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A tour of the new Sherman Hospital - in 1895
By Jerry Turnquist | Daily Herald Columnist

Sherman Hospital officials boasted that their new building was a totally 'modern' facility when it opened on Elgin's northeast side in 1895. Rapid growth would soon see various additions that would overshadow the original building.


Courtesy Elgin Area Historical Society

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Published: 12/7/2009 12:18 AM

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Just over a century ago, Sherman Hospital did what it will do again in a week - move into a new building. It is a move heralded as a major advancement for the community.

But, what was viewed as a state-of-the-art hospital a century ago is far different from today.

Here's a look at the opening of the new Sherman Hospital in 1895 - a building touted as a totally "modern" structure - that makes you realize how far we've come in just over a century.

Before its move to a new facility on Elgin's northeast side, Sherman Hospital was located in a small home on North Channing Street on Elgin's near east side. Donated in 1888 by Elgin philanthropist Henry Sherman and operated by the Elgin Woman's Club, the upstart institution cared for 36 patients the first year and 45 patients the second year.

It was soon clear that larger and more modern accommodations were needed. That need took a giant step toward becoming a reality when another Elgin philanthropist, George Lord donated $5000 toward the cost of a new building.

Following a search of various available sites, four lots were purchased at Center and Cooper streets on the far northeast side. Noted Elgin architect Gilbert Turnbull was selected as the architect and plans were drawn for a 60 by 48 foot facility.

Constructed with the help of numerous donations from individuals and community organizations - some as small as 30 cents - the new hospital carried a final price tag of $27, 000. The structure took just over two years to complete.

Hundreds came to the grand opening in November 1895 - an event that included a tour of the building. Tour-goers entering the building first came upon a reception room that included a leather couch along with two paintings, all donated by local citizens. Nearby was the matron's room.

Seventeen of the hospital's rooms carried plaques recognizing names of the various groups that had paid to furnish them. These include churches, clubs and fraternal organizations. Another room which included three beds was outfitted with money from Kane County. The top floor boasted an observatory which gave a panoramic view of the city.

Each floor also was equipped with a dispensary, or pharmaceutical supply area, and bathtub situated near the center of the room to allow staff to assist patients. The dining room was located directly above the kitchen which was situated in the basement and serviced by dumbwaiters. Also located in the basement were a furnace room, laundry room, and a morgue.

The emergency room was on the ground floor on the north end of the building. It included an "upholstered cart" which could be used to take patients by elevator to the upper operating room.

There was a smaller operating room on the first floor that officials said had a cement floor with a drain in the center of the floor that could easily be cleaned with water and an antiseptic. Fifteen electric lights were used for illumination.

The upper operating room came equipped with a glass operating table paid for by funds from local baseball games. There were also "immersion" bowls, brass sanitizer, a glass cabinet to store sterilized bandages, an irrigating apparatus, and disinfecting traps.

Gas and electricity were both used in the rooms, though not all had yet been equipped with chandeliers. The facility could house 18 patients at one time but up to 40 could be accommodated if needed. The old building on Channing Street was still being used for housing nurses. Plans also called for patients with contagious diseases to remain at the old site away from the others.

"The building is modern in all its appointments and a model of its kind," one newspaper reported.

"It would not seem that anything had been left undone to make the new Sherman Hospital all that could be desired," added another.

But, the growing community coupled with advances in medicine would change all that. In the years ahead, the hospital would quickly see numerous additions that would soon overshadow any evidence of the once proud structure showcased during the grand opening of 1895.