The McKendree Miner's Hospital: McKendree, WV
In the early days of the railroad, coal mining, and timber industries, thousands of men poured into West Virginia seeking jobs. The Italians, Irish, African Americans and others who filled these jobs were subjected to hard physical labor, and dangerous working conditions. Work related injuries and even death were hazards of the job. Injuries occurred almost daily. Medical care and services were sparse or unavailable in most railroad towns and coal camps. Injured workers had to depend on home remedies. Some injuries led to disabilities, resulting in the worker losing his job and his family being evicted from their company-owned house.
In 1899, the State of West Virginia provided and improved medical care for both the working man and the general public. The State Legislature passed an act establishing three “miner’s” hospitals within the state. Originally called Miner’s Hospitals One, Two, and Three, they eventually took the name of the town where they were located. Miner’s Hospital # 1 was built in the Town of Welch in the southern coal fields. Hospital # 2 was constructed in the heart of the New River Coal Field. It became known as the McKendree Miner’s Hospital. Hospital # 3 served the northern coal fields and was located in Fairmont, WV.
The McKendree Miner’s Hospital opened in 1901. It was built on land donated by New River coal operator Colonel Joseph Beury. The hospital provided free medical treatment for coal miners and railroad workers. All other patients were charged $1.59 a day for medical treatment. A whites-only nurse training program was established in 1901 to provide better qualified nursing staff at the hospitals.
Seemingly isolated deep in the New River Gorge, the hospital was actually very accessible to people living throughout the region. The hospital was linked to each town and community by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and its branch lines. The railroad was the “ambulance” service for workers and their families. A former nurse trainee, Thelma Louise Cashion, reflects back on her time working at the hospital…
“The hospital was almost always full of patients. Patients were divided into different wards. There were large white and black male wards and smaller white and black female wards. There were integrated private rooms available for the women and their babies who were delivered there. Most of the patients by far were men with very serious and traumatic injuries including cuts and crushed limbs requiring amputations and burns. In 1933, the hospital was inundated with patients during a typhoid fever epidemic.”
McKendree Hospital closed as a medical facility in the 1940s due to its remote location and the closure of mines within the gorge. However, it continued to operate as a segregated nursing home for elderly black men and women. A decade later, the doors closed for good. The other two “miners” hospitals remained opened until the mid-1980s.
Over the years, the McKendree Hospital was slowly demolished, its bricks and building materials removed for reuse. Today, the only access to the hospital site is along a very rugged and little-maintained gravel road and hike through the forest. Like most of the coal towns of the once booming New River coal fields, the McKendree Hospital has been reclaimed by nature.
Last updated: March 21, 2017