Pennsylvania Hospital

Philadelphia City, Philadelphia County, PA

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Pennsylvania Hospital (8th and Spruce Sts.) was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original National Register of Historic Places nomination document. Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS PA-1123], 1974, Jack Boucher, photographer.

The original building of the Pennsylvania Hospital was designed in 1751, by Samuel Rhoads, a well-to-do builder, and a Manager of the hospital. His plan called for a central building flanked by east and west wings. In the same year the Managers sought to persuade the proprietors of Pennsylvania to donate a site. Failing in this attempt, in 1754 they purchased a plot of land on Eighth Street, between Spruce and Pine. Due to a lack of funds and space, it was decided to construct only the East or, as it came to be known, "terminal" wing, facing onto Eighth Street. The cornerstone was laid in 1755, and the patients installed in 1756. This wing is composed of a central square, three stories tall, flat-roofed with a cupola, flanked on the north and south by two-and-a half story wings with hip roofs and dormers. Extending west from the central block some 125 feet is a two-and-a half story wing constructed along the same lines as the north and south flanks. The eastern facade of the East wing is approximately 130 feet. In the basement were the lunatic cells, on the first floor the men's ward, on the second floor the women's ward, and in the attic were the isolation cases.

In 1767, the proprietors awarded the hospital the rest of the ground bounded by Spruce, Eighth, Pine and Ninth Streets, and in 1793, the construction of the Central and West wings was commenced. Completed in 1802, and 1796 respectively, these wings ran west from the East wing to Ninth Street, facing Pine Street. The West wing duplicated the East Wing, while the Central wing presented a handsome southern facade. The Central wing is three-and-a half stories tall, with marble facing from the ground to the first story. Six pilasters reaching two full stories support a brick pediment with fanlight at the third-and-a half story. There is a hip roof with a central dome, the roof of the first operating amphitheater in the country. All the wings are built of brick, and have raised basements. The southern facade of the hospital has been altered only by the addition of porticoed extensions of about 25 feet on the East and West wings. The interior however has generally been remodeled. The fine double staircase in the central hall is still intact though, as is the library on the second floor of the Central wing. The amphitheater on the top floor of the Central wing is presently being restored. The gardens which once supplied the hospital with much of its food have been covered by later additions. Similarly, the Central wing has, on its northern face been connected to a later structure, by a one story passageway.

Conceived by Dr. Thomas Bond, an eminent Philadelphia physician of the 18th century, and authorized by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1751, the Pennsylvania Hospital entered its present housing at Eighth and Spruce Streets in 1756, and is today the earliest established public hospital in the United States. Although Philadelphia General Hospital (1732) and Bellevue Hospital in New York (1736) are older, the Philadelphia General was founded as an almshouse, and Bellevue as a workhouse. The exteriors of the three original buildings of the 18th century have been little changed since their construction. The interiors however have been largely adapted to contemporary needs. Nevertheless, Ward One in the East Wing (the first building) has always been a ward, and retains some of its original flavor. In the central building, the oldest operating amphitheater in the country is being restored.

Dr. Thomas Bond, an eminent Philadelphia physician of the 18th century, conceived of the idea to found a hospital to tender to the wants of Philadelphia's sick, injured, and insane. He attempted to raise a subscription for the establishment of such an institution, but after failing, turned to Benjamin Franklin for aid. Franklin, convinced of the value of supporting publicly beneficial ideas, consented to promote the hospital. His efforts to do so proved successful; and our knowledge of the struggle to found the hospital is enhanced by a document Franklin published in 1754 to spur the project, Some Account of the Pennsylvania Hospital.

Following the collaboration of Bond and Franklin, a number of Philadelphia's leading citizens met in the waning days of 1750 and discussed the need for a hospital. Prominent in their thinking, evidently, was concern about how some insane persons wandered about the streets, endangering both them- selves and other individuals. Furthermore a fear of the spread of contagious sicknesses also apparently motivated some at the meeting to support Bond's idea. A petition resulted from the meeting, and it was presented to the colony's legislature on January 23, 1750-51. The petition sought help for the erection of "a small Provincial Hospital," but some of the economy-minded legislators opposed the plan because of the expenses involved, especially fearing the costs that would arise from paying doctors who would work at the hospital. The generosity of three physicians who offered to serve at the hospital for three years without pay, apparently helped to lessen opposition, for the legislature had approved an act concerning the hospital by spring, 1751. The governor signed it in May 1751. According to the law, Pennsylvania would grant £2,000 towards the hospital's construction after the petitioners had raised £2,000. Once the legislature had acted, the backers of the hospital lost no time in founding the Pennsylvania Hospital and placing it on a firm footing. They quickly raised £2,750 by a subscription. In July 1751, the contributors met at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) and elected 12 managers and a treasurer. The managers, one of whom was Franklin, then visited several possible sites for the hospital, deciding on one that belonged to the proprietors of the colony, and on July 6 sent a petition to Thomas and Richard Penn, requesting the chosen site. The Penns rejected the honor of being the donors of the land for the hospital, but the managers attempted for some time to induce the Penns to give the site concerned. While the managers and the Perms jousted over the site, Franklin and his colleagues rented a house as a temporary hospital early in February 1752. Even before opening it, the managers had adopted 15 rules concerning the new institution on January 23, 1752. These regulations provided for the administration of the hospital, rules 13 and 14, for example, prohibiting patients from cursing, swearing, drinking and playing games. A little over a year later, in April 1753, the managers adopted a seal for the institution, which bore as a Device, the good Samaritan taking the sick Man, and delivering him to the Innkeeper, with these Words, underneath, Take Care of him, and I will repay thee.

Almost six years after the presentation of the petition in January 1751, patients moved into the first of the buildings specifically constructed for the Pennsylvania Hospital. Unable to persuade the Penns to give the site first desired, the managers had purchased a plot of ground between Spruce and Pine Streets, facing on Eighth Street, on September 11, 1754. Many years later, the proprietors, in 1767, donated the rest of the land in that block, thus giving the hospital the entire block between the proceeding streets and Ninth Street. Subsequent to the purchase of the site, the managers approved of a plan for the hospital which proposed a center building flanked by two wings, but in accepting the design the managers decided to construct only the East Wing at first. The cornerstone for the East Wing was laid on May 28, 1755, with appropriate ceremonies. It bore an inscription by Franklin. The roof had been raised by October 27, 1755, but not until December 17, 1756, were the patients in the temporary hospital transferred to the East Wing. The new building had cost £2,927:4:3/4.

Overcrowding, although certainly a problem, at least spurred the subsequent expansion of the hospital. In 1793, the Commonwealth granted $26,666.67 to complete the west wing and the center building. The former was finished in November 1796, and the latter in 1802. Apropos the center building, the original scheme had proposed a dome over the center, but difficulties prevented its erection. Thus, a sky-light occupied the dome's place. An amphitheater was below the skylight, and operations were performed in it until 1863. After the construction of the center building, the original plan of the Pennsylvania Hospital had been completed. Since that time, however, the hospital has continued to grow, and a number of later 19th century and 20th century buildings also comprise the physical plant of the Pennsylvania Hospital today.

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