Williamson Memorial Hospital, once an operational medical facility, has now been repurposed into an event destination in Williamson, West Virginia.
Williamson Memorial Hospital, established in 1918 3 5 in Williamson and named after the city’s founder Wallace J. Williamson, 2 included a nursing school built in 1920 on Mulberry Street. 7 This school occupied a three-story building styled in the French Second Empire with Neo-Classical Revival architectural elements.
A devastating fire on January 12, 1927, severely damaged the hospital. 1 Remarkably, all 33 patients survived; 14 were moved to Huntington hospitals, and others were sent home. It is thought that the fire started from X-ray films stored near a gas stove.
During the fire, Mrs. Leonard Chafin, from the third floor, threw her newborn baby out of a window to save it. 1 Raymond Edwards, below, caught the baby. Dr. G.D. Conley and several nurses, also trapped on the third floor, escaped by jumping onto mattresses.
The new Williamson Memorial Hospital opened on March 3, 1928, atop a small hill. 2 It cost $175,000, featuring 72 beds, 32 private rooms, and seven wards for racial segregation. The second floor housed maternity facilities, including a delivery room and nursery, while the fourth floor had two operating rooms oriented to the northern exposures.
The basement later housed the emergency room, radiology, laboratories, and cafeteria. 8 The first floor held the ICU, with obstetrics on the second floor, and medical and surgical rooms on the third. Initially, a pharmacy was on the fourth floor, later moved to street level.
In 1979, Hospital Management Associates (HMA) purchased the hospital. 8 By 1988, a new medical center was completed, and the original 1928 building became a medical office and clinic complex, 7 later used for storage since 2014. 8
In the 1930s, Williamson, Kentucky, was a thriving town of 9,400 people, supported by a robust coal industry. It boasted a grand five-story hotel, a theater, and several department stores. 4 However, the town’s fortunes declined due to the coal industry’s shift towards mechanization and automation, which reduced high-paying jobs and led to population decrease. Competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources further diminished the coal industry, leading to mine closures.
Williamson Memorial Hospital, during this period, began treating more patients without health insurance or those dependent on government assistance like Medicaid or Medicare, which often did not cover the full cost of treatment. 4 This financial strain led to the closure of the obstetrics department in the mid-2000s due to a decrease in births.
In late 2012, Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center from South Williamson expressed interest in acquiring Williamson Memorial Hospital. 9 An agreement was made in October 2013 with Health Management Associates (HMA) for the acquisition. However, the West Virginia Health Care Authority blocked the deal, concerned about the impact on Mingo County residents accessing care if services were transferred to a Kentucky facility, despite Williamson being just two miles away. 4 The nearest in-state hospital was 35 minutes’ drive.
In 2017, HMA declared the hospital insolvent. 6 An attempted sale to Collaborative Healthcare Solutions of New Jersey in 2018 fell through, 10 leading to Mingo Health Partners purchasing the struggling center. 4 In 2019, the hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to financial issues, including low reimbursement rates. 4 6 Efforts to secure interim financing through 2020 were disrupted by the global coronavirus pandemic, which also forced the hospital to cut back on non-essential procedures, halving its net revenue. 4
Unable to find another operator, Williamson Memorial Hospital closed on April 21, 2020. 8 Dr. Donovan Beckett, who had trained and worked at the hospital, purchased its assets for $3.68 million shortly after, with hopes of potentially reopening it. 4 6 Beckett had previously attempted to buy the hospital in 2018 without success.
Hospital on College Hill
Between 2018 and 2019, Williamson Memorial Hospital, in collaboration with the Tug Valley Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, organized Halloween season paranormal tours through its circa 1928 hospital complex. 8 These tours were consistently fully booked. In a notable event in 2019, actor Tony Moran, known for playing Michael Myers in the 1978 movie “Halloween,” visited the old hospital to meet fans.
In late 2020, the former circa 1920 nurses’ school building and the circa 1928 hospital buildings were purchased by Williamson locals Tonya Webb and Sabrina Hatfield. 11 Their aim was to make the historic structure accessible to the public throughout the year. The Old Hospital on College Hill held its official opening ceremony on February 5, 2021. Initial events at the former medical center included the Bloody Valentine’s Dinner and Flashlight Tours, offering dining options from local eateries. Subsequently, historic daytime tours, guided flashlight tours, evening paranormal tours, and photography events were introduced to the public.
To explore the Old Hospital on College Hill in Williamson, it is necessary to have legal permission. This historic site offers various activities, including historic daytime tours, guided flashlight tours, evening paranormal tours, and photography events. Additionally, special “escape from” adventures are also available, providing a unique and interactive experience for visitors.
Learn more about the Old Hospital on College Hill and book your tour today at collegehillhospital.com.
- “Patients Survive Hospital Blaze.” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, 13 Jan. 1927, pp. 1-8.
- Wellman, T.V. “Williamson’s Magnificent New $175,000 Memorial Hospital Will Be Formally Opened March 2.” Hinton Daily News, p. 2.
- “Williamson Hospital, Your Friends on “the Hill”.” United Mine Workers of America, 2021.
- Jarvie, Jenny. “In a time of pandemic, another rural hospital shuts its doors.” Los Angeles Times, 16 May 2020.
- “History of Williamson.” City of Williamson, 2020.
- May, Terry L. “WMH closes after 100 years.” Mingo Messenger, 24 Apr. 2020.
- United States. Dept. of the Interior. Williamson Historic District. Comp. David L. Taylor. Washington: National Park Service, July 2006.
- “About.” Old Hospital on College Hill, 2021.
- Justice, Bruce. “ARH moves toward buying Williamson Memorial.” Mingo Messenger, 10 Oct. 2013.
- May, Terry L. “Hospital sale deal falters.” Mingo Messenger, 9 Mar. 2018.
- McCormick, Jarrid. “Ribbon cutting held as Old Hospital on College Hill opens as tourist attraction.” Williamson Daily News, 10 Feb. 2021.