When the Allentown Hospital first opened its doors in 1899, Allentown was a small city with about 35,000 people living within its borders. It was a thriving and growing industrial area with 491 mechanical and manufacturing industries, capitalized at $11,996,971 and producing products valued at nearly 17 million dollars. The average yearly income of these industries was $845 for salaried employees and $360 for those employed at daily or hourly wages. The Mayor's salary was $1,019.44 per year and the Chief of Police received $917.50. The Police Department consisted of ten patrolmen and the semi-paid Fire Department consisted of eight volunteer companies with thirty-seven alarm boxes located throughout the city. There were twenty-four physicians and eighteen dentists listed in the City Directory. The city had four major hotels, many small taverns, sixteen livery stables, and four breweries. The trolley line extended to Seventeenth Street and there were still four stage coach lines carrying mail and passengers to rural areas of the county.
The establishment of the hospital in Allentown is a story in itself. In 1892, two councilmen, Winslow Wood and M.J. Lennon, asked the Mayor to call a public meeting to discuss the building of a hospital. Mayor Samuel D. Lehr acted as chairman and proposed the establishment of a hospital. The meeting was attended by several area physicians, merchants, educators and clergyman. Among those who spoke were Dr. H.H. Herbst, Dr. E.G. Martin, Dr. P.L. Reichard, Dr. H.K. Hartzell, Dr. W.P. Kistler, E.S. Shimer, James F. Gallaher and Reverend A.R. Horne. All were in agreement that a hospital was needed. On December 27, 1892 the group took steps to incorporate and obtain a hospital charter, naming it The Allentown Hospital.
In January of 1893 a Board of Directors was named consisting of ten men and five women. They included: Mayor Lehr, Joseph E. Downing, James K. Mosser, William H. Yeager, William Douglass, H.W. Allison, James Bowen, Henry Leh, W.R. Lawfer, Robert E. Wright, Mrs. Louis Soleliac, Mrs. Edward B. Young, Mrs. Samuel A. Butz, Mrs. Harry C. Trexler, and Mrs. S.B. Anewalt. A building committee and a rules committee were established, along with the establishment of a fund created by The Allentown Morning Call to collect donations to purchase the land and build the hospital.
Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of the group was not strong and the hospital project lay idle for several years. If not for David Miller, publisher of The Allentown Morning Call who established the hospital fund and kept publicizing the project in the paper, it might never have succeeded. But in 1895, the project was again revived at a public meeting and the newspaper turned over $1,900.00 that it had collected through its efforts toward the building fund. This time the idea of a new hospital took hold, and contributions from the Master Plumbers of Allentown and H.B. Yingling Brick Company were offered. Contributions from private citizens poured in. A formal organization was established in November of 1895 and membership was opened to anyone who contributed ten dollars at one time and five dollars annually during each succeeding year.
In December 1895, a Board of Trustees was elected from the membership of contributors. The board members included the following men for three year terms: Dr. W.H. Hartzell, John E. Lentz, the Reverends George W. Richards, John B. Maus and J.A. Singmaster. Members elected for two year terms included: Dr. Orlando Fegley, James F. Gallagher, Colonel Harry C. Trexler, H.S. Shimer and Mayor H.W. Allison. Those who would serve one year terms included: Judge Edward Harvey, the Reverend J.A. Repass, Henry Leh, John A. Gossler and James F. Hunsicker.
By February of 1896, the Board was organized, the hospital chartered, and an active Ladies Auxiliary was founded. Next on the agenda was to find a suitable piece of land on which to build. Many sites were considered and all thoroughly investigated by the building committee. At the time, a very valuable piece of property was available -- the Solomon Griesemer tract at the corner of Seventeenth and Chew Streets. Unfortunately, the land was put up for sale with the stipulation it not be used to build a hospital. So, acting as individuals, Colonel Trexler, Henry Leh, Frank M. Trexler, J.H. Pascoe and Dr. C. S. Martin purchased the property and in March of 1897, transferred the deed to the Hospital Association. The land was purchased for $5,297.51 and was paid for by the Ladies Auxiliary.
