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Vicksburg History

From the archives: The U.S. Marine Hospital



The U. S. Marine Hospital
The U. S. Marine Hospital
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The U. S. Marine Hospital at Vicksburg was located at 500 Speed Street from 1856 to 1895.

In 1836, Congress passed a bill authorizing the purchase of sites for the erection of marine hospitals to include three on the Mississippi River, two on the Ohio River, and one on Lake Erie.  The hospitals were intended “for the use and benefit of sick seamen, boatmen, and other navigators on the western rivers and lakes.”In 1842, the mayor and aldermen of Vicksburg tried to convince Congress that Vicksburg was a good choice, but it took another nine years for the city to be chosen.  In 1852, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill to “relinquish to the United States, jurisdiction over a site for a marine hospital at Vicksburg.”

Construction was underway in 1856 and an ad in the Vicksburg Daily Whig in April stated that the builders were looking for five or six good carpenters for the U.S. Marine Hospital.  An April 1856 ad in the Whig for T. F. Baker Iron Railing Manufacturers of Cincinnati noted that they were in the process of erecting the verandas at the Marine Hospital (barely visible on the left side of the building).

The hospital’s life was short lived as evidenced by a legal ad in the Vicksburg Herald on December 21, 1869 stating that the Marine Hospital property would be auctioned on January 11, 1870.  There were two tracts- the hospital with seven acres and ten acres of land.  The City of Vicksburg purchased it for $28,500, outbidding the Sisters of Mercy.

The city and community leaders continued to search for uses for the “fine old building.” They requested that the state legislature establish a state hospital in the building in 1884, but this did not happen.  In 1885, it was used for apartments and for the Methodist Mission Sunday School for children.  In 1886, it was considered for use as a school building because “it is large, containing thirty rooms in all, eighteen of which are large enough for school rooms.  It is said to be remarkably well built and is probably good for forty years longer so far as the walls are concerned.  It is beautifully located, overlooking the river.  There is ample room for play grounds about it.”  Unfortunately, the building was not used for the school because it was “too far removed from the center of population.”

Later in that year, the building was used to house mechanics who were employed in the new railroad shops because there were no homes for them to rent, the Vicksburg Herald scolding that you can’t “expect men who earn $60 a month to pay $25 for rent.” By July of 1890, Vicksburg Health Officer Rainwater found that the Marine Hospital had “a nest of bats and the deposits of these pests for years had made it so repugnant that the stench is often smelt on S. Washington Street while, to residents near, it is unbearable.”

In August of the same year, the Vicksburg Evening Post reported that Major R. H. Garnett had leased the building for five years to establish the Mississippi Valley Military Institute for boys.  The owners of the building (now privately owned) rehabbed it to house 120 boarders and had plans to build a gym on the property.  During cleanup, 135 barrels of bat guano were removed and shipped to Mayor Beck’s plantation.

Classes started on September 1, only to be canceled on March 30, 1891. The next day, a VEP reporter saw one of the pupils from the school on Washington Street and asked him if the school was closed and why.  He replied “the teacher said it was because he couldn’t manage the boys.”  Further investigation revealed that Garnett had left and that things had fallen apart after that.  It turns out that Garnett took the prepaid tuition and left town, turning up in Las Vegas as Major R. H. Braxton who was in the process of setting up a military academy there.

In July 1892, the Daily Commercial Herald reported that a Vicksburger, Max Isaacs, saw “Garnett” on the street in Las Vegas and “hailed him by name.  The warrior denied having seen him before, as well as having ever been in Vicksburg, but took the earliest opportunity to leave Las Vegas. At leaving, he had a big roll of bills, indicating that he had persuaded a good many patrons of his academy to pay in advance.”

In 1893, the Marine Hospital building was considered for use as a furniture factory, but that did not pan out. It was used for a brief time in 1894 by the South Vicksburg Columbian Athletic Club, but in late 1894 the owners had decided that it was “an expensive encumbrance” to them in the matter of taxes and insurance and that they were taking bids for demolition.  The building was taken apart in 1895 and all material was sold.  The lot remained vacant until sometime between 1915 and 1918 when a two-story building (seen on the right side of the photograph, under the hip roof) was constructed for Sherman Wilson Grocers.  By 1921, the building housed Dominick Tuminello Grocery and by 1946, Tuminello’s Kitchen.

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