Changing horizon

Just a few walls remain at the site of the old Hamilton County Hospital building on Ohio Street.

The hospital board of trustees agreed to move ahead with demolition in March 2012. Hospital and county officials had tried unsuccessfully to find new occupants for the old building, but said the costs of operating the structure and the physical layout of the building proved to be obstacles for would-be tenants.

A contract for asbestos abatement was awarded to Anderson Excavating of Omaha in the amount of $103,807. That work was completed in late June, according to hospital officials. Midwest Construction Services of Fort Dodge turned in the low bid for the demolition work – $237,088. Seven other firms submitted bids ranging up to $564,000.

A long history

According to early Freeman-Journal accounts, Jacob M. Funk is credited with the idea of creating the first hospital in Hamilton County. In 1902, he donated 3 acres of land at the southwest corner of Des Moines and Ohio streets where Mercy Hospital, a $25,000 two-story brick structure was built. The building boasted 25 beds, electric lights, steam heat and modern operating room, according to newspaper reports at the time. Funk established a board of directors comprised of himself, L.A. McMurray and Cyrus Smith.

In 1903, Funk conveyed the hospital and grounds to the Northwest Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, who agreed to operate the facility and provide care for the residents of Hamilton County. Funk died unexpectedly in November 1903 and the Methodist church gave up the operation of the hospital at the end of that year. The building remained empty for two years the Sisters of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Dubuque agreed to take over the operations. Six Catholic sisters moved into the hospital. They stayed on until 1927 when, due to a lack of financing, it was announced they could no longer continue.

In 1928, a bond issue was passed that would allow for construction of a new hospital adjacent to the old building. The new hospital would be fire-proofed, would feature a maternity ward, an x-ray department and laboratory.The two structures would be connected by a tunnel and the old building housed the laundry, furnace, store rooms and living quarters for the nurses. After it was abandoned in 1933, the structure was used for free housing for homeless families until it was condemned in 1939.

The new hospital was opened to the public in 1931. In 1952, an expansion including a full basement was constructed to the south of the 1931 structure. The expansion raised the bed capacity to 72 and added a new kitchen, laundry and storage area.

Another addition was completed in 1977 and featured an ancillary wing which housed the radiology department, emergency services and a laboratory.

Groundbreaking was held for a $3.27 million expansion was held in May 1989. The three-story project added a receiving dock, engineering shop, first floor pharmacy, surgical services and 20 private rooms on the second floor, each with its own private bathroom.

Bricks for sale

The Hamilton Hospital Foundation has been selling bricks from the old building which feature a commemorative plate with an image of the hospital and its dates of operation.