John Morris, suffered from osteomyelitis, later receiving treatment from Dr. Shade Jones, director of the Huntington Orthopedic Hospital. In a show of gratitude, Morris deeded his farm on the outskirts of Milton to the hospital in 1930, specifically for the construction of a facility for the treatment and care of crippled children.3 The Huntington Orthopedic Hospital formed the Morris Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children and used Morris’ house as the main hospital – although it quickly outgrew the small quarters.1
On August 27, 1935, the hospital grounds was deeded to the town of Milton so that the hospital could quality for WPA funding.1 Milton’s mayor, Albert Field, applied and received WPA assistance.
The cornerstone for the facility was laid by a local masonic fraternity on July 5, 1936 by Wilson U.S. White, Grand Master.2 4 Construction began shortly on the main two-story building, but the “Y”-shaped wings did not begin construction until 1937.1 Work on the boiler house and incinerator did not begin until 1938 and 1940, respectively.
The firm Frampton and Bowers of Huntington was selected as the architect for the new hospital.1 Frampton and Bowers had earlier designed the Huntington Orthopedic Hospital.
The town of Milton leased the property to the hospital on September 29, 1936.1 4
The “U”-shaped building, crafted with a cut limestone exterior, consists of a two-story central section with a domed and louvered cupola and a two-story portico, and 1½-story “Y”-shaped wings. Originally, the wings featured narrow metal casement doors leading from an exterior concrete terrace to a patient’s room.1 Both wings were originally open wards but later enclosed.
The hospital included five wards: two for females, two for males and one that served as an isolation ward.1 Additionally, there were 32 private rooms.
The east wing features two gable wings that housed the therapy room with weights and a whirlpool, and a large room with two brine pools and a pool fed by an on-site 1,000-foot well. An x-ray department, operating rooms and a laboratory rounded out the wing. A “T”-shaped wing from the east wing featured a two-room school and a 2,000 volume library. Attached to the school is a corridor that connected to the boiler house that consisted of two boilers that provided steam heat. A 60-foot brick smokestack led the exhaust out.
An elevator was later installed; the circa 1940 elevator was sourced from the Veteran’s Hospital in nearby Huntington, although it was installed much later.1
Morris Memorial Hospital was largely self sufficient.1 In addition to the hospital, the property featured a large dairy barn that housed up to 30 milk cows, 85 acres for pasture and a 25-acre orchard and garden. Surplus items that was raised was sold for income.5
Early treatments for polio involved water therapy via brine pools and whirlpools, exercises, immobilization and the use of moist, hot cloths to the affected appendages.1 The hot cloth treatment known as the “Kenny Method,” was developed by Sister Elizabeth Kenny in Australia. The treatments provided relief but there was no known cure.
The hospital had a maximum capacity of 125 patients, although it was seeing far higher numbers than that.1 Two annexes were considered but were never constructed.
Polio cases peaked in 1952 at nearly 60,000 reported cases that year.1 In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Dr. Jonas Salk worked on developing a vaccine for polio, and after extensive field trials, the vaccine was considered a success in 1955.
Morris Memorial Hospital began to treat fewer patients as a result of the vaccine and closed as a children’s hospital in 1960 after treating nearly 10,000 patients.6
In 1961, the city of Milton leased the property to the Morris Memorial Nursing Home, operated by John and Rose Greene.1
The nursing home was operational until February 2009, when it closed due to low patient numbers.7 At its peak, the Morris Memorial Nursing Home featured 185 residents but by late 2008, that number had dwindled to 17. Coupled with high energy costs and an outdated facility that required major repairs, the operator, Tennessee-based Diversicare Management Services opted to build a 90-bed facility nearby.
The Morris Memorial Hospital complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.1