Knoxville Hospitals 80-Year Retrospective in 1961

Hospital Was Luxury in ’80’s – First Had few Beds

by Henry Evans

Only a year or so before the first copies of the Knoxville News Sentinel were inked and sold, Knoxvillians had discovered a new luxury – the hospital.

That first one – old City Hospital – had only a few beds, but it was far better than being treated at home or on a table in the doctor’s office. Also, it was easier to get to see the doctor in those days of poor roads and horses and buggies.

Today, in sharp contrast to the mid-80s, Knoxville can boast of four modern in-patient and out-patient hospitals, a well-equipped and expanding medical center, a children’s hospital, a tuberculosis sanatorium and three times as many doctors as in 1886.

As has been pointed out, Knoxville was not always a hustling medical center. In 1883, three years before The Sentinel appeared on the streets, City Hospital was opened to give doctors a place to treat their more serious patients. In only a few years the hospital was lacking in bed space and patients were waiting to get in.

Shortly after that time, several local medical schools began to develop in order to provide Knoxville area youths an opportunity to study medicine here instead of traveling to the older Northern schools.

One of the first of these was the Tennessee Medical College which was founded in 1889 and held its classes above a Gay St. Drug store. The school was later taken over by the Lincoln Memorial University medical department.

In 1886, of the 106 physicians in Knoxville, not one professed to be a specialist. During the early 1890s, however, eye, ear, nose and throat specialists began to open their offices. By 1910 there were about 15 of them.

In 1902 General Hospital was built and its operation engulfed old City Hospital. For 15 years General reigned as the city’s only permanent hospital. It was built on Cleveland Place and functioned there until it was partially torn down in 1956.

It was opened amid charges that it was too big and was a waste of money. The general consensus of citizens continued to consider it a waste of money until tragedy struck in 1904. Seventy persons died in a train wreck at New Market, some 25 miles east. Many others were hospitalized – all at Knoxville General.

Hospital Taken Over

In 1906 Lincoln Memorial University opened its new medical college which included a hospital. The hospital, however, was soon taken over by General and it again became the city’s only hospital. LMU had bought the old Tennessee Medical College.

In 1908 a real medical milestone was passed with Dr. John Mason Boyd died. He had been a favorite of Knoxvillians since the 1850s and his death left a void in the ranks of the city’s physicians.

Riverside Hospital was built with 40 beds to accommodate an influx of patients in 1917. The hospital was housed in an old home and soon became inadequate as a hospital. The physicians who had sponsored the project sought to merge with another hospital group.

The doctors, about five of them, urged the Catholic Church to open a hospital. When that failed, Riverside merged with Fort Sanders Hospital in 1927.

Fort Sanders had been erected in 1920 in West Knoxville. Part of its original structure is now being remodeled for re-use.

St. Mary’s Third

St. Mary’s Hospital finally became a reality in 1930, the third hospital within the city. Both Fort Sanders, now called Presbyterian Hospital, and St. Mary’s had schools of nursing.

There were no medical schools in Knoxville by this time, since U-T had purchased the old LMU facilities and transferred equipment to the U-T Medical Units in Memphis. A medical school at Knoxville College had also survived only a short time.

Beverly Hills Sanatorium opened in 1924, sponsored by the Civitan Club, for treatment of TB cases. Its sister institution, the East Tennessee Tuberculosis Hospital, was opened in 1950, offering surgical treatment of TB.

With the three general patient hospitals still overcrowded, the need arose for a new plant and the call was answered by the Baptist Church. Baptist Hospital opened in 1948. The facility has been expanded to include a nurses’ home, chaple [sic] and more extensive laboratory space.

Center Conceived

During and shortly after World War II, atomic energy became a reality and presented a force that had to be harnessed. With the demand for a modern research center here, University Hospital was conceived.

It also answered another demand, that of indigent care for hundreds of city and county residents. General Hospital was out-dated and its operating costs were getting higher each year.

Though a controversy raged, General Hospital was closed down in 1956 and its patients transferred to the new and spacious University Hospital.

University Hospital has become one of the top research centers in the state and already is seeking more space. A drive is underway to expand the present research facilities by 47,000 square feet, compared to the present 14,000. The project will cost $350,000.

Modern equipment, not even conceived of when the first Sentinels rolled off the presses, is now commonplace in all of the city’s hospitals. Heart surgery and delicate machines to measure and control the heartbeat have helped to prolong and save many lives. Polio has bee controlled and substantial strides have been made toward conquering cancer, thanks to similar hospital facilities across the country.

There were 1541 hospital beds in use here in the 1958 hospital census.

Hospital growth alone does not mark the giant strides taken in medical circles in Knoxville during the past 75 years. The records of the Academy of Medicine, organized in 1857, indicate that individual physicians have made medical history here as various drugs were perfected.

For example, Dr. H. H. McCampbell used the first X-ray here in 1908, and Dr. E. R. Zemp was the first to use nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, as an anesthetic in 1912.

Dr. Olin Rogers was the first Knox specialist, in anesthetics, having received his training in Cleveland. He began his practice here in 1916 and died about 10 years ago. He watched the development of anesthetics during the 1940s for use in brain and heart surgery.

First Academy Failed

But as the number of doctors here has increased, so has the size and scope of the Academy, first organized as the Knox County Medical Society. Although it was the first such organization here, it received some token opposition in 1896 when a group of doctors formed the first Academy of Medicine. The latter lasted only two years and finally collapsed because its programs were becoming too dull and complicated.

Several years later, the society adopted the name of the defunct organization and became the Knoxville Academy of Medicine. Its offices, at 422 W. Cumberland Ave., are now a shrine to the physicians of yesteryear and their primitive equipment.

The Academy now possesses over 200 medical books and over 2000 pieces of equipment dating back over 100 years.

Today, there are 111 general practitioners and 180 specialists here, according to Academy records.

Public Health Appears

Another concept of medical care that has grown in Knoxville during the past 75 years is that of public health. While city and county health departments did not appear until the 1920s, a city ordinance in 1884 provided for a public board of health.

The Knoxville and Knox County Departments were aimed at keeping the people well by educating them in the sound principles and practice of “public health.” They conducted clinics to detect TB in both children and adults. Another prime responsibility was educating people in proper sanitation.

The two departments, in an effort to cut down on operating expenses, merged for one year in 1943 and again in 1945. It was decided after the second merger, however, to leave the two organizations separate. A new County Health Departent plant was constructed on the old General Hospital block. The department is housed in the City Hall group.

The state sent a full-time physician here in 1941 to head the State Health Department office. From the time the state first entered the public health field in 1928, a representative of the department had made regular trips to Knoxville, commuting from the Nashville office.

Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel – Friday, August 18, 1961 – Page C10

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