122 West Main Street

Published In:
Community Observer, Winter 1998,
Winter 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

From healing souls to healing bodies

When Manchester physician Evelyn Eccles and her husband Tom Ellis bought the former Methodist church on Main Street in 1985, the building hadn't been used for thirteen years. Everything was still in place—the pews, the stained glass windows, and even the organ, still in working order, with bellows in the basement.

"It looked like they finished a service, then locked the door and left," recalls Eccles.

Today the building, built in 1837 and 1838, houses Eccles's family medical practice. She's kept the original stained glass, high ceilings, lights, and wainscoting. Some of the old pews are used as waiting benches. Eccles achieved this miracle of reuse by creating what she calls "a building within a building" All the offices were built away from the outside walls, so that the light from the stained glass pours in unimpeded.

"It's an old-time frame with joists into beams," explains Bob Lowery, who built an addition to the church in 1958. "It's made with oak timber, probably cut at the local sawmill." Emanuel Case's sawmill on the River Raisin, built in 1832, helped draw settlers to what is today the village of Manchester.

The church was originally built by the Presbyterians; Manchester's original settlers were of British descent, and the Presbyterian Church was the first religious group to organize in the village. Seventeen people attended the congregation's first meeting in December 1835 at the home of Dr. William Root. They began work or the church two years later.

The church played an important part in village life in the nineteenth century. A school occupied the building's basement, and the congregation sponsored speakers, such as a controversial antislavery lecturer. But membership dwindled as more churches were organized—Lutheran, Baptist, Universalist, and Roman Catholic. In 1893 the Presbyterians disbanded and sold the building to the Methodists, who had founded their local congregation in 1839. The few remaining members placed a memorial window in the front of the church. (It is still there, partially hidden by a display of medical pamphlets.)

The building served the Methodists well in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1904 they built a parsonage next door, and in 1928 they installed the organ and remodeled the rostrum, pulpit, and communion rail. But after wona War II, the congregation outgrew the building. In 1958 the Methodists built a two-story addition that linked the church and parsonage, and in 1965 they converted the parsonage into Sunday school rooms, moving the pastor to a new parsonage on Ann Arbor Hill. Still, soon after, the congregation decided they needed a new church.

"There was no parking," explains Lowery, especially on Sunday, when the Methodists had to compete with the congregations of nearby St. Mary's Catholic Church and Emanuel United Church of Christ. "The church needed work. It was cheaper to build a new one." Ground was broken on M-52 in 1971, and the first service was held there in 1972.

While the old church stood empty, the new addition was converted to offices and the old parsonage into apartments. Dr. Howard Parr bought the old organ but left it in the church until Eccles and Ellis bought the building. Before moving the organ (which is still in storage awaiting an interested buyer). Parr organized a meeting of the Manchester Area Historical Society in the old church so that people could get a last chance to hear it. Parr himself played hymns, and Historical Society members sang along.

—Grace Shackman

Chelsea Private Hospital

Published In:
Community Observer, Date Unknown,
Unknown

Author: Grace Shackman

The owners lived downstairs

Sixty years ago, patients at the Chelsea Private Hospital could give birth, undergo surgery, and recuperate from illnesses in a homelike setting while still enjoying the benefits of modern medicine.

The hospital occupied three upstairs bedrooms in an old house at 318 East Middle Street. Two of the rooms had patient beds; the third served as the operating and delivery room. An adjoining alcove was made into a nursery.

Home hospitals were found all over the country between 1870 and 1945. Also called "proprietary hospitals," they formed a bridge between doctors making house calls and the giant institutional hospitals of today.

The Chelsea Private Hospital was owned by Nellie Notten and her husband Ehlert, a well-established dairy farmer. The Nottens opened the hospital in 1926 in a house on Main Street, then relocated ten years later when the federal government wanted the original location for a post office.

The Middle Street house was built about 1885 for Dr. George Palmer and his family. (George's son, Leigh, started the Palmer Ford dealership, which is still in operation.) While Nellie looked after the patients upstairs, Ehlert commuted from the house to his farm. They lived on the buildings first floor and sold some of Ehlert's dairy products from the back door.

