St. Joseph Hospital: Tycoons, Brakemen, and Sisters of Charity

You can scrape a city block clean of its bricks and concrete and steel, but you can’t scrape it clean of its history.

On this block on South Main Street, cleared in 2013, once stood St. Joseph Hospital.

St. Joseph’s was Fort Worth’s first hospital and its only hospital until 1906. St. Joseph’s in its first few incarnations was one of our most stately public buildings. The original building was three hundred feet long with two stories and a porch around all four sides. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

J. M. Eddy of tycoon Jay Gould’s Missouri Pacific railroad founded the hospital in 1883, about two years after the railroad began serving Fort Worth. Missouri Pacific had started its hospital system in 1879. The system was funded by employee dues, which ranged from thirty-five to fifty cents a month.

gould ok 5-31-83 dwh To induce the railroad to locate its hospital here, citizens of Fort Worth donated $4,000 to buy a site where South Main and Morphy streets intersect today. That site was well out of the city in 1883. Clip is from the May 31, 1883 Dallas Weekly Herald.

gould accident 1-17-84 dwhCowtown worked quickly in those days. By the end of September 1883 the hospital was nearing completion and already treating patients. Good thing, too. Because on January 17, 1884 the Dallas Weekly Herald reported that nineteen victims of a train wreck had been taken to what was then called “the Gould hospital” or “the railway hospital.”

gould fire 4-27 gazBut on April 26, 1885 the wooden hospital building was destroyed by fire. The railroad quickly rebuilt the hospital. Clip is from the Gazette.

Railroading was dangerous work. This clip from 1886 shows the type of railroad injuries the hospital treated.

In 1886 two of the lawmen wounded nearby at the Battle of Buttermilk Junction were taken to the hospital for treatment.

This 1887 Fort Worth Gazette map shows that the hospital was located beside a corridor that included four railroads, including the Missouri Pacific.

But this clip from 1887 shows that the hospital was not yet in the city limits.

The Rosedale streetcar company operated a line from its pavilion on Samuels Avenue south through downtown to the hospital.

In 1889 Gould sold the hospital to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, who had been staffing the hospital. The sisters renamed the Gould hospital “St. Joseph Infirmary.” The infirmary treated railroad workers and their family members but also charity cases and nonrailroad paying patients. The rate for paying patients was ninety cents a day.

In 1897 three doctors, among them Dr. Bacon Saunders (dean of Fort Worth Medical College), gave the infirmary two horses for its ambulance.

Also in 1897 the sisters took bids for a new building. Architect J. J. Kane had also designed St. Ignatius Academy (1889) and St. Patrick’s Cathedral (1892) downtown.

This 1898 photo shows that the sisters had a handsome building of rusticated and cast stone with dormer windows, quoins, and cupolas. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

The building in 1955. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections.)

As these clips from 1907 and 1912 show, railroading continued to be a dangerous job, and injured workers continued to be treated at the infirmary that had been started for them in 1883.

In 1930 the infirmary was renamed “St. Joseph’s Hospital.” This photo by W. D. Smith shows the hospital in the 1930s. The hospital continued to replace and expand its buildings. For example, in 1957 seven floors were added to one addition.

st jo 1911 1952A Sanborn map shows the footprint of the hospital in 1911. A 1952 aerial photo shows that the older buildings (dark roofs) still stood.

By 1993 sixteen hundred people worked at St. Joseph’s. But in 1994 Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America bought the hospital and in 1995 closed it. In 1997 a California company bought St. Joseph’s to operate as an Alzheimer’s center but went bankrupt. Diversified Capital bought the hospital in 2005. In 2008 the Tarrant County hospital district bought the hospital from Diversified Capital. In 2013 the hospital district cleared the block where St. Joseph’s stood to make way for expansion of adjacent John Peter Smith Hospital.