By January 1898, architects were invited to submit drawings. Four sets of drawings were studied by the Board, and the "English Colonial" style by Seymour Davis of Philadelphia was accepted. The plans called for a two and one-half story building sixty by eighty feet, and two wings each fifty-seven and one-half feet by one hundred and ninety-five feet, to be built at a cost of $30,000. Seisholtzville granite and buff brick with King of Prussia marble trim were the principle building materials. Only $11,000 had been raised, so a finance committee was appointed to raise the additional funds needed. Finally, in May of 1898, authorization to begin construction was granted.
During the next several months as construction progressed, all committees involved were busy with raising funds, and choosing beds, pillows and furnishings. The important work of choosing a competent clinical and non-clinical staff began. James Heckman was appointed as janitor at a salary of $1.25 per day; and Annie B. Gibson was appointed head nurse for $30.00 per month. The official undertaker was Victor Wonderly, and Clara Fretz was hired as the cook at $2.50 per week. The medical staff was not appointed until ten days before the official opening of the hospital. Dr. Orlando Fegley was appointed the first Surgeon-In-Chief, but he was never able to fulfill his duties because of illness. Dr. Charles D. Schaeffer actually served as first Surgeon-in-Chief, a position he held until his death 23 years later.
After completing one year of service, the trustees already realized the hospital would have to expand. A committee was formed consisting of: Judge Harvey, Dr. C.D. Schaeffer and Treasurer E.H. Reninger to study the idea of erecting the first of two wings proposed in the initial design. Funding was gratefully accepted from James K. Mosser, a trustee, who pledged to finance the entire cost. After studying proposals, construction began at a cost of $39,773 and was completed in June, 1902.
This new construction added an additional forty-five beds and provided rooms for the student nurses that entered the School of Nursing that had opened in November of 1899.
During the first ten years, 7,929 patients were cared for at the Hospital. Upon reaching a peak of 102 patients per day, the trustees again began discussing the need for another expansion. Urgently needed were a delivery room and a nursery since sixty-seven babies had already been born at the hospital. The hospital was also in need of a larger and better equipped area for children. The trustees worked to acquire the appropriate funding and, in 1910, after receiving $70,000 in donations, construction began.
A three-story building was completed in the spring of 1912 which cost $114, 371. This new building added seventy-five beds to the already one hundred existing beds in the central building and west wing. The fourth floor of the building was completed in 1927.
In 1914, the hospital averaged over 2,000 patients per year at a cost of four dollars a day for a private room; two dollars a day for semi-private room; and one dollar a day for a ward bed. There was an average of 120 patients per day and the length of stay was twenty-two days.
During the first twenty-five years of operation, three major expansions were completed; the Edward Harvey Memorial Nurses' Home (Allentown Hospital School of Nursing) was built in 1914 with a bequest from Judge Harvey's will. In 1918, an isolation unit was developed at the southwest corner and the construction of an x-ray and laboratory building that connected to the central unit was completed in 1921. A dispensary was not established until 1918. It would treat 3,853 patients from 1918-1920.
In 1917, U.S. War Department took over the Allentown fair grounds. At Camp Crane, training was provided for the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps which served in World War I.
At this time, even though the hospital was now caring for 157 patients per day, the hospital provided hospitalization and rented its isolation ward and its basement reserve ward to the government at a rate of $150 per month. This arrangement continued from November 1917 to August 1918, when the hospital took care of the Army's men on a per diem rate. Camp surgeons and physicians attended to their own men in the hospital.
During this time, the influenza epidemic was raging through the community. Seven hundred patients were hospitalized. One hundred would eventually die from the disease.
In 1916, a proposal for an ambulance and a garage to keep it in was presented at a board meeting. Before the night was over, $1,050 had been raised and within three days an additional $3,495 in donations was received.
It wasn't until 1924 that the hospital established its "open staff" policy. Until this time, the patients admitted to the hospital were the responsibility of the house staff. Charts and tests results were available for private physicians' use, but the ultimate responsibility of the patient was the Physician and Surgeon-in-Chief and his associates. Private physicians could now admit and care for their own patients.
During the first quarter-century of its existence, the hospital admitted 41,949 patients; gave 872,719 days of care; spent about half-million dollars to build and develop its services; and fulfilled the hopes and dreams of the founders and the Allentown community, a job truly well done.