The Chelsea Private Hospital served the patients of Drs. Malcolm Sibbald and Joseph Fisher, who had their offices above Schneider's Grocery (now Chelsea Market). John Keusch, whose office was behind theirs, recalls that Sibbald and Fisher performed tonsillectomies and appendectomies at the hospital. Several Chelsea residents remember the care their parents received during their last illnesses at the Nottens' hospital. The two doctors, who were general practitioners, sent more complicated cases to larger hospitals or called on the services of a Jackson surgeon.

Anna Laban, who gave birth to her son Larry in the Middle Street hospital, recalls that Nellie Notten stayed with her in the delivery room, calling Sibbald when she thought the baby was about to be born. "It didn't take him two minutes to get there from his office," Laban says. She remembers Notten as "kinda heavy, middle stocky." Sibbald, she says, was a "feisty guy, quick-tempered, very outspoken—but he was always good to me."

Myrtle Smith, who lived in Dexter, chose to give birth in the Nottens' hospital at the recommendation of her sister-in-law, who lived in Chelsea. Fisher delivered Smith's daughter Bonnie and later gave her checkups in the back room at the Dexter Rexall drugstore.

New mothers were put in one of the two patient rooms and were usually the hospital's only patients. They stayed in bed ten days, not even getting up to go to the bathroom. "I'm telling you, when I was allowed to get up my knees were wobbly," recalls Laban. But all the mothers interviewed have very warm memories of the hospital, remembering that they received good food and good care.

Ann Wood, who had her son Don there, recalls that when Sibbald was nearing retirement age. Fisher handled most of the births, on the assumption that he would be the doctor caring for the babies as they grew up. However, World War II intervened, and Fisher left town in 1942 to serve in the military. (He returned after the war and practiced medicine until his retirement.) Larry Schrader, born on September 29, 1942, was Fisher's last delivery before leaving.

When Fisher went to war, the Nottens closed the hospital. After that, patients wanting to go to a home hospital were referred to one in Stockbridge, though it was considered to be not as well run.

Nellie Notten's health declined, and she died four years after closing the hospital. Ehlert remarried and sold the house. It was used for apartments and for a chiropractic clinic until 1991, when Jackie and John Frank bought it.

The Franks have been meticulously restoring the house to the one-family status and elegant look it must have had when the Palmers built it. But, in remembrance of the house's years as a hospital, the Franks have kept the sink in the former delivery room, which is now their exercise area.

On Labor Day 1998, they organized a well-attended potluck for people born in the hospital. "People were really moved to see where they were born, where their mother was," Jackie Frank says.

—Grace Shackman

Dr. Chase's Successors

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, November 1993,
November 1993

Author: Grace Shackman

Dobson-McOmber returns to the Steam Printing House

By Christmas the Dobson-McOmber Insurance Company plans to move into new offices in the former Dr. Chase's Steam Printing House at the corner of Miller and Main. One of Ann Arbor's landmark buildings, it was immodestly described by its original owner, Alvin Wood Chase, as "without question the finest printing office in the West."

The Private Hospital Era

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, March 1994,
March 1994

Author: Grace Shackman

Between 1875 and 1945, the city was home to seventeen proprietary hospitals. Ann Arborites could go to Dr. Cowie for a difficult diagnosis, study nursing with Dr. Peterson, get cuts stitched by Dr. Gates, and have their babies in Nurse Grove’s home.

When Dr. Carl Malcolm Jr. started practicing in Ann Arbor in the 1930's, many patients still expected him to treat them at home. When he urged them to go to the hospital, Malcolm recalls, "they thought it was the end of things."

Malcolm's older patients had been born in a time when anything a doctor could do to help he could do in their homes. As recently as the mid-1800s, hospitals were charity institutions for those who had no home to be sick in—"refuges mainly for the homeless poor and insane," according to Paul Starr's The Social Transformation of American Medicine.

Photograph of Dr. David Cowie in a hospital
ward

Dr. David Cowie is best remembered today as the instigator of adding iodine to salt to prevent goiters.

