Williamson Memorial Hospital is a closed hospital turned event destinatio in Williamson, West Virginia.
Williamson Memorial Hospital, named after Wallace J. Williamson, founder of the city of Williamson, 2 was established in Williamson in 1918. 3 5 A nursing school was established on Mulberry Street on a hilltop site overlooking the city in 1920. 7 The three-story French Second Empire-style building featured Neo-Classical Revival architectural elements.
On January 12, 1927, a massive fire gutted the Williamson Hospital. 1 Miraculously, all 33 patients escaped with their lives. Fourteen of the patients were transferred to hospitals in Huntington while others were taken to their homes. It was believed that X-ray films ignited after they were stored near a gas stove.
In one of the more dramatic stories from the fire, Mrs. Leonard Chafin, on the third floor of the hospital, grabbed her recently birthed infant and threw it out the window in order to save its life. 1 Raymond Edwards, standing in the street below, anticipated her intentions and held out his arms and caught the baby. Dr. G.D. Conley, one of the owners of the hospital, and several of the nurses who were trapped on the third floor, escaped by leaping onto a pile of mattresses.
The new Williamson Memorial Hospital opened on a small hill overlooking the city on March 3, 1928. 2 Costing $175,000 to construct, the new four-story facility boasted 72 beds, 32 private patient rooms, and seven wards to provide segregation between African-American and white patients. The second floor contained a maternity ward which included a delivery room, a nursery, and two private rooms for mothers, while the fourth floor included two operating rooms oriented to the northern exposures.
In later years, the basement hosted the emergency room, radiology department, laboratories, and cafeteria, while the first floor was home to the ICU. 8 Obstetrics was located on the second floor, followed by medical and surgical rooms on the third floor. A pharmacy was located on the fourth floor before being relocated down to street level.
In 1979, the hospital was sold to Hospital Management Associates (HMA). 8 A new medical center was completed in 1988 8 and the c. 1928 hospital building was repurposed as a medical office and clinic complex, 7 and since 2014, as storage. 8
At its peak in the 1930s, Williamson was a bustling town of 9,400 residents that featured a grand five-story hotel, a theater, and numerous department stores built around an equally-bustling coal industry. 4 The community began a slow but steady decline because of the coal industry’s mechanization and automation transformation that led to a decline in high-paying jobs and subsequently, population. More recently, stiff competition from natural gas and renewable energies has caused employment in the coal industry to collapse as numerous mines have closed.
Over time, the hospital began treating a higher ratio of patients without health insurance or those who relied on government assistance, such as Medicaid or Medicare, that do not fully reimburse treatment costs. 4 In the mid-2000s, the obstetrics department was closed as fewer babies were born.
In late 2012, Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center of South Williamson, Kentucky expressed interest in acquiring Williamson Memorial Hospital. 9 ARH entered into an agreement with Health Management Associates to acquire the facility in October 2013. Ultimately, the deal was blocked by the West Virginia Health Care Authority who argued that transferring services to a Kentucky facility could cause Mingo County residences problems in obtaining care despite being a two-mile drive from the city of Williamson 4 and because of local opposition. 10 The nearest in-state hospital, meanwhile, was a 35-minute drive away. 4
In 2017, HMA declared the hospital insolvent. 6 After a sale to Collaborative Healthcare Solutions of New Jersey fell through in 2018, 10 Mingo Health Partners purchased the ailing medical center. 4 It ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2019 6 because of financial complications related to low reimbursement rates despite working to overhaul its antiquated billing system and streamlining its costly but underutilized services. 4 It was seeking to obtain interim financing to carry the hospital through 2020 but the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic upended plans for either a long-term partnership with another facility or the sale of the hospital.
Because of the pandemic, the hospital saw its net revenue cut in half as it was forced to halt non-essential procedures and visits to the emergency room. 4 Unable to work a deal for another hospital operator to take over, the 76-bed Williamson Memorial Hospital closed at midnight on April 21, 2020. 8
Shortly after its closure, Dr. Donovan Beckett, who trained at the hospital as a medical student and worked at the facility for more than 15 years, purchased the hospital’s assets for $3.68 million with the goal of potentially reopening the hospital. 4 6 Beckett had previously tried to purchase the hospital in 2018 but was unable to do so at that time.
Hospital on College Hill
In 2018 and 2019, Williamson Memorial Hospital partnered with the Tug Valley Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to host paranormal tours through the c. 1928 hospital complex during the Halloween season. 8 The tours routinely sold out. Notably, actor Tony Moran, who played the original Michael Myers in the 1978 film Halloween, made an appearance at the old hospital to greet fans in 2019.
In late 2020, the former c. 1920 nurses school building and c. 1928 hospital buildings were acquired by Williamson residents Tonya Webb and Sabrina Hatfield with the goal to open the historic structure to the public year-round. 11 An official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the Old Hospital on College Hill on February 5, 2021. The first events at the former medical center included Bloody Valentine’s Dinner and Flashlight Tours that featured dinner options from local restaurants. Historic daytime tours, guided flashlight tours, evening paranormal tours, and photography events were later added.
Legal access is required to venture inside the Old Hospital on College Hill in Williamson. Historic daytime tours, guided flashlight tours, evening paranormal tours, and photography events are offered, along with special “escape from” adventures.
Learn more about the Old Hospital on College Hill and book your tour today at collegehillhospital.com.
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- “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.