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20 Responses to St. Joseph Hospital: Tycoons, Brakemen, and Sisters of Charity

  1. Don says:

    My late mother graduated from Poly High School in 1942 and immediately enrolled in St. Joseph’s Nursing School from which she proudly graduated as an RN. She met my father (a yankee from Illinois) who was a student at Texas Weslyan College (TWC) from which he graduated in 1949, when I was age 1. I was born in Harris Hospital.

    My mother and all her friends were Baptists but my father was Catholic (until he married mom) and growing up my mother and her friends spoke reverently and affectionately about their days as students at St. Joseph’s and about the nuns under whom they trained. In WW2 everybody smoked and my mother and one of her friends were furtively smoking behind the Oxygen tanks. Years later they were reflecting over their youthful student days and they laughed about how Sister So and so walked by while they were smoking and never knew how close she was to heaven! How irreverent, but how typical of young women defying authority by smoking. It seemed out of character actually, because my mother and all her friends spoke so reverently and lovingly of the “nuns” and seemed so straight laced.

    It was the first time in my life I ever could visualize my mother as a young girl. My mom and dad secretly got married while mom was still in training, in violation of the rules that young female students were supposed to be single. Well they thought they were being very clever, but shortly after they were married one of the nuns congratulated my mother on her marriage. Mother was quite chagrined and never could figure out how the nuns found out, but somehow they did. They seemed to take pleasure in finding out in spite of my mother thinking she and my dad were so clever. Funny how older people know so much, isn’t it?

    My mother loved her time at St. Josephs, loved the nuns and training there as a young woman and meeting my father were among the happiest memories of her life. My mother passed in 1971 and my father in 2005.

    I googled St. Joseph’s Hospital and to my dismay it was demolished in 2012. I feel as though a member of my own family died as that wonderful, historic building was leveled. I never understood the big deal about John F. Kennedy being Catholic in the election of 1960. I attended the 1st Baptist Church (another Ft. Worth landmark) and of course Ft. Worth was primarily Protestant, but I never heard of any animosity between the two faiths. It would never have occurred to me that there was any significant conflict. I remember growing up as a child in Ft. Worth and remember how different people loved each other and helped each other. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings to the sound of church bells ringing throughout the town. When they knocked down the old St. Joseph’s hospital, more than a building was destroyed. There was a goodness and a sense of unity among our people back then. I don’t remember people talking all the time about “diversity” and “tolerance.” They just behaved decently and helped each other without making a big deal about it. with it. Life wasn’t perfect then, but it sure seemed like it at the time, especially compared to the jungle this country has become.

    I’m glad I found this page and glad to have shared my memories of the past.

  2. Kendrid Spirit says:

    I’m trying to find the History of 2 tablets with the Hebrew Ten Commandments.I was told the person that got them (very large heavy granite tablets) had worked in the gift shop of the hospital. Do you recall these Tombstone looking tablets on the ground or building?

  3. Kelly Fanning says:

    Loved reading this and the comments, especially Janet Foster’s. I was born at St. Joseph’s in the summer of 1964 and now work at Mercy in OKC.

  4. Jerry Wright says:

    I worked at St. Joseph Hospital as a Psych Tech while I was attending TCU. I really enjoyed my days working with the staff.

  5. Janet Foster says:

    I worked at Saint Joseph’s Hospital as a temporary Registered Radiologic Technologist just in the radiology department in the early 1990’s Until it’s closing. I was contracted by a radiology service. I read about the historical beginnings of the hospital. I went to Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City for radiology training. It also was an old hospital and was later made a way for the new mercy which probably is now old in Oklahoma City. It is at least 50 years old. I was born in 1944. I knew of Saint Anthony’s hospital a few blocks away from old mercy hospital when I was a child in the 1950s. Then at age 21 in the x-ray school, I read about Saint Anthony’s hospital history. So this article was interesting to remind me of the past and insight me with the new information I had not remembered for 25 years approximately. It was a fun place to work as the previous person said. Everyone was so nice. It was a bright day in my life to work there! I am now 75 years old.