Starr's fascinating medical history explains how, "in a matter of decades, roughly between 1870 and 1910, hospitals moved from the periphery to the center of medical education and medical practice." A string of breakthroughs, including antisepsis, anesthesia, and X-rays, transformed surgery from a desperate last resort into a routine medical tool. At first, doctors performed surgery in people's homes--Elsa Goetz Ordway remembers the family physician operating on her mother on the dining room table in 1914. But as medical standards rose, more and more doctors preferred to work in hospitals, which gradually evolved from shelters for the poor and the dying into, in Starr's words, "doctors' workshops for all types and classes of patients."

Today, Ann Arbor's three huge hospitals--the U-M, St. Joe's, and the VA--together handle more than a million patient visits every year. But it took a long time to get there. Both the University of Michigan Hospital (1869) and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital (1911) started out serving mere handfuls of patients in converted homes. For two generations, they shared the town with numerous small hospitals owned by individual practitioners.

Between 1875 and 1945, Ann Arbor had at least seventeen "proprietary" hospitals. All were located in converted houses. Otherwise, they were as different as the personalities and medical specialties of their owners.

The hospitals' owners included some of the most distinguished physicians in the city. Dr. David Murray Cowie founded the U-M pediatrics department, cared for patients at the U-M Hospital, and engaged in extensive research while also running his own hospital in a former mansion on South Division Street. His colleague Dr. Reuben Peterson, U-M professor of "women's and children's diseases," established a private medical complex that eventually filled ten buildings on Forest, Church, and South University. At the other end of the spectrum, nurse Josephine Grove took patients into her own home on Huron near Revena, caring for them around the clock. And Neil Gates, a down-to-earth general practitioner, attempted to treat almost every kind of medical ailment, whether in a patient's home, in his downtown office, or in his hospital on South Fifth Avenue.

Dr. Cowie's exclusive clientele

Dr. David Cowie's sprawling brick mansion at 320 South Division is by far the most impressive surviving former hospital. In its day, it was also the most prestigious.
Cowie was born in Canada in 1872 to Scottish parents (his obituary called him "as Scotch as MacGregor"). He came to Michigan in 1892 to attend Battle Creek College but soon transferred to the U-M, where he graduated from the medical school and was hired as an assistant in internal medicine in 1896. He earned a second medical degree at the University of Heidelberg in 1908, the year he married Anna Marion Cook, who was also a doctor, although there is no evidence that she ever practiced medicine.

When Cowie returned from Germany, he was asked by medical dean George Dock to start a pediatrics department at the U-M Hospital. He opened his private diagnostic hospital a few years later, starting out with four rooms on the second floor at 122 North Fourth Avenue.

In 1918, Cowie tripled the number of patients he could serve by buying the home at 320 South Division built in the mid-1880s for Adelbert Noble, proprietor of the Star Clothing House. Cowie added on an institutional dining room and kitchen to the back of the house and built a third floor for additional patient rooms. Set up to provide complete medical and surgical services, the hospital boasted an automatic elevator, and every room had running water. The nurses wore pink uniforms.

Edith Staebler Kempf, whose in-laws lived next door in what is now the Kempf House Center for Local History, remembered Cowie Private Hospital as "a hospital for rich women." But according to the Medical History of Michigan, published in 1930 by the Michigan State Medical Society, some exceptions were made. The authors wrote of Cowie's "ministration to semi-indigent gentlefolk" as "a pleasant feature" of the hospital.

Retired surgeon Thurston Thieme sometimes assisted with operations at Cowie's as a U-M intern. He agrees with Kempf about the high-toned clientele. He remembers setting out the sterilized instruments for Dr. Frederick Coller, the distinguished chairman of surgery at the U-M, while Coller complained that the patient should have come to the U-M Hospital for the operation. But according to Thieme,"Cowie had the best families as patients. He got the necessary doctors to come in."

Cowie attracted patients from all around the state. Dr. Allen Saunders, a local pediatrician who grew up in Coldwater, remembers that a number of relatives and family friends chose to come to Cowie's in Ann Arbor rather than be treated locally.

