The Portland Marine Hospital, located in the Portland neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, is the last of its kind of the nation. The hospital once addressed the health needs of seaman on the Western inland waterways and was a prototype for others across the country.
After many decades of disuse, its exterior was renovated to its 1900-era appearance. Work still continues on this grand three-story structure with the hope that it can become a museum and a place of “medicine and health education.”
The Portland Marine Hospital was authorized by an act of Congress and serviced the city of Louisville in the Portland neighborhood for more than a century 2. The government constructed the Marine Hospital, the first of its kind in the nation, between 1845 and 1852 on what was then considered “western waters” because of its critical position along the Ohio River. The three-story Greek Revival structure addressed the health needs of seaman on the Western inland waterways and served as a prototype for seven other United States Marine Hospital Service structures in Natchez, Mississippi, Paducah, Kentucky, St. Louis, Missouri, Napoleon, Arkansas, Wheeling, West Virginia, and Cleveland, Ohio. It served as a hospital except for a brief period during and just after the Civil War and operated under this capacity until the 1930s. After World War II, it began hosting Veteran’s Administration patients. In 1933, the hospital closed.
In 1950, the city of Louisville purchased the building for $25,000 and used it as a hospital for the chronically ill 3. Later in the 1950s, it housed medical residents who worked in the newer hospital next door, which replaced the Marine Hospital; today, it is known as the Family Health Center Portland. In 1976, the Marine Hospital structure was abandoned, sans boiler storage for the Family Health Center.
Restoration efforts began in earnest in 1990 3. In 1997, the original Portland Marine Hospital received National Historic Landmark status. By this time, it was the only remaining inland marine hospital in the nation. Six years later, the hospital was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Buildings” list 1 and was awarded the “Save America’s Treasures” status from the National Park Service. Discussions began surfacing about possible reuse for the former hospital, including ideas for a welcome center for motorists traveling along the adjacent Interstate 64, among other uses that included a museum, a navigation training center and maritime office space.