By the beginning of the 20th century, the first hospitals opened in Pacific County, putting our isolated, rural area right in line with most of the rest of the country. In addition, several of those institutions were nurses’ training hospitals, an innovative practice in patient care that would change the delivery of medical services to the general public forevermore.
Though hospitals in one form or another had been a part of the Western world since the early years of Christianity, until the beginning of the 20th century it was only the poor who typically received institutional medical care in the United States. When middle- or upper-class persons fell ill, their families nursed them at home. Even surgery was routinely performed in the patient’s place of residence. But as medical practices grew in their sophistication and complexity, the notion that responsible families should, or even could, take care of their own began to lose favor.
Gradually there was a shift toward the recognition that more specialized health care practices were needed. The requirement for trained nurses became abundantly clear, especially in cases of severe illness. Home remedies, no matter how lovingly applied, just could not keep pace with the modern techniques. When it came to shifting the care of patients from homes to hospitals, it was the growing cadre of professional nurses who made the difference.
It is estimated that by 1900, 400 to 800 schools of nursing were operating in the United States. Typically, schools were either affiliated with or owned by a hospital that provided the students with the clinical experience considered necessary for the education of a nurse. Students received two to three years of training. Student nurses carried out the majority of patient care activities in the hospital, received a modicum of classroom instruction — usually lectures on patient care and related subjects. At the end of the educational program, students received their diplomas and were eligible to seek work as trained nurses.
By 1910, there were 4,400 hospitals in the United States and several of them were right here in Pacific County! Even before the first decade of the twentieth century had closed, four hospitals had been established in “north county,” not far from the banks of the Willapa River — two of them in South Bend and two in the Raymond area. Fittingly, perhaps, the first was located in South Bend, the new county seat.
Information about those hospitals is spotty at best and often has more to do with the founding doctors or the difficulties the fledgling institutions encountered along the way. Too, the names of the hospitals are confusing — South Bend General, the New South Bend General, the Raymond General, the Riverview, the New Riverview, the Willapa Harbor Hospital and School for Nurses, the Willapa Harbor Hospital. Seven names, many of them similar, were used to refer to four main hospitals in the Raymond/South Bend area. Sometimes different names were used for the same hospital; sometimes the same name was used for different hospitals.
South Bend General Hospital: 1903
The South Bend General Hospital at First and Jefferson Streets (now the location of the South Bend High School Gym) was established by Dr. George Overmeyer who had recently moved his medical practice from Grays Harbor. The new hospital’s dedication ceremony took place on Dec. 18, 1903, and shortly thereafter, Dr. George Tripp from Minnesota joined Dr. Overmeyer as his partner.
The physicians were eager to establish South Bend General Hospital as a leading force both in matters of medical equipment and of personnel. On May 26, 1905, the Willapa Harbor Pilot reported that Dr. Overmeyer and Dr. Tripp invited prominent citizens to South Bend General Hospital “to witness a demonstration of the wonderful powers of the x-ray as illustrated by the new and powerful machine recently installed in the hospital.”
A year and a half later, on Nov. 10, 1906, according to Articles of Incorporation, the South Bend hospital became the Willapa Harbor Hospital and School for Nurses, with Drs. Overmeyer and Tripp listed as the board of trustees. Whether or not South Bend General was ever called “Willapa Harbor Hospital” is unclear. Less clear, still, is whether the Willapa Harbor Hospital and School for Nurses is considered the forerunner of the current Willapa Harbor Hospital established in 1953.
The nursing program at South Bend General followed procedures similar to those beginning to be offered by hospitals throughout the United States at that time. Nurses-in-training carried out the majority of patient care within the hospital setting. Their responsibilities included bathing and feeding patients, administering medications, and dressing wounds.
Private duty nurses employed by a patient or the patient’s family provided care twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Gradually, educational and career opportunities increased for those interested in nursing, though men would not begin to enter the profession in significant numbers until the mid-twentieth century.
By 1916, Dr. Overmeyer had sold his half-interest in South Bend General Hospital to Dr. F.W. Anderson. Overmeyer’s original partner, Dr. Tripp, had died in 1938 and his interest was sold to Dr. Keith Cameron. These two doctors, Anderson and Cameron, continued as partners in running the hospital until it closed in 1943 after 40 years of continuous operation. The new Willapa Harbor Hospital facility on the hillside behind the county courthouse in South Bend had made the old hospital obsolete.