Cowie's prominent patients included Francis Kelsey, U-M professor of Latin and director of Near East research. Kelsey, for whom the Kelsey Museum was named, was a friend and admirer of Cowie's. In a 1924 letter to philanthropist Horace Rackham, who underwrote his archaeological work, Kelsey wrote that his wife, Isabelle was sick but was receiving expert care from Cowie: "I have a friend who is a scientific physician in charge of a private hospital where obscure cases of her sort are investigated. She is there now and her case is being studied with the help of the X-ray and other means of diagnosis." It is not known what Cowie found, but Isabelle Kelsey lived another twenty years, to the age of eighty-two.

Francis Kelsey was not so lucky. In 1927, he returned from a dig in Egypt in failing health and immediately checked into Cowie's hospital. Too weak to give the paper on his findings that he had come home expressly to deliver, he got out of his sick bed to go to the meeting and hear someone else read it for him. He came back to the hospital and died a few weeks later.

Photograph of the Cowie Private Hospital
building taken in 2006

Dr. David Cowie took care of patients in his private hospital at 320 S. Division, now an apartment building.

Though his hospital was exclusive, Cowie's research ended up benefiting children throughout the state and the nation. At the time, many children in the Great Lakes region suffered from goiters--swollen thyroid glands in the neck—due to a lack of iodine in the soil. At Cowie's suggestion, a state commission was appointed in 1922 to study the problem. Cowie chaired the group, which first considered adding the iodine to drinking water. When that proved too expensive, they switched to the idea of adding it to table salt. At their urging, iodized salt was marketed in Michigan starting in 1924. Before Cowie began his crusade, 35 percent of Detroit school¬children suffered from goiters. With the introduction of iodized salt, the incidence was reduced to 1.4 percent. The use of iodized salt spread throughout the country and is commonplace today.

Cowie died on January 27, 1940. He became sick while on the way to his cottage in the Irish Hills, returned to Ann Arbor, and entered his own hospital, where he died of a coronary thrombosis. "Dr. Cowie's interests extended far beyond the limits of his profession," the Ann Arbor News wrote. "He was widely read, of broad human sympathies, quiet in demeanor, yet forceful. Literally hundreds of children owed their lives to his professional knowledge and unusual sympathetic insight." After Cowie's death, his hospital was divided into apartments, a use it still retains.

Dr. Peterson's medical empire

Like Cowie, Reuben Peterson served people who were willing to pay for better service than was available in the public hospitals of the time. Thurston Thieme remembers Dr. Peterson's Private Hospital as "a fine hospital, greatly respected and well known." His patients were all women and children, some of whom came from other towns and even other states.

For most of its early years, Peterson's hospital was located in a former fraternity house at 620 South Forest. He was so successful that he expanded into surrounding buildings, until he had the capacity to treat forty patients and train sixteen nurses. His private medical empire eventually included an annex at 614 Forest; a maternity hospital at 610 Forest; five residences for employees and nursing students on Forest, Church, and South University; and two hospitals, run for him by other doctors, at 1216 and 1218 South University.

Peterson was born in Boston in 1862; he received both undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, graduating in 1889. He set up the nurse's training program at St. Mark's Hospital in Grand Rapids and taught gynecology at Rush Medical School in Chicago before accepting an appointment to the U-M medical school in 1901. He started his hospital the next year. "The University of Michigan Hospital contains 225 beds," he wrote to explain the move. "It is full to overflowing the year around and many patients are compelled to board outside and wait for beds."

Peterson's hospital opened in June 1902 in an old house at 1215 South University. Peterson's partners, Fantine Pemberton, an early graduate of the new U-M nursing school, and her widowed mother, Laura Pemberton, rented and furnished the hospital building. Besides serving for many years as Peterson's superintendent of nursing and matron respectively, the two women also provided household goods, equipment, and tableware of their own for use in the hospital. A few months later, the hospital moved to the larger house at 620 Forest.

Peterson ran his own nurse's training program at his hospital. He awarded the first degrees in 1907, the same year he incorporated the school and bought out the Pembertons' interest. (Both women continued to work for him.) By 1909, he had six nurses in training. In 1912 Peterson set up the hospital annex and the next year the maternity hospital.

Peterson did not strictly separate his private life from the hospital. In 1910, he installed a "laundry appliance and mangle" in the basement of the hospital and hired Mary Simons and her husband for laundry work, with the understanding that they also would do his wife's laundry. (He had married the former Josephine Davis of Elk Rapids in 1890.) When he used 614 Forest as a home for nurses, he and Mrs. Peterson furnished it with a piano from their home.

