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From the Archives: The Evolution of Vicksburg’s City Hospital



In January of 1832 the “corporation of Vicksburg” appointed members to a board of health who “procured a comfortable and convenient house to be used as a hospital’ to take care of those afflicted with smallpox. Presumably, a building was secured and used as a hospital because, on February 1, 1846, it was reported that the city hospital burned. The fire started in the kitchen and consumed the entire building. Two people, an “Indian squaw and a black girl” lost their lives in the fire despite heroic attempts to save them. On February 5, 1846, the city’s representative to the state legislature, Dr. Emanuel, asked that body to appropriate $5,000 to rebuild the city hospital. He argued that “hitherto it (the hospital) has been sustained by the city of Vicksburg alone, and has been provided with all the comforts necessary for the inmates and daily attended by two skillful physicians. The recent destruction by fire of this useful building is a sad calamity to those who need the benefits of it because the city in not in a pecuniary condition to justify us in erecting a building large enough to shelter those who are worn down by disease and have not where to lay their head.” By a slim margin, the money was appropriated.

For months the city debated whether to build a building or to buy a building already constructed. In July, the Hospital Committee recommended the Reading property as a favorable location. The Reading house had been constructed by Abraham Beech Reading on Jackson Road in about 1836. The two-story mansion, pictured below in a drawing from 1850, was available because its owner had suffered financial problems and had not paid the taxes for many years on this and other properties and the house was sold for taxes in 1841. A. B. Reading owned a number of businesses including a steam foundry, gin stand and a turning factory. From 1840 to 1842 these businesses were sold for debts and taxes. The city bought the Reading house in 1847 for $1,200 and it became the city hospital, later called Kuhn Hospital.

Vicksburg's City Hospital Evolution
The Reading house had been constructed by Abraham Beech Reading on Jackson Road in about 1836. It would later be known as Kuhn Hospital. – Courtesy of Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.

The hospital was operated with fees levied on billiard parlors and taverns and patients were accepted from anywhere, they did not have to be Vicksburg citizens. Other expenses were defrayed when, in 1848, the city council adopted a resolution requiring that “all patients in the City Hospital, when considered by the hospital physicians sufficiently well to perform daily labor, shall be required to work in the hospital garden or grounds as long as they remain inmates of the same.” During the Civil War, the hospital was used to treat soldiers. An article in the Vicksburg Herald reported that “the building itself is admirably adapted for the use to which it is applied, and was the City Hospital in the days before war desolated the land. It is an ark of refuge to the sick and wounded soldiers, and many a gallant hero whose wounds have been healed under the skillful and careful treatment pursued in this institution.” In addition to medical needs, the building also provided recreational opportunities with a “fine ten-pin alley and billiard room.”

On August 15, 1865, the city council voted to authorize the mayor to “apply to General H. W. Slocum, for the city hospital for the use of the city.” On September 7, 1865 “a communication was received from the officers in charge of the City Hospital notifying the city, that the Hospital would be turned over to the city very soon.” By October 31, 1865, the Vicksburg Herald reported that the city hospital had been returned to city control and that “this useful city institution is now in successful operation, and ready for the accommodation of those needy sufferers who are entitled to the care and attention of the city.” It further stated that “the enlightened and liberal spirit displayed by our “city fathers,” in promptly putting this important city institution ‘in running order,’ will go far toward establishing their popularity. Mr. Vauderberg, the Superintendent, is an efficient and faithful officer, and his wife contributes in no small degree to the comfort of the unfortunate sufferers, who are compelled to seek the advantages of the hospital.”

An article in the Vicksburg Daily Times on November 26, 1869, stated that the reporter had “taken a look over our city hospital.” The Times reported that they were “greatly pleased at the complete neatness, order, and cleanliness of everything” and that General E. Swift, the medical director, and Dr. A Yeomans, the attending physician, were to be commended. While the article did not mention a pest house in connection with the hospital, an article in the Times in September 1870 mentioned that the pest house had burned and that Stanton and McKenna were on the city’s docket to be paid for building a new one at a cost of $1,250.

