Hospital on the hill: Weston County Memorial Hospital

By: 
Bri Brasher with Leonard Cash

The History on Main series with Leonard Cash continues with the story of the property of Frank Mondell. The Kilpatrick family sold their historic house on the hill to Mondell in 1907, and then Mondell sold to George Culver in 1944, before the county purchased the property in 1946. Paul Van Camp of Upton then bought the property and tore down the house for the building of the Weston County Memorial Hospital, the start of which is covered in this week’s installment of the series. 

An article published in the News Letter Journal on Jan. 15, 1981, reflected on the history of hospital care in Weston County, dating back to the fall of 1889. In part, the article said, “Newcastle has had doctors and a hospital of sorts since its beginning in September, 1889. The first doctor, B.B. Kelley, hired by the Burlington and Missouri Railroad, made his headquarters and ‘sick bay’ for a time in Dan Lyons’ grading camp. He was also Coroner in which capacity he officiated at the inquest of Tom Wagoner who had been hung from a tree for allegedly stealing horses.” 

The same article indicated that several doctors came and went in Newcastle’s early days, either operating out of their own hospitals or offices. The News Letter Journal also said that some doctors worked with a practical nurse, usually in her home. The early medical professionals served people from Newcastle, surrounding ranches and homesteads, Cambria and the mining camp. Cash referred to a Dr. Carlin, who bought The Star — an old female boarding house in Newcastle — for his hospital in the early 1940s from Mrs. Jess Corneilson in 1943. The Star was located behind the Newcastle Hardware building. The hospital in the star, called the Acord hospital, was small and phased out as the new hospital was built. 

Additionally, the 1981 article said that “for the first fifty-six years the ‘home-care hospitals’ served well enough but by 1945 the population of Weston County had increased to the extent that the need for more adequate hospital facilities was acute. Thus, in December, 1945, the Newcastle and Upton Lions’ Clubs hammered into shape the procedure for getting a modern, well-equipped hospital for the county.” The article explained that the plans for a new hospital were approved by county commissioners with the signatures of many citizens and every organization in the county.

Also in December 1945, the News Letter Journal published an article titled “Citizens Are Asked to Give $15,000 to Build Hospital,” which said that “fifteen thousand dollars must be raised by donation or otherwise in order to finance and construct this much needed hospital. If this amount is raised within a reasonable length of time, the county will then submit whatever amount is needed for the completion of the project. The estimated cost of the building, alone, is $80,000 — and the plan is to have rooms to accommodate forty patients at one time.” The article stated that donations were deductible from income tax, and should the total amount not be raised, all donations would be returned to donors. The following statement concluded the article and encouraged readers to donate: “It is to every citizens advantage to donate and donate willingly aid that is possible to such a worthy cause, as Weston County has needed a well-equipped and safe hospital for many years.”

A week later on Dec. 13, 1945, the News Letter Journal announced that a finance committee for the hospital was chosen by the county commissioners. The article said, “J.E. Oliver, livestock feed dealer and prominent in civic affairs in the county was elected chairman. Dick Busfield, executive of the bentonite company and active Lions Club member of Upton was chosen Vice Chairman. Marie Graham, wife of Hugh F. Graham, Newcastle postmaster, and a women’s leader in the community betterment was elected secretary of the committee. Dolly Boatsman, cashier of the Union State Bank of Upton and another leader in women’s community work, was elected treasurer.” The News Letter Journal reported that with members, the board totaled 13 people who discussed problems and logistics related to the hospital.

Many of the problems the hospital encountered seemed to deal with finances, though not at first. A Feb. 21, 1945, article in the News Letter Journal stated that an additional $120 was donated to the hospital, making the amount raised increase to $18, 815.48. The News Letter Journal also included a complete list of donors at that time, complete with each donation’s amount. 

“People gave whatever they could give to build that hospital,” Cash said.

Next on the timeline, the county commissioners elected board members for the new Weston County Memorial Hospital. According to a Feb. 28, 1945, issue of the News Letter Journal, J.E. Oliver was elected chairman, D.A. Baldwin filled the secretary’s seat and Richard Busfield became treasurer. Mrs. Ethel Kinney and Mr. H.T. Thorson were also elected to the board. The article explained that tenure was decided by rotating an officer off each year, and a drawing indicated that Oliver would serve one year; Baldwin, two years; Busfield, three years; Kinney, four years;  and Thorson, five years.

The Mondell property was then selected as the site for the county hospital, according to a March 7, 1946, article in the News Letter Journal. The Weston County Memorial Hospital board selected the property and reported that donations were still coming in for the project. With the site selected, Oliver told the News Letter Journal later that month that the board was working with architect Walter Bradley of the firm of Porter and Bradley, architects of Cheyenne. Plans were expected to be presented to the board within a short time, and a picture of the new hospital was to be published in the paper as it was completed. 

Another bit of good news came to the project in August 1946 when an article was published stating that the state of Wyoming voted to provide federal funds for the building of hospitals around the state in the form of bonds, for which Weston County applied. The News Letter Journal wrote that “in order to participate, the local hospital will be required to furnish $2.00 for each $1.00 allotment by the government, and the plans of the hospital must be approved by the federal government.” Then on March 20, 1947, the News Letter Journal announced that the hospital board was calling for construction bids on the hospital. According to the same article, “the $130,000 raised by the bond issue is now in the hands of the board so that negotiations can go forward as rapidly as possible, and J.E. Oliver, board chairman, states that everything is being done to get the hospital for Weston County actually into construction in the very near future.”

Next reports came in May of 1947 when the paper related that the bids for construction were rejected by the hospital board. The News Letter Journal advised that “the estimated cost of the building at that time was 110,000, and the lowest bid came in at $197, 287.00 with the highest being $202,947.00”

In dire need of a hospital, the local Lions Club assisted in finding a temporary solution. A June 5, 1947, article in the News Letter Journal, titled “Local hotel being bought for use as hospital here,” said that it was unanimously decided at a Lions Club luncheon to furnish Newcastle with a temporary hospital. A committee planned to purchase the Kirkwood Hotel — a building that could accommodate 15 patients — and the Weston County Memorial Hospital board would furnish the equipment. The building was said to be ready for occupancy within 30-45 days. Cash said the Kirkwood Hotel was next to what is now Worden Funeral Directors on Railroad Street. 

Then, on June 19, 1947, architects were asked to revamp the original proposed plans to accommodate the finances available for the hospital’s construction, according to an article in the News Letter Journal. The hospital board followed up the revised plans by putting out a call for new construction bids in the fall of 1947. On Oct. 30, 1947, the News Letter Journal reported that the hospital board received more bids, the lowest of which came from Carl Christensen of Cheyenne at $154, 445. At the time, the hospital only had $137,000 in the treasury, and more funds were needed. On the bright side, the article indicated that there was a great demand for the hospital, so it was anticipated that the extra funds would be easier to raise. 

Cash will continue with the hospital on the hill’s history in next week’s installment of the History on Main series.

Category:

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
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P.O. Box 40
Newscastle, WY 82701
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