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HISTORY: Remembering the hospital in Prairie City

Angel Carpenter

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on September 28, 2017 12:47PM

Last changed on September 28, 2017 1:05PM

Courtesy photo/DeWitt Museum This building, constructed in 1902, was a school in Prairie City and l

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Dr. Virgil Belknap practiced at the Grant County Hospital and Blue Mountain Hospital in Prairie City. Photo taken in 1920.

Courtesy photo/DeWitt Museum

Dr. Virgil Belknap practiced at the Grant County Hospital and Blue Mountain Hospital in Prairie City. Photo taken in 1920.

Dr. Thesbian practiced at the Grant County Hospital in Prairie City. Photo taken in 1850.

Courtesy photo/DeWitt Museum

Dr. Thesbian practiced at the Grant County Hospital in Prairie City. Photo taken in 1850.

This wheelchair, on display at the DeWitt Museum, was used at the first hospital in Prairie City in 1921.

The Eagle/Angel Carpenter

This wheelchair, on display at the DeWitt Museum, was used at the first hospital in Prairie City in 1921.

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An architect’s rendering of how the Blue Mountain General Hospital would appear when an addition was added. The brochure, published in 1947 or 1948, also warned of the dire need of the new addition to serve a growing number of patients.

Courtesy photo/Blue Mountain Hospital District

An architect’s rendering of how the Blue Mountain General Hospital would appear when an addition was added. The brochure, published in 1947 or 1948, also warned of the dire need of the new addition to serve a growing number of patients.

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An excerpt from a brochure, published in 1947 or 1948, describes the dire need for an addition to the Blue Mountain Memorial Hospital.

Courtesy photo/Blue Mountain Hospital District

An excerpt from a brochure, published in 1947 or 1948, describes the dire need for an addition to the Blue Mountain Memorial Hospital.

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A pamphlet describes admittance procedures at Blue Mountain General Hospital in Prairie City.

Courtesy photo/Blue Mountain Hospital District

A pamphlet describes admittance procedures at Blue Mountain General Hospital in Prairie City.

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When Wilma Boyer started working at the Blue Mountain Hospital in Prairie City in 1959, the facility had about 15 patient beds and a three-bed nursing home ward.

She worked as a nurse’s aide.

The doctors at the Prairie City hospital, at that time, were Dr. Ted Merrill and Dr. Howard Newton.

“Back then, things were different as far as the responsibilities,” Boyer said.

While there were employees to take care of laundry, it was the floor/nurse’s aides who would dust mop the rooms and hallways.

Among Boyer’s duties as a nurse’s aide were bringing patients their meals, and feeding and bathing them, if needed.

Boyer said it’s possible she’s now the only living person who worked at the hospital in Prairie City.

The hospital moved to a new home in John Day in December of 1960, and the Prairie City facility became a nursing home; today, it’s known as Blue Mountain Care Center, still located at 112 E. Fifth St.

She continued working at the facility when it became a nursing home, then transferred to the John Day hospital in 1962.

“You were taught by the nurses and nurse’s aides that were on duty, and the director of nursing would come around and see that you did what you were instructed,” she said. “If you were assigned to accompany the doctor, they would instruct you on how to take care of the patients.”

Boyer’s second daughter was born at the Prairie City hospital in 1952, and her son was born there in 1956.

When the hospital closed for a short time in 1957, Boyer’s youngest daughter was born at the office of Martha and Gerold “Jerry” van der Flugt in John Day.

“I always enjoyed working in Prairie City and John Day at the hospital and nursing home,” Boyer said. “I enjoyed the fact that I could help them and take care of them.”

In 1974, she became a certified surgery technologist.

She worked in that position until 1994, when she transferred to the purchasing department, retiring in 2003.

She still works at the hospital’s gift shop today.

“It’s kind of home,” she said.

Jessie Lewis of Canyon City recalls when her youngest daughter, Holly, was born June 27, 1960, at Blue Mountain Hospital in Prairie City.

“They took me in and started my labor, because Dr. Newton was getting ready to leave on vacation,” Lewis said.

She said she would have stayed several days at the hospital, but her aunt and uncle from Washington picked her up and brought her home.

Lewis waited until her husband, Gerald, returned home from logging before naming their third child, who was also their third girl.

“We looked at that beautiful baby,” Jessie said. “Her name was going to be Melody, and I said she doesn’t look like a Melody.”

Lewis’ friend Kathy Hammack, who was also a Canyon City resident back then, gave birth to a baby boy at the same hospital the day before Holly was born.

Jessie said she enjoyed the hospital in Prairie City.

“It was the neatest thing we had in our community,” she said, adding she was happy to see how the new hospital in John Day was organized as well.


Train signals for doctor


When Dr. Virgil Belknap practiced in Prairie City, about 1913 to 1921, it is said that if there was an injured logger, the whistle would sound using the doctor’s three-digit phone number as a signal as the train crested Dixie Summit. When that happened, the train would pick Belknap up and take him back to the site of the injured worker.


Records highlighting the Blue Mountain General Hospital (written in 1946)


• 1913: Dr. Virgil Belknap and Dr. J.H. Fell, his brother-in-law opened a hospital of five-bed capacity, serving general and surgical cases. A two-story farm building on the south side of the city known as the Bill Taylor home or Fisk Farm Home.

• 1916: Belknap and Fell continued their practice, moving equipment to the second floor west wing of the present Hotel Prairie, with eight beds and one surgical room. The move was directed by Miss Elizabeth Cummings, a graduate of Chicago Poly Clinic Hospital, who rented the space and operated it under her own management and as supervisor.

• 1918: With increasing demand for hotel space, the doctors moved the hospital across the street to the second floors of the Masonic building. Cummings continued operation and supervision of the hospital. The new location offered an increase from eight to 11 beds and required the additional services of one registered nurse and one helper to the staff.

• 1921: It was decided to have the city purchase, from the Board of Education, the abandoned school building. This was rented to Belknap and Fell for $50 a month and named Grant County Hospital. Cummings retired and left the city. Both doctors sold their interest to Dr. Lawson, who operated it for a few years and then sold his interest to Dr. Hugh Brown. Brown sold his interest to Dr. Hugh Fate.

• 1936: Cummings, now Mrs. Morrow, former superintendent and operator, returned and accepted superintendency of the hospital.

• June 1938: Dr. Fate sold his interest in the hospital to the city and went east to study.

• January 1940: The hospital, now with 13 beds, was leased by the city to Alex Repp, a male nurse, who operated it.

• March 1940: Hospital was closed for cleaning and repairs.

• March 19, 1940: Opened under management of the city and supervised by Elizabeth Morrow and assisted by Izeta Walker.

• May 1940: Building of the new hospital as it appears today (1946) was begun in the rear of the school home on present site.

• Sept. 14-15, 1940: New hospital opened with 17 beds and nine nurses with Drs. Gerold and Martha van der Vlugt.

• September 1945: Hospital taken over by Prairie City and put under supervision of Mrs. Viola King who was paid a salary by the city. She remained in charge until August 1946.

• September 1946: Mrs. Jones took over for one month until the arrival of Glenn Howell who was given complete administration of the institution.

Courtesy of Blue Mountain Hospital, John Day.









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