In 1871, after the city petitioned the state legislature, the City Hospital became the State Hospital on March 14, 1871, by an act of the legislature, with an appropriation of $25,000 made for its support for the first year. Dr. John R. Hicks was named the physician in charge and once again the Times paid a visit to the hospital. The article stated that “the building proper, which is a massive brick edifice, three stories high, is well ventilated and the different wards kept in a manner so scrupulously neat and clean that upon entering the main hall all idea of a hospital immediately vanishes.” Records reveal that in the first nine months of its operation as a state hospital, 1,723 patients were treated out of which 1,474 were discharged as cured. As a result of the large patient numbers, in February 1872 Dr. Hicks requested an additional appropriation from the legislature in order to meet a deficit of $5,000 in the third quarter. Instead of an increase in funds, the legislature, which was cutting funds state-wide, reduced the appropriation, only to approve an additional appropriation in April 1872 of $8000. A year later, Dr. Hicks sent a letter to Vicksburg Mayor Benjamin Lee stating that “I am directed by the passage of an act approved March 12th, 1873, to inform you that the State Hospital here has been discontinued and that the State will no longer adhere to a contract entered into by and between the City of Vicksburg and the State of Mississippi.” The city then advertised for proposals from licensed physicians to “carry on the hospital.” Dr. Hicks was selected and placed an advertisement in the Vicksburg Herald that read “Having leased the Vicksburg City Hospital, I am now prepared to accommodate such patients as are entitled to treatment in said Hospital. Have also several pleasant and well-furnished rooms for the use of such persons as may wish to receive board and treatment as private patients at a moderate expense.”

Vicksburg's City Hospital Evolution
The drawing is from the 1871 Bird’s Eye View Map of the City of Vicksburg showing the City Hospital. – Courtesy of Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.

In November of that year, the hospital was one of the places visited by the grand jury. They reported that “with an average attendance of about fifty patients, the labors are arduous, but always kindly and faithfully performed. In connection with, but away from the main building, Dr. Hicks has fitted up a pest house with thirty beds for smallpox cases.”

By 1875, the hospital had become too costly for the city and for Dr. Hicks, under his current contract. In July, he requested to be released from “further charge of the City Hospital.” The mayor and alderman voted to order the hospital “to be closed and the sick to be disposed of in the most expeditious manner.” They then advertised “City Hospital for rent” in the Vicksburg Herald. Dr. Hicks offered, and it was approved, to pay $45 per month and to treat patients at 65 cents per day per person. In 1877, Dr. D. W. Booth was awarded the lease for 27 1/2 cents per day per person.

In January 1878, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to “take care of the pauper patients in the Hill City Infirmary.” City officials reported that from October 26, 1865 to January 1, 1878, 9,957 people had been treated at the City Hospital, 7,370 were non-residents of Vicksburg, but the city paid for them at about $3000 annually. The bill did not pass. Shortly after this, the Sisters of Mercy were placed in charge of the hospital.

In December 1883, the mayor and alderman sent a proposition to the governor stating that Vicksburg wished to “devote to the State of Mississippi, the buildings and ground now owned and used by the city, and known as those City Hospital and ground,” to be used to establish a general state hospital. Governor Lowry sent a message to the legislature that he supported this proposal. The bill passed the house and had the support of newspaper editors across the state who published editorials in favor but was defeated in the Senate. Instead, the legislature appropriated $7,500 for two years, but the funds came with state oversight in the form of a state hospital board with five trustees. The state continue to appropriate funds for the operations of the hospital and added to its appropriation in 1900 when the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) requested $2,000 to help pay for an annex to the hospital. Seeing a need to provide care for aging Confederate veterans, the UDC had spent a year raising funds to build the Confederate Veteran’s Annex next to the City Hospital.

The cornerstone for the annex was laid on September 19, 1900. The building was designed by Vicksburg architect William Stanton and was built by Curphey and Mundy. The two-story building was opened on January 19, 1901, and, according to the Vicksburg Herald, had a “home-like and most inviting look” with a screen door on the front and a home-like hallway that was spacious, plastered and trimmed with polished pine woodwork.” There was a library and sitting room with a fireplace and all of the rooms were furnished either by the UDC or by families of veterans. The state continued to support the annex until February 20, 1918, when the legislature approved money for the charity hospital in Vicksburg (City Hospital) but voted to abolish the Confederate Veteran’s Annex and move its five patients to the old soldier’s home, Beauvoir. Regardless, the ladies of the UDC continued to raise money to support the annex until September 27, 1918, when a fire destroyed it. Because of its proximity to the hospital, the five residents of the annex, the matron, and her assistant were saved from the burning building. They were also able to save the piano, some tables and chairs. The cornerstone was later found which contained information about the building of the annex and of the Civil War.

