Robert J. Booker, Opinion Columnist, Knoxville News Sentinel
Published March 13, 2019
A few weeks ago I invited Johnny Ford, former mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama, and Judith Tolbert of Fairbanks, Alaska, both members of the Knoxville College Board of Trustees, to lunch. In taking them to Jackie's Dream Restaurant, I took the back streets from the college to Woodland Avenue near the Fulton High School football stadium. They were aware of the discussions by the city to relocate the police and fire departments to the KC campus that fell through.
As we sat at Jackie's looking out at the abandoned St. Mary's Hospital property, I told them that the city was now discussing that property as a possible site for the police and fire headquarters. I informed them that the hospital opened in 1930 and had a dozen additions to it before it closed eighty-nine years later.
As we drove back to the college for an evening program, I asked if they would like to see the facility in which I was born. We were near Wray Avenue the site of the Serene Manor Nursing Home, which had been the Negro Wing of Knoxville General Hospital, the city's first major hospital, which was erected in 1902. That wing was added in 1933 to replace the basement wards that accommodated black patients.
That hospital was built at a cost of $55,224.75 and was in existence 54 years until it was replaced by the University of Tennessee Medical Center in 1956. UT also opened on a segregated basis with blacks being admitted to a portion of the third floor. I explained that since the Negro Wing was relatively new, it was not demolished.
Fort Sanders Hospital opened Feb. 24, 1920, with facilities for 60 patients under "ordinary circumstances," but could handle 100 in an emergency. "The rooms and wards are so built as the eliminate noises, and the patients will be spared of this disagreeable future. In designing, considerable thought and care were given to the elimination of fire hazards as far as possible," said the Journal and Tribune.
Twenty-six years later Knoxville's fourth major hospital was established. Construction began May 1, 1946, on the $2 million East Tennessee Baptist Hospital. Mrs. Dudley G. Cockrum, chairman of the effort to raise $75,000 among city Baptist churches for a nurses' home and training school, announced that her group had already raised $78,000 with several churches yet to report.
My personal experience with General Hospital was the time I had pneumonia and had to spend a few days there when I was 6 years old. I did not like the food they served me and I vividly recall the day my mother brought me a Dixie Cup of vanilla ice cream with a wooden spoon. That made my stay there worth the treatment.
While looking at the old building with my college friends, I tried to locate the window near my bed, but 77 years was just too long ago. That's the case with the many hospitals that have come and gone. Only the history books and ancient newspapers remember them and the good they did.