Some Even Called It The Blackwell Hospital
I was born there as were many of you. As a child, I thought the old building as grand as any building could be, big trees and, although I’m not sure when the alligators left the grounds, I was always sure that they just might be behind the next beautiful old tree.
And then when I was six, I decided to jump out of a swing and over a fence, with the end result being that I cut off my ring finger. The most horrible scene I’ve ever made in public in my life was thrown in the operating room of that old hospital as someone tried to put a cloth over my nose to put me to sleep.
Today, I came across a photo that my grandfather must have saved for well over 60 years, and it reminded me that I needed to write about that beautiful old hospital, the building that (by the time I remembered it and tried to visit it as an adult) had long been gone, taking so much of so many of us with it.
It all began with two men, two brothers, George (1882-1955) and Edward Blackwell (1890-1956), who grew up in Eastland County, Texas and who at least in my mind were way ahead of their time for small town country doctors. Both were educated at the Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, and both returned to establish area practices, eventually both marrying Brogdon sisters, Frankie and Bessie.
And then something called WWI intervened, and the Blackwell brothers went off to serve in the Army Medical Corps. After the war, believe it or not, both decided to continue their medical studies, with George heading to New Orleans to specialize in what we would call ENT today and Edward in Baltimore learning as much as he could about care for expectant mothers and newborns. They both then returned to Gorman to begin the building of the facility that would make both them and it Texas icons.
The sanitarium was forced to open its doors sooner (I think late 1919) than the Blackwells had planned due to the outbreak of flu. Remember the flu of the late teens? Nothing was ready, but the Drs. Blackwell rounded up plenty of cots, and their wives became cooks as they all worked to take care of flu victims.
By 1920, the Blackwell Hospital, as my grandfather would always call it, was born; however, it did not bear much resemblance to the building of my memory. When it opened, the building that was located on West Roberts Street in Gorman, Texas held two stories and (I think) 3 rooms for patients with a kitchen and one indoor bathroom. What really set the Blackwell facility apart from all other country hospitals was its x-ray room and its operating room. Both were unheard of in that part of the state, according to Granddad, who enjoyed visiting with the brothers.
The entry porch that I remember thinking so lovely was not a part of the original building. It was added some years later along with a lobby that doubled as a waiting room and a few more patient rooms. And this was the way the hospital grew, with a few rooms or a wing at a time.
Sometime in the late 1930s, the son-in-law of Dr. George Blackwell, Dr. David Rodgers, joined the Blackwells as a doctor at the hospital and by the time that I can remember, he was the senior doctor on staff. Right there in Gorman, it is said that Dr. Rodgers delivered almost 9,000 babies during his tenure at the hospital. His name is still the one that comes to mind for so many when the subject of Gorman and the great old hospital come up in conversation.
It was in 1947 that the four story hospital that I remember came into being. It was a facility of over 50 beds, the largest in Central Texas, and it was known for the kind care it gave to both patients and their families, always providing a cot for those who came to stay with their loved ones. My own family was the recipient of this kind care, care that they never forgot, when my great-grandfather, William Isaac Davis, was taken there to die in 1940.
It was in the late 1980s that the grand old structure was razed, leaving nothing but a historical marker to indicate the once glory days of a little country town and its hospital that grew to be one of the best in the state of Texas.
“Site of Blackwell Hospital. Much of Eastland County’s medical history can be traced to the work of two brothers, George and Edward Blackwell. George (1882-1955) attended Baylor Medical College and Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, where Edward (1890-1956) also attended. Both men returned to Eastland County after receiving their degrees. In 1907, George wed Frankie Brogdon, and in 1913, Edward wed her sister, Bessie. The two young physicians served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War I. Following the war, the brothers opened the Blackwell Clinic in downtown Gorman. They soon realized the need for patient care facilities, and in 1919 they built Blackwell Sanitarium, later known as Blackwell Hospital, at this site. Frankie and Bessie prepared meals at the new facility, which utilized its own livestock as a source of meat, eggs, milk and butter. Nurses performed medical service, as well as housekeeping tasks, and the brothers treated patients at both the clinic and the hospital. Contemporary to the hospital’s opening, two large oilfields began drawing scores of new residents to the area, and the hospital continued to grow to meet demand. The brothers, who eventually moved their clinic to the hospital facilities, began to specialize and add new physicians to the staff. These included Dr. David V. Rodgers (1910-1971), George Blackwell’s son-in-law who joined the staff in 1938 and assumed hospital leadership in the late 1950s. In 1971, hospital administrators completed a larger building elsewhere. Having grown to become a four-story brick edifice, with doctor and dental offices, clinic and laboratory, the old Blackwell Hospital building remained vacant until its demolition in 1989.”