It was 60 years ago, on Sept. 2, 1958, that the Carroll Hospital Auxiliary officially formed.
The first president was Gladys Wimert. Other community leaders such as Atlee Wampler Jr., F. Kale Mathias, Howard E. Koontz Jr., J. Ralph Bonsack, Scott S. Bair, Nathan Weinstock, A. Earl Shipley, Charles O. Fisher, and Dr. Charles L. Billingslea were among the 39-member board of directors who started a grassroots effort in the 1950s to make Carroll Hospital a reality.
Many of us vividly recall going from door-to-door with our lunch boxes collecting nickels and dimes to contribute to the hospital. Over the years, the local hospital, health care, and the history of medicine in Carroll County have been some of my favorite topics in this space and portions of this column have been adapted from previous articles.
Establishing a local hospital was an important initiative for the local agriculture community as far back as the days following the American Civil War. Growing up at the Sunday dinner table of my grandfather, William Earl Wright in the 1950s and ‘60s, with folks like my cousin Delegate Wilbur Magin at the table; I recall many conversations about the personal sacrifices made by many individuals to get the current hospital, just south of Westminster started. Despite an enormous effort to collect enough money to get the hospital off the ground, when it first opened, a number of prominent local families had to personally guarantee a bank loan to get the doors open.
I recall attending the opening of the hospital on a very hot and humid afternoon in August 1961 and still have several of the dedication programs. Long before the Carroll Hospital Center was dedicated on Aug. 27, 1961 or its predecessor, the Carroll County War Memorial Medical Center was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1952; local folklore often refers to two locations in Westminster that were considered for the location of a hospital.
In a Historical Society Box Lunch held on Oct. 14, 2008, Carroll Hospital officials Kevin Kelbly and Teresa Fletcher noted that “there was talk of the need for a hospital as far back as the 1880s.”
“Records of the Carroll County Historical Society also note that the local medical society spoke of the need for a hospital in 1916. Then in 1917, three private citizens: Dr. Henry M. Fitzhugh, Mr. Theodore Englar, and Dr. Lewis K. Woodward, Sr., offered to buy the Montour House on Main Street [in Westminster, beside the present-day RockSalt Grille] and convert it into a hospital.”
According to Kelby, Dr. Henry Maynadier Fitzhugh “built his home and physician office … on Ridge Road with the thought that this structure might someday become a Masonic Hospital.”
Today, the name “Fitzhugh” is barely known to most Carroll countians, except for those few who are aware that the hill overlooking Westminster on the western end of town is colloquially known as “Fitzhugh’s Hill.”
This is in the area we now know as Ridge Road, off of Old New Windsor Road. As an aside, up until the early 1900s, that area of town was known as “Sunset Hill” and Old New Windsor Road was known as “Doyle Avenue.” Fitzhugh died at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore on Jan. 25, 1935.
In addition to the need for an emergency room, one of the leading reasons cited in the 1940s for the need for a local hospital was to provide adequate maternity care and childbirth facilities in the county.
In a January 1947 letter to the editor of a local paper, Dr. Billingslea “stressed the difficulty of obtaining beds for patients in nearby hospitals — Frederick, Hanover, and Baltimore, one of the large hospitals in Baltimore has notified a Carroll county physician that he may have only one Maternity Bed a month in that hospital …
“All of the other nearby hospitals are just as jam packed. … The [proposed] Maternity Hospital … would aid in keeping up this fight against ‘death at birth’ by providing proper facilities for childbirth and trained personnel to take care of the new born baby.”
According to “From Our Front Porch” by Jim Lee, the “Auxiliary … functioned regularly and many activities were held in order to raise funds. … The major goal was to furnish all the gowns for patients …”
“From Our Front Porch” notes that the membership of the Auxiliary from 1958 to 1961 was 1,142. So now we know whom to blame for those indecent X-rated, drafty, hospital gowns — they were designed by a committee of 1,142.