    I hope others that work there will remember incidences will come forward and tell her they’re short story and long stories there. Each year And this article made a difference for me reading about this grand old hospital, Saint Joseph hospital. My stories to my children and my resume is verified. People were real, and history did happened. I guess you could say,I was the second generation of 60 to 70 years to these histories of old buildings. X-rays were invented in1894 in Germany. The automatic film processor was developed in the 1960’s for use at Mercy Hospital by the time I went to school in 1965. X-rays were processed by hand tanks of chemicals for 7 minutes and washed for 20 minutes totaling twenty minutes. Add another 20 minutes for the films to dry in warm heaters then cut the sharp corners out of the film by which they were hung on hangers. It took seven minutes to develop films and 20 minutes to dry. Without computers the paperwork of pulling all the x-rays or making a new folder for the films to be read on a dictation-recorder. The typist would listen to the Dictaphone and type the reports out for the radiologist to sign them before other doctors got to see them. In1965, it took approximately 9 minutes to develop films automatically. In 2005, I retired, and the digital films were beginning to be used in the hospitals in Dallas and Fort Worth areas. Today digital is immediately ready for the radiologist to read the x-rays A few seconds after they are taken

    • Kendrid Spirit says:

      I’m trying to find the History of 2 tablets with the Hebrew Ten Commandments.I was told the person that got them (very large heavy granite tablets) had worked in the gift shop of the hospital. Do you recall these Tombstone looking tablets on the ground or building?

  6. Mary Warren Branum says:

    The best place I ever worked! Loved the sisters! It was like a death in the family when it was closed! I worked there 30 years.

    • Kendrid Spirit says:

      I’m trying to find the History of 2 tablets with the Hebrew Ten Commandments.I was told the person that got them (very large heavy granite tablets) had worked in the gift shop of the hospital. Do you recall these Tombstone looking tablets on the ground or building?

  7. John Lunt says:

    What a wonderful article….I will post it on the FB St. Joseph Hospital page for all to enjoy

  8. Hometown: Many thanks for your reply. I suspect the only records of this accident are the family records. My Cousin Don Mims and I visited the accident site and made aerial photos with a drone. We found 5 rusted out, 25-pound DuPont black powder kegs at the site. This section of the old KCM&O Railway is now the Texas & Oklahoma Railway. The 15-mile track between Sweetwater and Maryneal is used to carry cement from the Buzzi Unicem plant to Sweetwater.

  9. My great grandfather George Myer was taken to St. Joseph’s on May 3-4, 1906 after being seriously injured and blinded by a blast while working on the road bed for the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway 13.5 miles south of Sweetwater in Nolan County. He was at St. Joseph’s for 16 days. Is there any way to find his records? Thank you.

    • hometown says:

      Mr. Mims: I can’t offer any suggestions. The railroad and hospital no longer exist. The Star-Telegram has no stories for a George Myer by any spelling for 1906. Nothing in the Portal to Texas History or Library of Congress newspaper archives.

  10. Diana Bartlett says:

    Was wondering who was chief of surgery at Saint Joseph in 1968? If I’m not mistaken he was murdered but I don’t remember if they ever found out who did it. Wish I could remember his name, he did exploratory surgery on me when I was 18

  11. ramiro garza says:

    Hi Mike. Thanks for the memories. My first hospital visit with a broken arm in the late 50s. I can still see the cast being cut off. Actually my doctor had an office next door. I believe I still had that doctor in the early 70s after the army. Kidney stones. Great times, ha!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Ramiro. A broken arm in the mid-50s was my first or second broken bone. Don’t remember a trip to hospital or doctor. Do remember the cast. Itched. Was never in St. Joe that I recall. More of a Harris man myself. Born there. Both parents worked at All Saints.

  12. Veronica murphy says:

    I have been trying to locate my medical records when I was hospitalized at st, Joseph hospital. Any suggestions on where I can get my medical records.

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