Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The House That Became A Hospital

The fallibility of documents is our theme once again this fine spring day. When one spends days and days just taking materials in, sorting them, housing them, lovingly tucking them into their designated niches, one tends to forget that they're really just little heartbreakers. Each and everyone of them. Bound to lure some researcher into learning just a little bit more, never all, probably not enough, about any given detail from the hoary past. Maybe, if they're really tricksy, they'll even lie.

Yes, I said it: lie. I was led astray by one Courtney M. Smith, one of the many students organized by Olof Larsell into the Medical History Club of the University of Oregon Medical School. I could perhaps be forgiven, since Larsell himself was taken in, quoting Smith verbatim in the section of The Doctor in Oregon which treats of the history of the Multnomah County Hospital.

What great misperception was perpetrated in Smith's paper, "The History of the origin and growth of the Multnomah County Hospital, Portland, Oregon" (1933)? On page 7, Smith writes:
“…in March 1909 an announcement was made that the County through its Commissioners had purchased property on Second Street between Hooker and Hood Avenues for the establishment of Multnomah’s first real hospital. This property had been owned by the former Oregon capitalist, Mr. Sim Reed, whose wife later endowed Reed College, and consisted of about one square block of land on which stood an elaborate old mansion.”
There the inaccuracy lay in wait for me, hapless researcher, looking to write up a piece on the history of the hospital. Happily, sharp-eyed reader Ann Kracke, volunteer at the Oregon Historical Society, caught my error when reading The Scribe.

Ann had been working on the OHS file for one Charles E. Smith (no relation to Courtney, I would assume, since that would make the error particularly unforgivable) and had remembered that his home had been given to the county for use as a hospital. The building is so distinctive that Ann was able to tell from the image that the original MCH site at Second and Hooker was the Smith home. On her next visit to OHS, she made some copies of news clippings and old photos for us to show the true owner of the home that became the hospital.

So, that begs the question: how did Courtney get it wrong? Only twelve years after the county hospital moved up to its new digs on Marquam Hill, the young historian must have been misled by one of the references he consulted. The aged memory of a senior physician? Perhaps. One piece of evidence that hints at a possible source of confusion: the Simeon Reed home (which was also quite lovely, as a matter of fact) was at one time the site of the Woman's Hospital and Sanitarium--according to an undated piece from the OHS file on Reed. Miss A.M. Burnham was superintendent.

Our thanks to Ann Kracke for setting us straight. We will, of course, put this packet into our file on MCH, to spare the heartbreak of the next unsuspecting researcher....

1 comment:

bettyb said...

I thought you would be interested in a new website we have just launched: www.historyofhomes.net

While just in its infancy, the goal is to invite members to record the history of homes that are special to them, ultimately creating a concise history of houses around the world.

I invite you to add your historic homes. Membership is free!