Hospital on the hill: Weston County Memorial Hospital - part II

By: 
Bri Brasher with Leonard Cash

By Bri Brasher 

with Leonard Cash

NLJ Reporter 

 

The retelling of the hospital on the hill continues this week with Leonard Cash and the History on Main Series. Last week, the News Letter Journal left off with the building of the Weston County Memorial Hospital, even while the Newcastle community juggled financial concerns over funding the hospital.

Despite funding hiccups, excavation began on the hospital site, according to a March 18, 1948, issue of the News Letter Journal. The excavation work was done by local contractor Bill Burke, while R.H. Dutcher of Cheyenne and his son were awarded the contracting bid. The article also indicated that the bricks for the building were said to be arriving from Belle Fourche, South Dakota, soon, and weather permitting, construction on the building would start shortly after. 

Next on the timeline, additional funds amounting to at least $25,000 were needed to finish construction, according to a July 22, 1948, article. The News Letter Journal reported that the county decided to run a bond for additional money in a special election. The county must have been confident in its funding plan, because an article titled “Laying of Corner Stone At Memorial Hospital To Take Place Here Next Saturday” ran in the paper a week later. The article said, “The public is cordially invited to be present at a ceremony on Saturday afternoon, July 31, at 2:30 at which time James R. Mitchell, Grand Master of Wyoming A.F. & A.M., will officiate at the laying of the corner stone of the Weston County Memorial hospital.” The cornerstone was to be of solid granite and said to be very beautiful. The cornerstone was placed by members of the Masonic Lodge in Newcastle, according to the Aug. 5, 1948, edition of the News Letter Journal.

Next on Sept. 8, 1949, the News Letter Journal published an article titled “Memorial Hospital Opens With Ceremony Monday.” The article announced that the new, modern building that had been under construction for over two years was to be completed within the week. Sister M. Margaret was the superintendent at the time, and she is quoted in the News Letter Journal as saying that “everyone who is interested in viewing the modern hospital is invited to be present as this will be their only opportunity to completely inspect the building and equipment.” The article ended with the following statement of appreciation: “The hospital staff wishes to express their sincere gratitude for the many services rendered by local citizens including laundering, sewing, cleaning, and numerous other items which have aided in getting the building ready for use.” A 1981 article that reflected on the hospital’s construction stated that the 25-bed hospital sat on three acres of hilltop. 

The following day, the local press reminded the community that there was only one more day to raise the remainder of the funds to pay for the hospital. While the time crunch was on, the News Letter Journal reported that the various committees involved in the fundraising were confident the amount would be collected. 

Next on the timeline, a News Letter Journal article titled “Over 700 People Attend Dedication of New Hospital” on Sept. 15, 1949, reported that “approximately 750 people from Weston County and 13 states were in Newcastle Monday afternoon for the dedication of the new Weston County Memorial Hospital, to which county citizens have been looking forward for over two years.” The high school band played the “Star Spangled Banner” and Mr. Oliver, master of ceremonies, spoke at the dedication. 

Jumping ahead a bit to the summer of 1949, the 1981 article said, “By June, 1949, the completely furnished and equipped Weston County Memorial Hospital was leased to the order of the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer, a community of sisters from Elizabeth, PA. At this time it was the only Catholic hospital in the state.”

Then, in February of 1950, the hospital endured yet another hiccup when it was publicized that the hospital was in dire need of much more equipment. The News Letter Journal reported that the hospital needed a walk-in cooler, laundry equipment, and supplies. Weston County Memorial Hospital asked for clubs, organizations and groups to sponsor events to raise money for the hospital or give donations so that the hospital could purchase the necessary equipment to carry on. It was reported that money was needed as soon as possible, and the article cautioned, ”If an epidemic or disaster should strike we need the hospital equipped the best.”

“The community really pitched in on the hospital, and I think it’s still that way today. As we go through these records, you’ll see there were all kinds of things that were donated to the hospital. There was a lot of fundraising done on the hospital’s recent remodel in its new location,” Cash said.

As Cash mentioned, money was donated for a cooler at the county hospital, as reported on April 27, 1950. The Sisters expressed thanks in the News Letter Journal to those who donated. The donations continued when the Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department purchased four extinguishers for the hospital, because there were no firefighting facilities in the entire building. 

Expansion of Newcastle’s health care facilities continued in November 1950 when the News Letter Journal reported that construction was to begin on a clinic building, a 20-by-90-foot structure located north of the old high school. “Newcastle, the boomingest little city in many a mile, will have its own medical clinic by the summer of 1951,” reported the paper. Cash said the clinic building still stands—it is the brick structure across the street from the Assembly of God church on Seneca. The old clinic is a one-story building that had 14 rooms on the main floor. Vince Thompson was the building’s contractor, and the clinic was complete with full x-ray equipment and an ambulance entrance, according to the News Letter Journal. The name of the clinic was undecided at the time of construction. Cash also noted that the clinic was associated with the hospital, sharing doctors and medical staff.

Next, on Jan. 4, 1951, the News Letter Journal ran a piece titled “Committee Promises New 20-Room Sisters’ Home.” According to the article, “Declaring the present housing situation of the Sisters of the Divine Redeemer, the Nuns who are running the Weston County Memorial Hospital, a ‘disgrace to a decent community,’ L.M. York, today told the News Letter Journal that a committee has been organized to build a 20-room house, adjacent to the hospital grounds. This house will also contain a chapel and a reception room.”

The article explained that, at the time, nine members of the nursing order were crowded into two small rooms in the hospital basement, dealing with highly unsatisfactory living conditions. Additionally, the News Letter Journal stated that the committee was nonsectarian, with the objective of building a needed home for the nursing sisters.

“They were sleeping in the basement in a room behind the furnace, which they said was very dangerous if something were to happen with the furnace or anything else downstairs,” Cash said.

The News Letter Journal ended the article with a quote from York that read, in part, “It would be a sad blow to our community if we couldn’t keep these sisters happy by providing them with a decent house, and an even sadder commentary upon ourselves as citizens of a growing prosperous community.”

A follow-up article on Jan. 18, 1951, York said the Weston County Board of Commissioners and the Weston County Memorial Hospital board were not to be blamed or looked upon negatively in terms of the housing situation and that both boards did an excellent job in making the hospital available to the community and fulfilled the obligations undertaken by them. 

A few years later, the hospital added on once again. On Nov. 26, 1953, the News Letter Journal reported that construction began on an addition to the hospital. The bid for the addition construction itself came in at $73,673, with plumbing and heating at a sum of $27,750 and electrical at $7,129.

According to a Sept. 30, 1954, issue of the News Letter Journal, the original hospital was designed for 21 patients to serve a population of 3,500. With an increase in population, the hospital was experiencing crowded conditions, and the facility was in need of more space. For example, the hospital did not have space for emergencies or room to take care of casualties. So, a new wing was added, for which the hospital held an open house in the fall of 1954. The additional work was done by contractors E & W Construction Company of Cheyenne. Hospital supervisor Sister Margaret told the News Letter Journal that the additional wing increased bed capacity by 10, added a delivery room, plaster room, emergency room, office and storage space, as well as decent living quarters for the sisters living in the basement for the past five years. 

The History on Main Series will continue with the history of the hospital property in the weeks to come.

Category:

News Letter Journal

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