4.14.2008,3:00 PM
Fort Richardson: The hospital
Part Three: The Post Hospital

“…your chances of surviving on the frontier were better going on an Indian campaign than having to go into the hospital.” [1]

I love old Texas architecture. An integral feature of both old southwest and northeast homes is covered porches. Because I’m an outdoors person, I cherish extended living spaces of homes into the outdoors. Decks, porches, expansive windows….any way to extend the view and presence of the outside into the inside and vice versa. The design of the building that served as the hospital was a perfect example. The porch was magnificent and the windows tall and spacious.


Much of the building was restored to the original state. All of the outside walls still stood. The sandstone blocks that form the 18-inch outer walls were harvested from nearby quarries and chipped or sawed by hand. Looking closely at the blocks, saw and tooth marks can be seen in all the buildings made of these blocks.

Before the recent restoration hardly any of the wooden floors and roof remained. All the interior walls were also stone blocks because they are load bearing. They were plastered on the inside, and some of the original plaster remains today. Photos from that period and later show the evolution of the building as it went from decay to restoration and back again to decay.

In a photo from 1940 the porch is absent; it completely rotted and was not rebuilt until the 1960’s. Also, the balcony was not a part of the original building. After that also rotted away, it was not replaced; the intent was to restore the building to its original design.

The main portion of the building consisted of the dispensary, the post surgeon’s office and dining room. A kitchen and surgery were attached to the back of the main building. Because the homes I’ve lived in for nearly fifteen years were heated with wood stoves (and cooking, too), I was intrigued by the woodstoves in the building. The one in kitchen got my attention; I have never seen one with several tiers like this.


The upstairs was used as a morgue (or Death Room) until a separate building was built behind the hospital. I wonder how disconcerting it was for bedridden patients in the North ward to see the morgue outside their window. After the morgue was built the upstairs served as a storage area.


Supplies, including medical, were received only twice a year. The north and south wings of the building were the patient wards with a capacity of 24 beds total. I was told the story of when the hospital was finished, beds and mattresses were ordered from the federal government. Because it took many months for anything to arrive at the fringes of the frontier, the head of the hospital was frustrated when only beds arrived but no mattresses. Sending a letter back to Washington requesting mattresses to equip the beds, the reply was to ship the beds back to their origin and an order for completed beds and mattresses would be relayed again. Myself having worked for the Federal government for several years, the ‘red tape’ and incompetence is far reaching back into our history.


Hardly anything in the hospital building is original. All the furnishings were obtained by the historical society or donated. Everything is, however, representative of that era (many items are from that era, just not original to the fort). The only original items are personal belongings –rifle, sword, etc- of a lieutenant that served at the fort and donated to the historical society to be displayed.

An amusing story related to me is of a man that built his house as an exact replica of the hospital building at the request of his wife. What anyone would want with a 3,400 square foot house that resembled a fort hospital, I can’t fathom. But his wife wanted it and he obeyed.

The South ward contains displays, including a model built of the original fort and all the buildings. Now, I was told that some of those buildings in the model were never there, or vice versa, according to his research. They were added and placed based on the assumption that “all forts had the same buildings, the same layout, the same sizes”. Considering the wide variety of terrain, environment and sources of building materials I can’t imagine that all the forts were the same. To add evidence, I found stone blocks mostly emerged in the ground near the hospital that clearly implied the foundation of a rectangular building. No such building was in the model.

I was titillated at the juxtaposition of, well, toilets. The building contains two modern restrooms: tiled floors and walls, flush toilets and sinks with running water. On the other side of the wall of the woman's room is what served as the 'toilets way back when'. Anyone with a sense of imagination knows the shapes of those ovals.

After leaving the hospital, I crossed the parade grounds over to the barracks.

To be continued……..

[1] "Interpretive Guide for Fort Richardson State Park and Historic Site"


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posted by Macrobe
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