In 1920 Peterson decided to discontinue the nurse's training school, "because of the difficulties in maintaining a high standard of training under present conditions." Nursing historian Linda Strodtman explains that "as nursing standards developed, it was not sufficient to just offer women's care." After 1920, Peterson confined his work to one building, keeping 620 Forest as the hospital and the house next door at 614 for a nurses' home, and selling or renting the rest of his property. Shortly after, in 1922, he was promoted to head the ob-gyn department at the U-M medical school.

Clara Schnierle worked at Peterson's hospital from 1928 to 1932 as a cook's helper. She remembers Peterson as a good man and a good doctor--reserved, but still someone you felt comfortable around. "He was strict, like everyone in those days," Schnierle recalls. "You did your duties as he wanted; if you didn't like it, you moved on." Schnierle lived on the third floor of the hospital, which also contained the operating room. On the second floor there were eight private rooms and a nursery where the newborns slept in little baskets.

As a boy, book manufacturer Joe Edwards had his tonsils out at Peterson's. Many women were there for childbirth, but some came with illnesses. According to Schnierle, the patients generally chose Peterson's so they could have a private room and avoid the medical students at University Hospital. Maternity patients stayed two weeks, sitting up only after ten days. If they had twins, they stayed three weeks. Some of the patients hired their own personal nurses. Schnierle remembers a preemie, born three months early, who was tended by two nurses in twelve-hour shifts. The mother was cared for by two other private nurses. After three months in the hospital, the baby and mother went home, accompanied by all four nurses.

Schnierle recalls that Dr. Peterson came by every day, usually in the afternoon, after attending to his work at the university. He spent every summer, when the university was in recess, at his summer home in Duxbury, Massachusetts, arranging with other doctors to take care of emergencies and putting off elective surgery until he returned in the fall.

In 1931, Peterson retired from the university. When Schnierle left to get married in 1932, she was not replaced because Peterson's hospital was shrinking again. It closed for good the next year and Peterson moved permanently to Duxbury, where he died on November 25, 1942, at age eighty. His hospital became a rooming house and later was torn down to make room for the Forest Avenue parking structure.

Nurse Grove's home hospital

Most proprietary hospitals were owned by doctors. But the Grove Cottage Hospital, 1422 West Huron at Revena, was owned and operated by nurse Josephine Grove and her husband, Otto, who was listed in the city directory as a traveling salesman.
The Groves turned their home into a hospital in the mid-1920s and ran it until Otto's death in 1934. Upstairs were two bedrooms for patients (they kept the third bedroom for themselves). Downstairs another bedroom was available for overflow patients. The upstairs bathroom served visiting doctors as an operating room. Mrs. Grove herself cared for her patients around the clock.

Most of Grove's patients were referred by a neighbor, Dr. John Gates, who lived at 201 South Revena. Many were women giving birth. Helen Wolf Curtis remembers that her brother was born at the Grove Cottage Hospital in 1927. Her family lived at 110 South Revena, so when her mother, Lucy Wolf, went into labor, she just walked down the street. After Dr. Peterson's hospital closed, his former employee, Clara Schnierle, chose to have her first child at Grove's. She explains that in those days people differed on whether to have their babies at home or in the hospital. Schnierle and her husband decided they would rather have the first one in a hospital, so their physician, John Gates, recommended the Grove Cottage Hospital. Schnierle remembers Mrs. Grove as "very pleasant, very serious-minded.”

Sophie Walker, who lived nearby at 330 South Seventh, had her baby at Grove's hospital in 1928, not with Dr. Gates, but with another doctor, whom she chose because he spoke German. She had come from Germany just two years before. She liked Grove's hospital because it was like a private home, but she has a sad memory of the patient in the other room crying after giving birth: she wasn't married and was giving up her baby for adoption.

Maternity was not the only service offered. When Helen Wolf Curtis was a girl, she fell off the front stoop and broke her arm, and Dr. John Gates set it. Eleven years later, in 1929, she had the plate taken out at Grove's hospital, and while she was there she also had her tonsils and adenoids out. She remembers the hospital as "a wonderful place, not very plush but neat and clean."

