Worcester’s First Hospitals
The first hospitals in Worcester were dedicated to the treatment of smallpox. These hospitals were not custom-built, but were operated out of already existing buildings on an ad hoc basis. At the time of a smallpox outbreak in 1752, patients were treated in the home of Robert Crawford on Green Hill Farm. Further epidemics ravaged the city in 1776, during which 4% of residents died, and in 1794. During the latter, a hospital was operated by Dr. Elijah Dix near Nelson Place. As late as 1889, it was said that a stone marking the grave of victims from the 1794 epidemic stood at this site. The necessity for smallpox hospitals lessened after the development of the first successful vaccine, which replaced the riskier method of inoculation.
Worcester State Hospital (1833-present)
In 1830, the Massachusetts State Legislature passed a resolve calling for the establishment of a 120-bed hospital to accommodate its mentally ill citizens. The Worcester State Hospital, opened in 1833, was one of the first institutions of its kind in the United States. Unlike earlier asylums, the hospital was intended to provide therapeutic treatment that would restore so-called “lunatics” to sanity. It was located on Summer Street, in what was at the time a relatively rural and peaceful area of the town. During the tenure of its first superintendent, Dr. Samuel B. Woodward, the Worcester State Hospital enjoyed a glowing reputation. However, by the 1850s, the institution had become overcrowded and its physical plant was deteriorating. It was replaced in 1877 by a larger structure on Belmont Street. The institution evolved dramatically over the course of the 20th century, expanding to include research laboratories, social work and outpatient therapy, and experimental treatments. After the 1950s and 1960s, the public profile of state hospitals began to decline and many institutions were downsized or shuttered. The 1877 building was gradually replaced by new additions and closed altogether in the 1980s. With the exception of the clock tower and a round building called the Hooper Turret, it was demolished in 2008. The Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital was built on top of the old site and continues to operate today, though at a much smaller scale than its predecessor.
- Read more in the Worcester State Hospital Digital Exhibit
Wellington Hospital (1863)
The Wellington Hospital was a facility created for the medical treatment of servicemen over the course of ten months of the Civil War. It was named for Timothy Wellington, a Worcester coal merchant; unable to serve in the war due to his age, he contributed to the cause by opening the 20-bed hospital at 110 Mason Street. The staff consisted of physicians Benjamin F. Haywood and Oramel Martin. The role of steward was filled by Lunsford Lane, a former slave and entrepreneur from North Carolina who settled in Worcester after spending 20 years earning the freedom of his family. The hospital closed in October 1863 after treating more than 100 patients.
Dale United States Army General Hospital (1864-1865)
A year after the closure of Wellington Hospital, a new medical facility for servicemen in Worcester admitted its first patient. The Dale United States Army General Hospital was formally dedicated a few months later, on February 22, 1865, and was named for the surgeon general who had petitioned the War Department for its establishment. The administration of the hospital was headquartered in a brick building on Providence Street that had previously served as the Eclectic Medical College and the Ladies’ Collegiate Institute. Designed by local architect Elbridge Boyden, the elaborate Romanesque building commanded a broad vista from the top of Union Hill. To house patients, fourteen wooden pavilions were constructed to the rear of this building, connected by a central corridor. Additions to the complex continued to be made through its 18 months of use, and at its height could accommodate 1000 patients.
In addition to its medical facilities, the hospital featured a carpenter shop and bakery, and was the host to a weekly Lyceum organized by patients who sang, danced, and performed recitations. The hospital’s Putnam Library was named for William Lowell Putnam, a lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry who had been killed in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in 1861. Mary L. Putnam, William’s mother, was the library’s most generous benefactor, contributing over 1000 volumes. When the hospital closed on May 24, 1865, the library was entrusted to the Soldiers’ League of Worcester. While local residents advocated for the conversion of the hospital into a home for veterans, this plan did not come to fruition. In 1869, the site became the new home of the Worcester Academy.
Sisters of Mercy Hospital (1867-1871)
Located on Shrewsbury Street, the Sisters of Mercy Hospital was established in January 1867 by Reverend John J. Power, the pastor of St. Anne’s Church. Nuns from the adjacent church operated the hospital and performed nursing duties for its patients, who were drawn from the population of young working women in Worcester. The hospital served around 15 patients per year from its founding until 1871, when the Worcester City Hospital was opened.
City Hospital (1871-1991)
The Worcester City Hospital was established through an Act of the Massachusetts State Legislature on May 25, 1871, which called for the creation of “a hospital for the reception of persons who, by misfortune or poverty, should require relief during temporary sickness.” The Abijah Bigelow house, located at the corner of Front and Church Streets, served as the first home of the hospital, which was initially designed to accommodate eight to ten patients. Due to unexpected demand, this facility was almost immediately overcrowded. In 1874, the hospital was relocated to a tract of land donated by George Jacques, and the old Jacques homestead retrofitted to serve as its new building. A specially built hospital building on Jacques Street was completed in 1881 and consisted of an administration building, two wards, a kitchen, and laundry. An isolation ward for infectious diseases was added in 1882, and a lying-in ward for maternity cases in 1888. The use of the hospital declined in the 20th century, and it was closed in 1991.
