A legacy: Milford Memorial Hospital celebrated in newest museum exhibit

MILFORD — As Bayhealth continues to celebrate its expansion into Sussex county with the construction of the new health campus, Milford residents and visitors can take a peek at past transitions from inside the Milford Museum.

The new exhibit, “A Legacy of Caring — The History of Milford Memorial Hospital,” officially opens during Downtown Milford, Inc.’s Third Thursday event July 19 from 5–8 p.m.

Featuring medical innovations and professionals from what began as just a few rooms to care for the sick in the Masonic Temple at 12 N.W. Front St., the exhibit takes the visitor through several transitions of what is now known as Bayhealth’s Milford Memorial Hospital at 21 West Clarke Ave.

“The idea for a hospital to care for the sick in Milford and the surrounding community was conceived in 1905 while Mrs. Mary Louise Donnell Marshall (wife of Dr. George W. Marshall) was visiting her son, William, an intern at the Delaware Hospital in Wilmington,” one placard reads in the display. “She knew that many patients died because there was no local hospital for treatment of serious medical cases.”

Prior to the birth of the then-Marshall Hospital, patients were sent to Wilmington “by cot in the train’s baggage car,” it reads.

This just would not suffice in Ms. Marshall’s mind. She and some of her friends created a local red cross chapter within two years. Together, they raised money to purchase emergency room equipment for three rooms in the Masonic Temple. They could treat up to four patients at a time.

It wasn’t long before the Masons found other uses for the rooms and the operation was forced to close. After storing the equipment in Marshall’s Pharmacy, a new hospital is said to have received its first patient April 12, 1909 — due to either “an exploding dynamite cap” or a foot in need of amputation.

In 1910 when the hospital reopened atop Windsor Hotel, then Central Hotel, services were just $1 per day. Even so, the hospital closed in 1912, citing financial problems. Soon after, Delaware legislators established the Emergency Hospital of Milford. The Marshall’s came together to offer another solution: rent-free use of their building at 110 N.W. Front St.

“The hospital was administered by father and son team Drs. “Wid” and Sam and was open to all doctors and their patients with no restriction on color or creed,” a placard states in the museum.

Medical care in Milford continued to change, though, as the pair were called to military service during World War I in 1918. The hospital closed again.

A hospital wouldn’t reopen in Milford until 1921 when the Board of Trustees of the Emergency Hospital was able to open the Milford Emergency Hospital where Berry Funeral Home currently stands on N.W. Front Street.

Called to continue serving the community, the Drs. Marshall opened their own hospital, the Marshall Hospital. Two hospitals operated in Milford from 1921 until 1934, according to the museum exhibit.

Growth was inevitable for Milford. By 1938, thanks to a property donation by former Board of Trustees President Dr. G. Layton Grier and his family, a new hospital was built to accommodate 100 beds and thus, treat more patients closer to their homes. That building still stands, although additions have been built over the years.

The new hospital, also, meant new experiences and possibilities, like the in-house training of nurses. The history of capping ceremonies of new nurses trained at Milford Memorial Hospital’s School of Nursing is highlighted in the exhibit along with a student’s nursing cape worn by 1941 graduate Esther Bullock Saulsbury.

According to Bayhealth, the first male nurse graduated from the school in 1965.

Four years later in 1969, Oveta Whaley Gray became the first African American nurse to attend and graduate from the Milford Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. She was also one of the “Milford Seven,” the first seven African American students who graduated from Milford High School. Prior to Ms. Gray’s attendance at the school, it is believed that African American nurses had to travel to Pennsylvania or other out of area nursing schools to obtain education in their field.

New transitions

Milford Memorial Hospital continues to grow along with local communities and announced a merger with Kent General Hospital in 1997 causing the two entities to become Bayhealth Medical Center as it is known today.

Almost 20 years later, Bayhealth made another announcement: Milford Memorial Hospital will close its doors in 2019 just over 80 years after it opened. Bayhealth plans on completing construction to its new hospital and 169-acre health campus, Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus in early 2019.

Plans are underway to sell the current Milford Memorial Hospital to Nationwide Healthcare Services, LLC. which will provide a myriad of services at the new Nationwide Milford Wellness Village, including primary care, chronic disease management, training, social services opportunities and labs among other options. They, also, hope to provide a restaurant or café, an adult day care, childcare services and a skilled nursing home.

To learn more about the history behind Milford Memorial Hospital, visit the Milford Museum during the exhibit opening event Thursday, June 19 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The museum is also open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Visit the museum online at www.milforddemuseum.org/.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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