Raymond General Hospital: 1907
In May 1907, with their South Bend General Hospital (aka Willapa Harbor Hospital) doing well, Drs. Overmeyer and Tripp opened a second facility — the Raymond General Hospital on the corner of First and Ellis Streets not far from the Raymond waterfront. This hospital, too, included a nurses’ training school. With Dr. Overmeyer now residing in Raymond, Dr. Tripp took over as resident physician at their South Bend facility, and the two doctors continued to assist each other in surgery, nurses’ training, and other aspects of their practice.
Depending upon how hospitals count their provenance, Raymond General may have had the greatest longevity of the early north county hospitals, though certainly not continuously in the same location nor known always by the same name. Its first location was near the city’s waterfront sawmills which, in those days, were a never-ending source of accident victims. As Dr. John Campiche of Long Beach would say a half-century later, “In those days, on-the-job accidents were frequent… and without any regulation to prevent injury in these dangerous occupations… Pacific County was like a war zone…”
Raymond General was three stories high, had 50 rooms and three convalescent porches. The top floor was rented to bachelors working in the Raymond sawmills and was not used by the hospital. Overmeyer, and sometimes Dr. Tripp, a group of student nurses, a housekeeper and a janitor made up the staff, some of whom may have lived on the second floor. (The Overmeyer home, also at this address, may have been in the hospital building as well, but its exact location is uncertain). The hospital occupied the building’s first floor. All local physicians had hospital privileges, and trained nurses were available to private homes upon application.
Hospital operating expenses were partially covered by the sale of yearly “Hospital Tickets.” They were sold to anyone who could afford to buy them and were the only medical insurance that most sawmill employees could afford, although paying such an amount in full was not always possible. For that reason, mill operators often arranged to take $1 a month (or $10 a year if paid in advance) out of the employees’ paychecks.
Unfortunately, the location of the hospital proved to be its undoing. By 1912, the intersection at First and Ellis had become one of the busiest commercial corners in the town. Nearby sawmills, rooming houses and retail stores combined to create such an incessant day and night hubbub that patients at Raymond General complained of getting very little rest.
Noise was only one of several irritations the staff and patients at the hospital endured. When heavy traffic rolled by the building (which was on pilings and landfill) it trembled and rocked as if it was about to topple. The wooden structure was also a fire hazard. Although it was three floors high, it had no fire escape. Everyone agreed that Dr. Overmeyer was an outstanding physician but his facility was in the wrong location.
The citizens of Raymond were determined to remedy the situation, and in 1911-12 Raymond city fathers approached Dr. Overmeyer about selling his hospital or building a new one on a site away from landfill and fire hazards. Dr. Overmeyer refused to sell or move.
In August 1912, those same city fathers spoke with two young South Bend physicians, Drs. Mathieu and MacLennon, about building a new hospital in Raymond. After careful consideration, the doctors joined forces and moved their office to the newly built Stratton Building on Second and Duryea in Raymond. After many negotiations and with the support of the town, Mathieu and MacLennon bought lots from A. C. Little in the Riverview section of Raymond.
Riverview Hospital: 1913
The site the doctors chose was near the base of St. Paul Hill overlooking Raymond’s sawmill waterfront and the Willapa River. Although it was not an ideal location, it was an improvement over the busier downtown site of Raymond General. To meet fire safety concerns, plans called for a 30-room concrete structure and, although the doctors apparently agreed to those specifications, when all was said and done, only the foundation was concrete. They called their new enterprise “Riverview” after the neighborhood in which it was located.
When Drs. MacLennon and Mathieu opened the doors on Feb. 1, 1913, they had one patient and a staff of graduate nurses who were overseen by Miss Wightman, sister of the local Baptist minister. The Feb. 7, 1913, issue of the Raymond Herald announced in bold headline that the hospital “Location and Arrangement Planned to Make Illness a Pleasure.” By the end of 1913, the list of overnight patients had grown considerably and the hospital was considered a success.
Ironically, in 1915, Dr. Overmeyer announced that he was closing the Raymond General Hospital and selling the business to Drs. Mathieu and MacLennon. The building, itself, was sold to Mr. and Mrs. George Dickinson who renovated it and opened a rooming house called the Lincoln Hotel. It was eventually demolished in the late 1960s.
Meanwhile, the Riverview Hospital thrived and remained a Raymond institution for 60 years. Sadly, however, progress eventually caught up with the old hospital. On Jan. 31, 1961 the State Health Department informed R.A. Bussabarger, who had owned the “New” Riverview Hospital since 1945, that his hospital would not be granted a new license.
