Updated: Aug 6, 2021
Plans call for new JPS Health Network hospital facilities to be built on what is now a grassy field along South Main Street occupied only by a gravel walking path.
When construction is done, the land will be Fort Worth’s newest hospital building. But just because it is vacant now doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot of healthcare history on that plot. According to Tarrant County Historical Society documents, the field was once home to Fort Worth’s first hospital, which stood there for more than a century.
In the 1880s, Gould Railroad System offered to pay $75,000 to build a new hospital in Fort Worth if the community donated some land for it. Citizens raised $4,000 necessary to purchase the site in 1883. A two-story wood frame hospital stretching 300 feet long was opened to care for men injured in the dangerous work of operating steam trains. Called the Missouri Pacific Railway Hospital, nuns from the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word were brought in to take charge of nursing responsibilities.
A railroad line still runs immediately to the east of the site as a reminder of the property’s forgotten purpose.
That original hospital burned down in 1885, but was quickly replaced. Just four years later, the railroad moved its hospital operation down the line to Sedalia, Mo. Instead of closing the Fort Worth facilities, the railroad handed their operation over to the Sisters of Charity. They reopened it as St. Joseph’s Infirmary, which was dedicated May 12, 1889. In 1906, the hospital opened a school for nurses at the site which was renamed St. Joseph Hospital in 1930.
Linda Barrett, Manager of Geneology, Local History and Archivist at the Fort Worth Public Library said that first hospital in many ways made the city what it is today. She said if it wasn’t built in Fort Worth, the infirmary would have sprung up in another city instead, causing that site to become established as the hub of the railroad line.
“It would have completely changed the path we were on as a city,” Barrett said. “Without the railroad, the stockyards wouldn’t have been located here and Camp Bowie wouldn’t have come around the time of the First World War. That means the aircraft industry wouldn’t have developed here. It would have been a huge change in how events unfolded if that hospital wasn’t built on that piece of land in Fort Worth.”
Like JPS today, the nuns often provided care to people regardless of their ability to pay.
“What an ideal continuation to the broader story of healthcare delivery in Tarrant County - to maintain the legacy of providing care to anyone who requires it on the property designated for that mission back in 1893,” said Mark Hallman, Vice President and Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at JPS. “It’s exciting to have the community support, the historical legacy, and 21st century strategy aligning to bring forward state-of-the-art facilities to appropriately serve this community for another 128 years.”
According to a brochure St. Joseph put out on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the hospital was expanded upon many times throughout the years. In 1906, a second two-story building was added, increasing capacity to 100 patient rooms, three operating rooms, a laboratory, and one labor and delivery room.
In 1927, the face of St. Joseph changed with a five-story building added to its skyline. In 1949, another 100-room annex was added. With more growth in mind, a five-story building was constructed in 1959, designed to eventually be added upon with capacity to hold seven more stories built on top. The upward expansion of the structure was completed in 1965. In 1979, a $10-million expansion project included the construction of the Morphy Street parking garage with its attached helicopter pad.
With additions in buildings and personnel over the years, the medical center grew to eventually have 475 beds and 1,000 employees. Its tallest building towered 12 stories over the property.
St. Joseph closed in 1995, an Alzheimer’s care assisted living center opened there in 1996 but was shuttered in 2000. The campus was demolished in December 2012 and JPS leaders eventually purchased the site for future development. Currently, the only part of the St. Joseph complex left standing is the Morphy Street garage used by JPS team members. That structure is expected to be torn down as part of the expansion of the health network endorsed by Tarrant County voters in November 2018.
Over the years, JPS workers have found a few relics of the old campus including the ornate decorative piece pictured above. Angie Morgan, Executive Director of Design and Construction at JPS, said it would be neat if a few more like it turned up when ground is broken for construction.
“From my point of view, I doubt we will unearth anything as the demolition was pretty thorough,” Morgan said. “But you never know.”