Historic Structures Report
Part II — Historical Data Section
NPS Logo

Chapter 3

The Master Plan calls for the restoration of the outward appearance of this once-handsome structure and for the remodeling of its interior to provide modern facilities as an interpretive center.

Swords' plans called for a frame, weather-boarded hospital. Here too he considered the ground floor to be the basement and the upper story to be the main floor. The lower ceiling was nine feet in height, while the main floor had a 13-foot ceiling. The dimensions of the building were about 32 by 48 feet. [1] A 10-foot wide porch ran completely around the main floor of the building. Like the barracks, the basement had six rooms, while the main floor was divided into two wards, separated by a hall and a stairway. [2]

The hospital got early attention from its builders and, by October 1843, Swords was able to report that it was almost ready for occupation but, as usual, lacking flooring. [3] When Croghan gave it a thorough inspection in the summer of 1844, he was well pleased with the structure: "Proper attention is paid to the sick, and every ward room and office are in the neatest possible order. The building is well arranged, and when the floor of the gallery . . . is laid, the convalescent patient will have a delightful place for exercise." He added, "there is no want of either medical stores or medicines." [4]

The permanent flooring was laid before 1848, for in that year the quartermaster noted that all that remained to be done for the structure was the completion of the balustrades and the finishing of two small sets of out-buildings behind the hospital.

When the Army sold the post buildings in 1855, the budding town of Fort Scott purchased the hospital. Even before the deal was completed, the structure was used for public purposes in March that year when it served as a poll for the election of members to the Territorial Council and House of Representatives. [5] In these early town years it also served as a meeting hall for itinerant preachers and Methodist circuit riders. [6]

Other uses were more private in character. According to Goodlander, J. S. Simms temporarily established his law office in the former doctor's office and indulged in his habit of sleeping during the day on a shelf in a large closet attached to the room. Upstairs, local thespians rehearsed Othello in one of the former wards but, in the end, failed to produce the play. [7] An aftermath of the 1858 crises in the slavery struggle was the creation of Fort Scott's first militia in January 1859. This boisterous group of amateur soldiers also used a former ward as a guardhouse, "where those who were not on guard duty would keep up a pretty lively time all night." [8]

Early in the Civil War, the Army rented the structure and again used it as a hospital. Eventually, the medical facilities expanded into a general hospital, and the Army rented other nearby buildings to increase the number of beds. This wartime activity caused a setback in local education, for during the year or two preceding the war, the hospital had become Fort Scott's only public school. [9]

Soon after the war, the hospital reverted to its use as a school. In 1870, the local editor in an unsigned series of articles on education described the structure in considerable detail. This editor was most likely Eugene Ware, Fort Scott's most famous literary light. Because these articles give the most detailed descriptions of any post-military account, they are quoted from at length:

The primary schools are scattered . . . but those of higher grade (four in number) are together, in what is known as the "Plaza Building." This building is the old government hospital. It is grand, gloomy and peculiar; it is grandly peculiar and peculiarly gloomy.

Scraping our feet upon an old piece of wagon tire which had been generously donated by an adjacent blacksmith . . . we entered. On our right was the Secondary School, which we made the object of our visit.

This school room is 20 x 30 feet, floor area. It has twenty-two desks capable of accommodating forty-four scholars, but is obliged to accommodate an average attendance of fifty-five. . . . The ceiling is very low, the room is damp and poorly lighted. The ground on the front side of the building drains toward the building, and in wet weather there is nothing that could prevent the floor from being damp.

The building is surrounded by a double tier of porches, which while they are a benefit to the second floor, are a disadvantage to the lower story. These porches would be an advantage to the lower story if the story was four feet higher in the ceiling and the floor was raised above the ground on a basement . . . it has only four windows when it should have eight of the same size.

The inside of the room . . . desolate in the extreme. Two old fire places, now bricked up, stand out prominently, while the old patches of broken off plaster, whitewashed over, give the room a quiet, shady, subdued heartbroken demeanor—a sort of an old government hospital appearance . . . .

The second article in the series continues:

On the lower floor . . . is the Secondary School, taught by Miss Emma Schofield. This school room has the same damp location, low, dingy ceiling and gloomy appearance that the room of Miss Will has [above]. . . . these two rooms constitute the lower floor of the Plaza Public School. Miss Schofield's room is poorly lighted and poorly furnished. The walls have a time-worn appearance, and the porch on the east side is used as a sort of stable.

The stable in the west porch was cleared out and whitewashed, and made into a school room for the superintendent of the school.

Miss Schofield's room is about 20 x 30. It has 26 desks. . . .

The editor recounted his visit to the upstairs rooms in his third article. There was little of descriptive value in this account. It is of interest to note that the high school was on this floor and was located in the northwest side. Even as he wrote, the town was rapidly finishing the construction of a new school building. [10]

When the white students moved to their new school, Negro children moved into the hospital building and for a number of years the structure continued to serve in this capacity. [11] Around 1900, Mrs. Terry converted the structure into a "bus barn." Today only the heavy timber frame, a few laths, and the stairwell remain of the building. It is now used as a storehouse for a nearby furniture store.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 30-Nov-2009