|City/Town: • Hot Springs|
|Location Class: • Government • Hospital|
|Built: • 1933 | Abandoned: • 2019|
|Historic Designation: • National Register of Historic Places (February 9, 2007) • Historic District (2007)|
|Status: • Abandoned|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz • John Clemons, John Cooksey|
Table of Contents
Army and Navy General Hospital
Allegedly the vision for the Army and Navy General Hospital came in 1882 at a dinner party in the Palace Bathhouse when Senator John Logan had deemed Hot Springs as the ideal city for a federal hospital. Having made his way back to Washington D.C. to get the ball rolling on the legislation needed for such a building and with the help of M.L. Joslyn, Assistant Secretary of the Interior it was decided that the construction of an Army and Navy Hospital would commence in Hot Springs. By mid-summer, $100,000 was approved for the construction of a 30-bed facility that would become the first Army & Navy joint hospital in U.S. history. President Chester A. Arthur signed the bill for the allocation of funds later that year. On January 17, 1887, the Army and Navy General Hospital opened to the first patients slowly getting to just over a dozen by February.
It wasn’t long before the campus of buildings needed upgrades and additions. One of those upgrades was that of an ambulance. The first automobile ambulance in Hot Springs was running for the Army Navy Hospital. Washington D.C. had notified commanding officer Capt. J.T. Fife in 1913 that a brand new automobile was purchased to replace the old horse-drawn one that had been in use up until that point. The following year $20,000 was set aside to build a brand new hospital corps building. Another $5,000 had recently been spent on improving the bathhouse of the hospital. Such improvements were made to not only better serve the veterans but also with tensions high between the U.S. and Mexico, the hospital wanted to be readily equipt to take on the wounded should a war take place. And it wouldn’t be long until that occurred.
In 1930 The house military committee approved a bill authorizing $450,000 to construct a new building on the campus and raze unneeded old structures. And within another year another $1.5 million dollars was appropriated for the construction of a new main building that would replace the old one. It was said the new hospital would have 518 beds, seven stories high and two separate wings. The massive, unworldly structure was completed in 1933, just a few years before the start of World War II which is exactly when the hospital would need a massive building like this. The total construction of the campus as of 1939 stood around $3,875,000 which in today’s money equals $77,723,579. During and after World War II, was when the hospital really saw a spike in patients. Those returning from war with injuries were more than likely transported here being as it was a state-of-the-art care facility run by the military for the military. It is alleged that over 15,000 patients were admitted during the years of the war. Because of the huge surge in patients at once the nearby Eastman Hotel was purchased in 1946 to become living quarters for the personnel. The Hotel would be converted in twenty living apartments for the staff. In addition, the Arlington and the Majestic hotels housed the overflow soldiers who could not be accommodated on the hospital campus.
Shockingly just a few years later in 1949, a report was released by the Secretary of Defense Johnson’s management committee that the armed forces cease operations at the Army and Navy General Hospital. The decision was to be withheld until the respected parties could make their case on whether or not the hospital be closed or not. The reason for the report was that the hospital was far more of an expensive operation than needed, making it a money pit. Hot Springs had no intentions of closing the hospital though. Inevitably though on July 1st, 1955 the hospital was closed in an economic move.
The closure didn’t last long with the Army announcing to Congressman William F. Norrell that they had planned to reopen the hospital within 60 days from August. The hospital was allowed to reopen after an amendment in the Defense departments appropriation bill. And on September 23, 1955 the Army Navy Hospital was back in action. Hot Springs held an open house on the eve of the re-opening with speakers William Fulbright and Congressman William Norrell. Both were instrumental in having the hospital reopened. It would operate on a much smaller capacity from its previous 5-600 beds and instead with 75 beds to start. Only eight doctors and sixteen nurses were hired on as welcoming staff.
The celebration didn’t last long as just a few months later after the start of 1956, the Defense Department told Congress for the third year in a row that it did not need the Army Navy Hospital. The Army argued that $900,000 could be saved each year with the closure of the Hot Springs hospital. And yet there was still much pushback with other alternatives to keep the hospital open. In 1958 a National Arthritic Center was proposed for the campus and ultimately never came to fruition. After several years of back and forth between the military and congress, a resolution was finally agreed upon in 1959.
Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center
The hospital’s military era came to a close on April 1, 1960, when a lease was signed between the Secretary of the Army and the State of Arkansas. Stipulations of the lease were that if it were to be used by the state it would have to be used only in a hospital capacity of some sort. Thus the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center was created to occupy the building. The Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center which we will refer to as HSRC for short was a residential rehabilitation facility for people with disabilities run by the State. It was one of only nine in the United States making it a facility used by multiple states in the Midwest. Over the next eight months, renovations would take place with the direction of Don Russell, Rehabilitation Services Director.
The rehabilitation center opened after the first of the year in 1961 with ten students being welcomed. Six more students would be admitted later in the week, with an expectation of about 100 come springtime, a small fraction of its 500 person capacity. The students that lived at HSRC were given vital tools to learn and function independently. All of the students had individualized plans including their care, skills, and education. The first student at the school was nineteen-year-old Pat Nelson who was paralyzed from the waist down and used a wheelchair. She had signed up for a secretarial course at HSRC excelling in the course.
Some of its staff in the early years included Miss Dojela Crabaugh as Superintendent of student services. Ray Woodell was religious coordinator where he planned religious activities and occasionally helped with the recreational program. And even a new Director, Ervin H. Hodges at the end of the decade. He had previously served as the assistant director before being promoted and replacing Gerald H. Fisher who had resigned. In addition to some amazing staff it also had amazing programs. In 1972 the Arkansas Rehabilitation Research and Training Center debuted a research and demonstration project for the deaf at the center. It was established to help determine whether or not deaf adults may profit from the services. Within a very short period of time about forty deaf adults had signed up to participate in the program. Also offered was a pain management program for those whose disabilities caused them pain in their everyday lives.
On February 9th, 2007, the former Army Navy Hospital was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Army and Navy General Hospital District as one of the longest functioning government hospitals. The historic district includes the main building and numerous others on the property that have been abandoned since the 1990s.
Arkansas Career Training Institute
Soon the services of HSRC were reevaluated and it was determined that a majority of the services used were vocational and not medical. Only twenty-four of its beds in the medical unit were being utilized when the facility was licensed for roughly 70. Thus the facility was renamed the Arkansas Career Training Institute. By 2011 the medical wing closed down and the vision shifted solely to vocational training. Over the next ten years, hundreds of success stories and graduates of the program went into the world living their best lives with their newly learned skills.
Unfortunately, after years of decline in enrollment in May of 2019, the State of Arkansas had announced its plans to close down the Arkansas Career Training Institute. At that point, the building had become too costly to maintain its current function and the state felt they had no other options. The agency said they can deliver the same services to people with disabilities in smaller facilities more efficiently. As a result of the closure layoffs and a speedrun plan to vacate the building followed. This was devastating news to the citizens of Hot Springs and worry spread that the massive historic building towering over the city would be left to become neglected by time. By September the last patients were moved out and the property went silent.
Citizens outraged by not having a say in the future of the property sparked a movement online called Save Historic Army and Navy Hospital which has garnered almost 2000 supporters. The movement is similar to that of the Majestic Hotel, which also had a movement started called Save Her Majesty: Restoration of The Majestic Hotel which had gotten support from over 5,000 people. The extensive efforts to save the Majestic Hotel were unfortunately unsuccessful and since then has had a documentary produced called Forever Majestic about the hotel by local activist, historian, and President of the Abandoned Atlas Foundation, Michael Schwarz. Many citizens including Schwarz say there are many similarities between the two properties making the stakes high to save it and stop the same outcome of the Majestic. “I could envision a fire starting in the back of there and having it climb all the way up the national park mountain, so security is paramount,” Jack Porter said, influenced by his memory of the fire at the Majestic Hotel in 2014.
Soon after abandonment, the Army Navy Hospital flooded the news with worry arising from the City. Because the building was originally built by the federal government and was only allowed to be used by Hot Springs under the lease agreement made in 1960 stipulating that the State of Arkansas could inhabit the building so long as it was used for hospital purposes of some kind. After its closure arguments about who actually owned the hospital now started to arise with neither the State nor the Government wanting to claim ownership leaving the building in limbo. Clay Farrar who has been leading talks of finding the correct owner so work on preservation can begin says the building would easily cost roughly $1,000,000 a year and believes this is why no one wants to claim ownership.
This property is FEDERALLY owned, trespassing without permission WILL result in a federal charge.
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