Dr. John Gates's elder brother, Neil, was also a doctor, a well-loved general practitioner. But according to his grandson Jeff Rentschler, he struggled financially until he bought his own hospital.

Gates's hospital at 314 South Fifth Avenue (now the parking lot of the Federal Building) exemplified a general practitioner's proprietary hospital. Neil Gates was the classic GP--he made house calls even in the worst weather, never took vacations (another grandson, David Gates, remembers him saying, "I'll take a vacation on the day nobody gets sick"), and was rarely allowed to sleep through the night. He smoked cigars constantly; people said they didn't recognize him without one. His niece Janet Ivory remembers him coming to her house when she was sick as a little girl. "When I smelled the cigar smoke, I felt better because I knew he was there. I knew I would get better."

Gates was born in Ann Arbor in 1873, the son of contractor John Gates and Dora McCormick Gates. He graduated from the U-M medical school in 1897 and started his career in Dexter. In about 1900 he built the Gates Block there as an office and infirmary (it is now occupied by insurance and real estate offices). Ten years later he moved to Ann Arbor and opened an office at 117 East Liberty, but he still kept up his large rural practice.

In the early days, Gates made house calls in a horse and buggy. In later years, his daughter, Lois Gates Rentschler, would drive him, often taking her son, Jeff, along. Jeff and his mother would usually stay in the car or walk around outside, but he has one memory of going inside the house of an elderly women in Dexter and eating homemade graham crackers with butter in front of her wood-burning stove.
During the flu epidemic of 1918, Gates ministered heroically to his rural patients. The epidemic hit Ann Arbor in the fall, but didn't get out into the country until the winter. Gates usually made winter visits in a one-horse sleigh that he drove himself, but during the epidemic he hired a two-horse wagon and a driver so that he could sleep between visits. During the terrible epidemic, which claimed 548,000 lives nationwide, it was the only rest he got.

Gates made a lot of his own medicine using natural materials--plants, weeds, bark, fungus-—that he mashed with a pestle. For refined ingredients, he dealt exclusively with Fischer's Pharmacy. David Gates remembers that his grandfather carried three or four bags filled with all sorts of medicines, including some sugar pills he gave to people with imagined illnesses.

The Ann Arbor Railroad tracks ran right behind Gates's house at 440 South Main. When he was at home, his wife would put a scarf on the pole of the bird-house in the backyard, so the train crews could stop if they had a medical problem. They would toot their whistle and Gates would come out to take a cinder out of an eye, treat a burn, set a broken arm, or help a passenger with motion sickness.

Despite all his business, Gates for many years didn't make much money. David Gates remembers that his grandparents had a monster icebox and a big pantry, usually filled with eggs, chickens, and whatever produce was in season, contributed by patients who couldn't afford to pay in cash. But Jeff Rentschler says their grandfather did much better after he started his own hospital in 1924.

The hospital Gates bought was an old Queen Anne house on South Fifth Avenue, built about 1895, complete with tower and wraparound front porch. In 1906, U-M medical professor Cyrenus Darling had converted it into a hospital with its own operating room and eight private patient rooms. In 1911, Darling became one of eight founding staff doctors at St. Joe's, which started out in a former rooming house on the corner of State and Kingsley. For a few years Darling worked at both hospitals, but in 1916 he decided to concentrate on St. Joe's. The hospital was run by James and Muriel McLaren as "Maplehurst" until Dr. Gates bought it 1924.

Gates modernized the hospital by adding an X-ray facility, a second operating room (used mainly for delivering babies), and two wards, raising its capacity to twenty-eight patients. In his book Historic Michigan, George Fuller called Gates's hospital "one of the most complete and up-to-date of the many privately owned institutions of its kind in the United States."

As in his office and rural practice, Gates continued to treat whatever needs his patients had, although he had a reputation for being particularly good at stitching. W. H. Priestkorn went there as a boy to have his appendix out. Nate Weinberg's mother was operated on for pleurisy. Sam Schlect remembers someone he knew being stitched up by Dr. Gates after a Fourth of July explosion slashed his cheek.