Worcester Insane Asylum (1877-1957)
When the Worcester State Hospital was relocated to Belmont Street in 1877, its former home on Summer Street was converted into the Temporary Asylum for the Chronic Insane. This was intended only as a temporary measure to accommodate the overflow of patients until space became available in the new building; however, due to the crowding of the Worcester State Hospital, these accommodations never materialized. The patients who were housed at the Worcester Insane Asylum were considered chronic or “incurable” cases who were unlikely to recover and would thus live out the rest of their lives in the institution. Unlike the Worcester State Hospital, the Asylum didn’t offer restorative therapy, but provided basic medical care and amenities. The building, which dated to 1833, suffered from the wear and tear of many decades of use and was considered outmoded even at the time that the Asylum was established. In 1957, the patients from the Asylum were moved into the new Bryan Building on the Belmont Street campus, and the old building was demolished.
Memorial Hospital (1888-present)
When Worcester industrialist Ichabod Washburn died in 1868, he left an estate that funded the endowment of a small college in Topeka, Kansas – now known as Washburn University – as well as a hospital in his hometown of Worcester. In 1874, a dispensary funded by Washburn’s estate was opened in a building at the corner of Front and Church Streets that had previously served as the Worcester City Hospital. The large brick house of Samuel Davis on Belmont Street was chosen as the site for the hospital, which opened in 1888. The Worcester Free Dispensary was relocated to the Davis property the same year. Memorial Hospital was originally designed to serve Worcester’s women and children, and was staffed by more female physicians than any other hospital in Worcester, with the exception of the Belmont Hospital.
Additional buildings were built in 1889 and 1892, including dedicated wards for maternity patients, children, and private patients. A training school for nurses was established in 1889 and a social service department in 1911. With the establishment of the Industrial Accident Ward in 1918, its services expanded to include men. The hospital continued to grow throughout the mid 20th century, creating clinics, laboratories, and medical education programs. In 1970, it affiliated with the newly established University of Massachusetts Medical School, and in 1988 assimilated the Hahnemann Hospital and Holden District Hospital. Finally, in 1998, the merger of Memorial Hospital with the UMass Medical School led to its rebranding as UMass Memorial Hospital.
- View the Finding Aid to the Memorial Hospital Collection at the UMass Medical School Office of Medical History and Archives
St. Vincent Hospital (1893-present)
Founded by the Sisters of Providence on September 9, 1893, St. Vincent Hospital was originally located on Vernon Hill. Dr. Mary Vincent O’Callahan, the first female physician in Worcester, played an integral role in the founding of St. Vincent. The hospital rapidly expanded, moving into a 150-bed building in 1899, to which a 60-bed wing was added in 1918. Its nursing school was in operation from 1900 to 1988. Large additions were made to the hospital in the 1960s, including psychiatric, maternity, and surgical units; laboratories and research facilities; and a medical library. The hospital merged with Fallon Healthcare in 1990. In 2000, St. Vincent moved to its current location in downtown Worcester, a complex originally known as Medical City.
Belmont Hospital (1896-1955)
The City Board of Health established Belmont Hospital — also known as the Isolation Hospital — in 1896 as a site to isolate and treat patients suffering from infectious disease. The original design of the hospital included two pavilions dedicated to diphtheria and scarlet fever, respectively. By 1900, the capacity of the hospital had doubled to meet the growing demand for its services. The Putnam Tuberculosis Ward, opened in 1914, was requisitioned for influenza cases during the 1918 pandemic.
Dr. May Salona Holmes, a graduate of Smith College and the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, served as the hospital’s superintendent and resident physician for over 45 years. Dr. Holmes led a campaign to expand and modernize the hospital facilities. At the time of her retirement in 1941, she recalled that malaria, cholera, and typhoid were rampant in Worcester during her early years at Belmont Hospital. Over the course of her tenure, the prevalence of infectious disease declined to such an extent that certain wards were converted into emergency facilities. The hospital was transitioned into a long-term nursing facility called the Belmont Home in the 1950s.
- Read more about Dr. May Salona Holmes, including her obituary
- Read an article about the hospital by Dr. Holmes, “Results accomplished at Worcester Isolation Hospital”
Hahnemann Hospital (1896-1989)
The Hahnemann Hospital was established in 1896 at 46 Providence Street, in a house donated by Elizabeth Colburn. The hospital was named for Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. In 1907, the hospital was relocated to a property on Brittan Square donated by David Hale Fanning. The mansion house on the property was converted into an administration building, and a dedicated hospital erected nearby. The hospital featured a training school for nurses. In 1989, the Hahnemann Hospital merged with Memorial Hospital.
Additional Hospitals in Worcester
- Fairlawn Hospital was established as a general inpatient hospital in 1922 and was converted to a rehabilitation hospital in 1987.
- Herbert Hall Hospital (Salisbury Street) was a private psychiatric facility established by Dr. Merrick Bemis, the superintendent of Worcester State Hospital, in 1872.
- Restaurare Institute (15 Oread Street) was dedicated to the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction.
Worcester’s sanitariums were dedicated to the treatment of invalids and convalescents. They included:
- The Abbott (12 Bowdoin Street)
- Lincoln Hall Sanitarium (128 Lincoln Street)
- Maple Hall (19 King Street)
- Oak Lodge Sanitarium (30 Berkman Street)