Morris Memorial Hospital treated 10,000 children


An old postcard shows the heliotherapy room at Morris Memorial.  It was though that
exposure to bright light would aid in the treatment of polio victims.


MILTON -- The former Morris Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children sits atop an elevated
 terrace on Morris Memorial Road, roughly a mile and a half from the Town of Milton.

Long abandoned and frequently vandalized, Morris Memorial now faces a bright future with the announcement
 by Milton businessman Jeff Hoops that he intends to transform the former hospital into a 100-room
 luxury hotel, with a conference center, medical clinic, rehabilitation center and
 sports facilities, including a nine-hole golf course.

Morris Memorial has a long and impressive history. From 1936 until 1960, it's said to have
 treated 10,000 young patients, the vast majority of them polio victims. Patients came
 not just from West Virginia but across the nation and even from Canada.

The hospital was first envisioned by Walter T. Morris, a local farmer who
witnessed his great-nephew, John Morris, suffer from osteomyelitis,
 an inflammation of the bone marrow.

Morris' nephew received successful treatment from Dr. Arthur Shade Jones, the founding director of the
Huntington Orthopedic Hospital. In gratitude, Morris deeded his farm to the Huntington Orthopedic
 Hospital in 1930, specifically for the care and treatment of crippled children. The Huntington
 Orthopedic Hospital formed a corporation and board of trustees under the name
Morris Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children in honor of Morris.

The hospital quickly outgrew Morris' house, which was originally used as the main hospital
 facility. Morris Memorial was deeded to the Town of Milton on Aug. 27, 1935, most
 likely in order to qualify for funding from the Depression-era
federal Works Progress Administration (WPA).

The WPA was one of the numerous programs developed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
 as part of his New Deal, a program designed to provide an economic boost for the
 country during the Great Depression. The WPA emphasized putting the nation's
unemployed back to work on projects for the public good.
 The WPA became the New Deal's largest agency.

Milton Mayor Albert Field applied for WPA assistance for several projects, including the
 construction of streets and alleys, the labor to construct a new city hall and for
construction of Morris Memorial. The hospital was the only Milton
 project funded. It was one of the largest
WPA projects in West Virginia.

Less than a year later, on July 5, 1936, Mayor Field helped lay the cornerstone for
 the new hospital building, a modified "U"-shaped structure of cut
 limestone, quarried on the hospital property.

The Huntington architectural firm of Frampton and Bowers designed the main building and a number of outbuildings.

Since water therapy was a recommended treatment for polio victims, the hospital maintained two large
 and one small salt water pools that were fed from a brine well on the property. The indoor pools
 were located in the one-story gable wing to the south of the east wing. Further, the hospital
included weight rooms, whirlpools, an X-ray department, a lab,
 a blood bank and then-modern operating rooms.

Eight iron lungs, including one infant-sized, were used for the children affected by polio.
 Iron lungs allowed the polio victims to breathe and were thus critical for their
 care. If the electric power went out, the facility had an on-site generator
 to take over. If needed, nurses hand-pumped the lungs
to maintain the respiration of the patients.

Morris Memorial also included an on-site school to continue the children's
education. School was held in the rear section of the building off the
 east wing. Classrooms were located in the upper story while
the lower story housed the garage as well as the
 maintenance and kitchen departments.

The school wing held two classrooms and two teachers: Mrs. Eloise Hash Pope taught grades 4-8;
 and Mrs. Emma Owens Harshbarger taught grades 1-3. The teachers were employed
and paid by the Cabell County Board of Education. High school courses started
at the hospital in 1950 with diplomas issued through Milton High School.

The hospital's young patients participated in a variety of other activities at the hospital as well.
 Art and craft activities included basket making, weaving, sewing, carving and woodworking.
Open swim provided fun and exercise. A concrete terrace surrounding the hospital
 provided a place for visiting with friends. Each room had doors opening out
onto the terrace. Children were permitted to participate in Boy and
 Girl Scout troop activities, as allowed by their limitations.

The hospital auditorium was used for plays, movies and church services,
 with local ministers taking turns in conducting the services, There
 were no seats in the auditoriumas patients in wheelchairs
brought their own seating with them.

Buses carried workers to and from the hospital and sometimes took
 patients to attend entertainment events in Huntington or Charleston.

A large working farm made Morris Memorial largely self-sufficient. The grounds included a
 large dairy barn built in the same style as the hospital's main building. It housed up to 30
 milk cows that produced milk, butter, cream, cheese and other dairy products
 for the patients and staff. The barn burned in the late 1960s.

Eighty-five acres of the farm were used for livestock pasture and for the production of hay
 and feed for the livestock, including chickens for meat and eggs. The remaining
 farmland was used for food production and included a 25-acre
orchard with apple, cherry and pear trees along
with strawberries and raspberries.

The large vegetable gardens included potatoes, onions, beans, peas, corn, cabbage, beets
and carrots along with other crops. The gardens provided the staff and patients
with food and the hospital with an income through sale of surplus.

Although the hospital's stated capacity was 125, in 1949 there were
176 admitted patients, almost all of them polio victims.

Though polio epidemics were reported in U.S. cities throughout the late 19th and early
20th centuries, the disease reached epidemic proportions in the mid-20th century,
 peaking in 1952 with nearly 60,000 reported cases nationwide.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jonas Salk was working on developing a polio vaccine.
After an extensive field trial, the vaccine was considered a success
 in 1955. Due to that success, Morris Memorial began to
treat fewer and fewer patients and finally closed as a
children's hospital in April 1960.

The facility remained closed until 1961 when the Town of Milton leased it to the
Morris Memorial Nursing Home, operated by John and Rose Greene.
The nursing home operated until 2009 when it closed
 and surrendered its lease back to Milton.

Morris Memorial Hospital was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.



Note:  This Article and picture appeared in the Herald-Dispatch Newspaper on Oct. 24, 2017.


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