Gates had a lot of maternity business. Mary Schlect, Sam's wife, gave birth to their daughter there in 1943. Sam was in the army, so she came with her neighbor, Gladys Water, who also was pregnant, and stayed in a three-bed ward. She remembers that the fee was $110, reduced to $100 if paid in cash. Election worker Bev Kirsht, who was born in Gates's hospital, reports that her father, George Lirette, was in the delivery room both for her birth and that of her sister. Years later, the Lamaze Association would have to fight local hospitals for this privilege, but Gates was ahead of his time on the issue. He routinely told the men, "Go out and take off your tie and jacket and come back in. It's your baby, too." David Gates believes there was a large influx of babies named "Neil" from the Gates's hospital—he says that when his grandfather delivered a boy he would hold him up and say, "If you don't know what to name him, name him 'Neil.' "

Gates never retired. During World War II he was able to continue his usual rural calls, thanks to a special permit that enabled him to buy gasoline and hard-to-obtain tires, both rationed. He was also issued extra ration coupons to buy food for the patients in his hospital.

Dr. Gates died July 16, 1945. By then, his was the last surviving private hospital in the city. The rest had slowly died out, unable to compete with St. Joe's, which had built a big hospital on Ingalls in 1913, and the U-M, which had built a large modern hospital in 1925.

Of all hospitals, Paul Starr writes, the proprietary hospitals' "rate of institutional survival was the lowest. In this regard they were typical of small businesses; they opened and closed with the vicissitudes of personal fortune." Ann Arbor's experience bears this out. None of the hospitals survived their owners. After Gates's death, his hospital was converted to a rooming house. The turreted building was torn down in 1973 to make room for the Federal Building.

Proprietary Hospitals

The following list of proprietary hospitals and the doctors who owned them was compiled from the City Directory and from people's memories.

Ann Arbor Sanitarium and Private Hospital, Dr. James Lynds, 403 S. Fourth Ave. (now Muehlig's Funeral Chapel)
Ann Arbor Private Hospital, Mrs. Margaret Kelly, proprietor, Huron near First, then 1129 Washtenaw Ave.
Bethel Faith Home, Mrs. Augusta Whitlark, matron, 126 Observatory
Dr. William Blair, 311 S. Division St.
Burrett-Smith, Dr. Cyrus Burrett and Dr. Dean T. Smith, first at 721 E. Washington, then at 416 S. Fifth Ave.
Classen Private Hospital, Dr. Carrie Classen, osteopath, 429 Hamilton Place
Cowie Private Hospital, Dr. David M. Cowie, 320 S. Division St.
Curtrest Maternity Home and Hospital, Mrs. Severine C. Curtiss, 1100 E. Huron St.
Dr. Neil Gates, 314 S. Fifth Ave.
Grove Cottage Hospital, Josephine and Otto Grove, 1422 W. Huron St.
Herdman's Private Hospital, Dr. William James Herdman, 709 W. Huron St.
Institute of Ozonotherapy, R. M. Leggett, manager, 120 N. Fourth Ave.
Maplehurst, James and Muriel McLaren, first at 314 S. Fifth Ave., then at 822 Arch
Dr. Katherine Martin, 120 N. Fourth Ave.
Dr. Peterson's Private Hospital, Dr., Reuben Peterson, 620 S. Forest Ave.
Washtenaw Private Hospital, also known as Dr. Cummings's Private Hospital, Dr. Howard Cummings, 216 N. State St.
Vreeland Maternity Home, Mrs.Velva C. Vreeland, 315 W. Mosley


[Photo caption from book]: Dr. Rueben Peterson, standing by his wife’s roses, ran a hospital for women and children that also served as a nurse’s training school.

[Photo caption from book]: Dr. Neil Gates ran the city's last private hospital at 314 S. Fifth. Unable to keep up with advances at public hospitals, it closed after his death in 1945 and was torn down in 1973.