Their decision was based on the Riverview’s failure to provide a satisfactory plan for meeting state modernization requirements. Accordingly, Dr. Bussabarger closed the hospital but continued to operate a clinic in the building until December 1973 when the State Highway Department disclosed plans for the expansion of Highway 101 to four lanes. Undaunted, Dr. Bussabarger moved his clinic to a building on Second Street.
Among all of the head nurses who worked at Riverview Hospital throughout the course of its 60-year history, Doris Tyndell probably held the job the longest. She moved to Raymond in 1945 with her husband and went to work for Dr. Bussabarger as an RN in 1946. From 1950 until the hospital closed eleven years later, she served as head nurse, Mrs. Tyndell continued working at Dr. Bussabarger’s clinic until her retirement from nursing in February 1980. Prior to her retirement the city of Raymond awarded her their Citizen of the Year and Decade award.
Willapa Harbor Hospital: 1953
Not long before the Riverview Hospital’s closure in1961, the Willapa Harbor Hospital in South Bend had also been notified that their continued operation was threatened. According to the Pacific County Hospital Commissioners, the eight-year-old facility would be forced to cease operations if greater use was not made of their “more modern” county facility. Understandably, there were mixed feelings regarding the success of the newer hospital seemingly coming at the expense of the old Raymond facility.
The record is somewhat unclear as to the history of the Willapa Harbor Hospital that most of us know today. That it has been on the hill behind the Pacific County Courthouse since it was built in 1953 is clear enough. And, certainly, with 68 years already successfully accomplished in that location, it holds the record for the longest running hospital in north Pacific County.
If, in fact, the South Bend General Hospital (aka Willapa Harbor Hospital and School for Nurses) is actually its forerunner, that would account for an astounding 100-plus years as a South Bend, Pacific County institution — whether or not you subtract the ten years between the closing of the “old” and the opening of the “new” Willapa Harbor Hospital! A proud history, indeed!
Perhaps someone with a very long memory or better information sources will eventually come forward to clarify whether Willapa Harbor Hospital began in 1906 but continued to be known as South Bend General and, if so, it was merely on hiatus for ten years from 1943 to 1953 until the “new” Willapa Harbor Hospital opened. Or… what’s in a name, anyway?
Meanwhile, in south county…
While hospitals and professional training facilities for nurses had been flourishing in north Pacific County, such was not the case on the Peninsula or in Naselle. Without an adequate road system throughout the county, traveling from one area to another was still a difficult proposition. In some situations, the little narrow-gauge train on the Peninsula could be utilized by patients headed to Ilwaco to see Dr. Lee Paul, but schedules were slow at best and unreliable at worst. For the most part, patients, as well as doctors and midwives relied on boat, horseback, or “shank’s mare” to get from place to place. For the seriously ill or injured, home care was usually the best option.
In 1918 and 1919 when the virus (erroneously called “the Spanish flu”) raged throughout Pacific County as it did throughout the entire world, even being near a hospital was not a guarantee of admission and certainly not of a “cure” for the deadly disease. In story after story, the courage and dedication of nurses was written about. According to the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing website: “Whether it was in the home or in the hospital, nurses made their rounds to as many patients as they could, saving those when possible. Nurses put themselves on the line knowing they themselves could contract the same illness. The nurses remained professionals.
The most accessible hospital to the south county area was across the Columbia River in Astoria, but only if there was plenty of time to get there. The first scheduled auto-ferry between Astoria and Megler began operating during the summer of 1921. Prior to that, passengers crossed the Columbia River by launch or, perhaps, took their chances with a fisherman friend who could get them across in a timely manner.
As Shirley Rowlands Wright (1925-2019) pointed out in her book about growing up on the Peninsula, though her mother had planned to go across the river for the birth of Shirley and her twin sister, Dr. Paul thought their kitchen table in Seaview was a better option. Many expectant mothers chose to stay with friends or relatives who lived near a hospital or doctor’s surgery — sometimes leaving home as many as six weeks ahead of the projected “due date” and often as far from home as Portland or Seattle, if that’s where their stay could be arranged.
It wouldn’t be until well into the Great Depression that the Peninsula’s first hospital opened. As in Raymond and South Bend, it came about through the perseverance of a doctor with the added determination and financial assistance of a nurse! The little six-bed hospital, located in Seaview, was the first incarnation of the Ocean Beach Hospital, the subject of the final article in this series.