In May 1908, the University of Mississippi took control of the Mississippi State Charity Hospital. Almost a year later in March 1909, the board of trustees of the hospital advertised for bids to construct an addition to the hospital that would allow the Medical Branch of the university to be housed there. Chancellor Kincannon stated that up to 100 medical students would begin their studies in Oxford for the first two years and then would spend their last two years in Vicksburg. The plans for the new building were drawn by Vicksburg architect William Stanton and R. B. Howard was awarded the bid for construction on April 6, 1909, for $9,540. On September 30, the building opened with thirty students in attendance. The three-story brick building contained a state-of-the-art operating room and labs on the first floor, housing for nurses and/or patients on the second floor, and a lecture hall and amphitheater on the third floor. The amphitheater was built on the “semi-circle plan” and could accommodate 100 students. Also on the third floor were rooms for patients who were “being prepared for the operating table.”

Unfortunately, the school would only graduate one class from this new facility. In the winter of 1910, the chancellor requested funds to pay the staff and to buy new equipment, but he was told that nothing in his budget could be used for the Vicksburg branch. During the same legislative session, lawmakers appropriated funds to build a charity hospital in Jackson and they wanted the school’s medical branch to be in this building. On July 19, 1910, the mayor and aldermen received a letter that the “trustees of the state educational institutions decided to discontinue support for the medical branch of the state university in Vicksburg.” The hospital continued its operations with some state funding and at least had a new building in which to operate and house more patients. The rivalry continued between the two charity hospitals. On November 8, 1912, the Vicksburg Evening Post reported that the “Jackson institution takes only selective cases” while in the Vicksburg hospital “every patient who applies is treated.” The paper reported that the Jackson hospital had treated 134 patients in October 1912, while the Vicksburg hospital had treated 304. A month later, on December 5, an article in the Post stated that “the local hospital has enough money in sight to continue the operation of the hospital. This is a remarkable contrast with the management of the Jackson state hospital. The Jackson hospital is about to close down for the want of some funds for maintenance, though both institutions got equal appropriations from the last legislature, this, too, in face of the fact that about double the number of patients are being treated at the Vicksburg hospital.”

Vicksburg's City Hospital Evolution
Color postcard depicting the 1909 addition. – Courtesy of Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.

The next big addition to the hospital came in 1954 when a former citizen of Vicksburg, Lee Kuhn, died in New York and bequeathed his estate of $400,000 to the Vicksburg Charity Hospital. In his will, Kuhn directed that a 7-person committee composed of three Jews, two Catholics, and two Protestants be formed to decide the best way to disburse the money. The committee decided that a new building would be the best use of the donation. Lee was one of Alexander and Caroline Kuhn’s five children. They had left Germany for Vicksburg shortly after the Civil War and had opened a dry goods business on Washington Street. After the death of their father, two of the sons move to New York where they entered the investment banking business. Lee stayed in Vicksburg and cared for his mother until her death and then joined his brothers. He lived in the Waldorf Astoria for 25 years until his death, returning to Vicksburg only to bury his two brothers. While is it not known for sure why Kuhn left his fortune to the hospital, it is known that his father was the chairman of the hospital committee in 1871 and from Lee’s will is the following sentiment describing Vicksburg and its people “of whom I have the fondest memories and deep affection.”

On April 14, 1959, the new Kuhn Memorial Hospital, built behind the old Reading house, was dedicated. The program for the event stated that “the new 100-bed wing of Kuhn Memorial Hospital is slated for pioneer work which might someday have an influence on hospital treatment methods all over the world. Dedicated to the idea of helping the patient to help himself as a means of overcoming chronic illnesses and their devastating effect on human morale, this work may point the way toward new treatment techniques for other types of cases as well.” In addition to the normal facilities found in a hospital such as offices, laboratories, x-ray, and operating rooms, more modern features such as “special occupational, physio, and hydra-therapy departments for handicrafts, massage and baths” were constructed, as was a special domestic type kitchen used to train patients to get around at home in spite of handicaps.” The new building cost just over $1,000,000 with one-third provided by the Kuhn estate and two-thirds by the federal government. The need was so great for hospital rooms that a week later, the state building commission allotted $100,000 for the construction of a new half-million dollar wing to be built on land occupied by the old hospital building. It would provide beds for about seventy general acute patients.

The Reading house and the 1909 addition were demolished and a new building was dedicated on December 4, 1962. Kuhn Memorial was closed in 1989 by the state because of budget constraints. It was vacant for almost thirty years and was demolished in 2021 by the City of Vicksburg.


-Nancy Bell, Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.

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