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The County Poor House

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, October 1986,
October 1986

Author: Grace Shackman

It doubled as an insane asylum

The County Farm Park, on the east side between Platt and Medford, is devoted to recreation such as jogging and gardening. But once it was the location of the County Poor House. Homeless people of both sexes and all ages lived there. The Poor House sheltered a diverse group of unfortunates: the insane, alcoholic, feeble, indolent, senile, retarded, handicapped, injured, sick, transient, or just down on their luck. Their common denominator was their poverty. Some stayed only for a short time, but others remained until they died. If no relative claimed the body, it was buried on the premises or given to the U-M medical school. Some human bones found in the 1960s when Washtenaw Avenue was being widened were at first believed to be Indian relics until someone figured out that the road extended over the area used for the poor house cemetery.

County Poor House

The Washtenaw County Poor House, on Washtenaw near Platt, housed a variety of unfortunates, from the insane, handicapped, retarded, and injured, to the just plain down on their luck. An 1830 Michigan law required each county to have a poor house.

Poor farms were the nineteenth century solution to poverty. Reformers such as Dorothea Dix, a pioneer in the movement for specialized treatment of the insane, believed that placing people on working farms could make them into contributing members of society and also relieve the public of paying for their care. Most of the people who lived in poor houses were not able to work, however, or if they could, were not very productive. Income from crops raised at the Washtenaw County Poor House helped defray costs, but except for a few years during the Civil War, it was never enough to cover all expenses.

The land for the Washtenaw County Poor House was purchased by the county in 1836 from Revolutionary War veteran Claudius Britton, to comply with an 1830 Michigan law directing each county to build a poor house. The county hired a keeper, always a local person with a farming background, who lived on the premises with a wife who cooked for the residents (or "inmates," as they were called in the official reports).

The farm included orchards of apples, peaches, and pears; livestock (pigs, cattle, sheep, and chickens); and gardens with vegetables and grains. George Campbell, who grew up on nearby Cobblestone Farm, recalled, "I would often see poor farm residents out in the fields pitching hay, always under supervision. The men worked the farm as long as it was done with horse power, but they couldn't manage farm machinery. The women residents helped in the kitchen, setting the tables or peeling potatoes. During the day they would sew." Campbell also remembered that Platt Road used to be known as "Pauper's Alley" and that "Poor House residents used to sneak away and, using a little money they might have gotten from relatives, buy some tobacco at McMillan's store on Packard, where the Sunoco station is now."

Photograph of Washtenaw County Infirmary,
taken from a high point across the road

An 1830 Michigan law required each county to have a poorhouse. The county infirmary, the successor to the poorhouse, was for poor people who needed continual medical care. Built in 1917, it closed in 1971 and was torn down in 1979.

Poor houses are usually depicted as bleak, terrible places, but Ann Arborites old enough to remember believe this one was not such a bad place. According to lifelong Ann Arbor resident Arthur Rieff, "it was a lot nicer than old age homes are today. Those who could work, did, and there was a nice visiting room. No one minded going there to live." Edith Staebler Kempf agrees it was a pleasant enough place, especially with all the home-grown food, but says there was enough of a social stigma in being there that she was taught in her childhood to refer to it not as the "poor farm" but as the "county home." She adds, "People of means were ostracized if they let their relatives live there."

After the welfare system arose in the 1930s, the farm changed from a home for poor people to a place for people who needed continual medical care but could not afford it. The farm lands were rented to Ralph McCalla, who continued raising cattle and growing crops until 1960. According to McCalla, "Some of the Poor House residents still helped. They would come down to the barn and feed the livestock just to have something to do."

The County Infirmary, as it was known after 1917, was closed in 1971 after county officials decided it would cost too much to modernize. It was torn down in 1979. For a time, St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital seriously considered building on the site, and doctors' offices were built on the eastern side of Platt in anticipation of this move. After St. Joe's decided to locate elsewhere, debate centered on whether the land should be used for new county buildings or for a park.

After the county commissioners decided to keep the county courthouse in downtown Ann Arbor, the County Parks and Recreation Department went to work creating the County Farm Park. Today the 127-acre park includes a parcours (a jogging-exercise trail patterned after European fitness courses), a woodland trail, a perennial garden complete with native shrubs, Project Grow gardens, and an irrigation system powered by a windmill. All that remains of the poor farm is the barn now used to store maintenance equipment.

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