The McKendree Hospital complex is a former state-operated miner hospital along the New River in West Virginia.
The late 19th century was a dangerous time for coal miners and most of the early deaths in West Virginia’s coal mines were not recorded nor investigated. In 1883, after 20 miners lost their lives, the state legislature established the Department of Mines to provide investigative oversight into mining-related incidents. 1 It did little to curtail the number of accidents or fatalities that increased relative to the production of coal because of the use of unskilled labor in mining and poor and unsafe working conditions.
Because of a lack of medical facilities in the coal mining regions, the state embarked on a project to provide hospital care for employees injured in the coal mines. 2 3 5 On February 24, 1899, the state legislature passed a law that established three miners hospitals across the state. Miners Hospital No. 1 was to be located in the Flat Top coal region in either McDowell or Mercer County, while Miners Hospital No. 2 was to be located in the New River coal region in either Fayette or Kanawha County. Miners Hospital No. 3 was to be located in the Fairmont region of Marion County.
To select the building site, Governor George W. Atkinson appointed a four-member board for each hospital, which consisted of a physician, someone engaged in mining, another involved in the shipping of coal, and a practical miner. 2 The main requirement for the hospital was that it would be located along a major railroad.
The site selected for Miners Hospital No. 2 was in McKendree, then a small lumber community with 50 residents along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. 2 The town consisted of a railroad depot, a post office, a store, a boarding house, and some residences.
The new hospital opened on December 30, 1901, 3 on 6½ acres of land donated by coal operator Joseph Beury, who had also granted to the facility a five-year supply of coal for heating. 2 5 The three-story brick structure featured patient wards with 42 beds, administrative offices, a kitchen, and a post office surrounded by employee homes. The surrounding grounds included limestone stone walls hand-built by Italian stonemasons and elaborate landscaping on terraces. Lighting was provided from an underground storage room in which a mixture of carbide and water formed a gas that was piped into lamps inside the hospital. Heating was provided by coal-burning fireplaces that were in each room, and water was obtained from Dowdy’s Creek and piped through wooden pipes to the facility.
The Miners Hospital No. 2, later renamed McKendree Hospital in 1916, 4 was open to anyone in the state who was accidentally injured while on the job. 2 3 Treatment was free. Patients who were injured away from the job site were admitted only if a room was available, with a treatment fee set at $1 per day.
Between December 1901 and December 1902, the medical center treated 171 patients, 77% of which consisted of miners. 2 Other patients included laborers, mine guards, railroad workers, carpenters, and farmers.
The McKendree Hospital had issues practically from its inception. One of its most pressing issues was a lack of reliable water supply as Dowdy’s Creek dried up for several months of the year. 2 The issue was resolved when a 25,000-gallon water reservoir was built, which was followed up by the addition of a 40,000-gallon water reservoir. There was also a lack of equipment to sterilize contaminated linen which had to be shipped by rail to Charleston. The building also needed structural repairs just a few years after being completed, which required the replacement of all its wooden and iron water pipes.
A nursing school to help supplement the staff was established on March 1, 1910. 2 3 It became so successful that by 1915, the second floor of the hospital, which housed the staff, had become too crowded. 2 5 A two-story Nurses’ Home building was constructed 200 feet west of the hospital and opened in October 1917. It featured quarters for the superintendent and his family, a reception room, nine bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a fenced-in tennis court.
By the close of the first decade, McKendree Hospital was overcrowded, treating many more patients than it had the capacity to handle. 2 It was also exhibiting excessive wear and tear and needed new plaster and floors in nearly every room, a new heating and plumbing system, and a new icehouse. To remedy the issues, a Delco lighting plant was installed to provide electric light in every room and to power the X-ray machine, the walls and floors repaired or replaced, and the heating and plumbing systems repaired.
By 1931, the hospital layout consisted of:
- Basement: Laundry and furnace
- First Floor: Wards, X-Ray Room, Pharmacy, Emergency Room, Offices, Kitchen, Dining Room
- Second Floor: Private Patient Rooms
- Third Floor: Operating Room, Sterilizing Room, Fracture Room, Diathermy, Doctor’s Dressing Rooms
The hospital experienced a drop in patients in 1919 because of the construction of two private hospitals in Oak Hill and Montgomery. 2 The Oak Hill facility assumed the care of New River Company employees while the hospital at Montgomery cared for patients from the western part of the county. Eventually, the construction of other private hospitals in nearby communities and the decline in mining in the New River coalfield led to the closure of the McKendree Hospital on September 13, 1941.
The shuttered hospital was later reused as the West Virginia Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Men and Women which had a population of 97 residents. 2 4 Following the Brown vs. Board of Education decision mandating integration in 1956, the patients were relocated to the Huntington State Hospital in Huntington.
- Jarrett, Rick. “Coal Mine Disasters.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, 28 Apr. 2014.
- Stahlgren, Lori, et al. “McKendree Hospital.” Kentucky Archaeological Survey, 2007, pp. 154-172, Historical Archaeological Survey: New River Gorge National River and Gauley River National Recreation Area.
- Cox, W. Eugene. “McKendree Hospital.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, 2 Jan. 2019.
- Steelhammer, Rick. “Driving 15 miles of state roadway means adventure.” Times West Virginian [Fairmont], 1 Mar. 2009.
- Bragg, Melody. “McKendree Hospital.” Thurmond and Ghost Towns of the New River Gorge. Glen Jean, GEM Publications, 1995. pp. 76-78.
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