Reflecting on a Century of Caregiving – PART II The Hospital on the Hill

004This is the second of a three-part series on how Torrington got its hospital.

Sometime after 1910, Torrington native and turn of the century industrialist Uri Hungerford let it be known to his family in Torrington that his last will and testament held a substantial bequest for construction of a hospital to be named after his mother Charlotte Hungerford, commemorating her “boundless energy and dedication for helping others.” While his intentions were deemed admirable, his friends argued that the need was imperative and should not wait for his demise. Persuaded, he arranged to “buy a suitable site and build an adequate hospital” with a $500,000 gift.

The perfect spot

James A. Doughty, a local business leader in Torrington, began communicating with Uri T. Hungerford regarding his wish to erect a memorial to his mother, Charlotte. They soon began the search for an appropriate site, and after considering a number of areas around town, they selected the Albert Brooker Meadow located at the first turn of Four Story Hill. Surrounded by woods on three sides, it was quiet, secluded, on an untraveled road but easily accessible, and it was shielded from the west. It also had the advantage of being close to the city’s factories, where a large number of industrial accidents occurred, yet far enough away from the valley’s noise and smoky air.

Architect Ernest Greene of New York City, who previously designed The Torrington Club, The Torrington Library and supervised the rebuilding of the Center Congregational Church, prepared plans for the new hospital. Later that same year, H. Lines Company of Meriden began general construction. Famed Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the approach and driveways, fulfilling the wishes of those who envisioned the hospital as having the feel of a wonderful and welcoming estate on the hill.

A Proud Moment for Torrington

The new building had 50 beds, and featured “intercommunicating telephones,” a silent call system, seven fire hoses connected to standpipes, and even electrical clocks. Construction began in late summer 1914 and 16 months later, in October 1916, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital opened its doors in what is today the Memorial Building. Besides being a center for medical care, Charlotte Hungerford became a focus of civic pride. That same year, a group of volunteers who wished the new hospital success formed an Auxiliary group which still exists today to help raise needed funds for patient care.

Uri would continue his active support of the hospital until his death in 1926 at 85 years old, when his will stipulated that $500,000 be donated to the hospital immediately and that, upon the death of his wife, three-quarters of his estate—approximately $4 million (or about $54,000,000 in 2015 dollars)—would go to Charlotte Hungerford. This gift formed the basis of the hospital’s endowment to assist funding of important capital projects and improvements in the future. Uri’s gift literally keeps on giving – even after a century.

Difficult Times, but a Bright Future

Uri’s generous bequest helped lay plans for a 1929 addition that tripled patient capacity. The construction of a new patient tower, seven stories high, was completed and opened in 1930. The new facility was a momentous event. In fact, it was considered so important it was included in the 1932 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica to illustrate the modern American hospital. The hospital was praised as “the best equipped hospital of its size in the world” in the local paper. Each floor had a kitchen and solarium.

The next decade would bring the Great Depression of the 1930s, which brought hard times to the hospital. World War II also effected profound changes with doctors, nurses and other employees going off to war. Shortages of labor and important commodities were made worse by increasing numbers of patients and rising costs. Healthcare was changing and Charlotte Hungerford Hospital was poised to grow when the War came to end. A bright future was ahead.

Part III on Charlotte Hungerford Hospital’s heritage will publish March 14.

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