A Patina of Disease
Saint Mary's Hospital
Located in Saint Louis, MO
Photo © 2009 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Saint Mary's Hospital History
In the late 1800s a group of Bavarian nuns arrived in Saint Louis during a period of rampant smallpox outbreaks in the city. They quickly formed a new order and built a convent, and were quite skilled at easing the suffering of those afflicted with the disease; they even known as the Smallpox Sisters. With enough donations, they were able to purchase a former senator's house at 1536 Papin Street, which came with a large parcel of land at the edge of the city in 1887. It was named St. Mary's Hospital after the order of the Smallpox Sisters, and was soon flooded with smallpox and diphtheria victims. It was realized a much larger building was required to treat the many afflicted St. Louisians.
A new five-story building was erected in front of the old house in 1889; it would have three major expansions thereafter: a western addition in 1896, an eastern addition in 1906, and a nurse's dormitory called Sacred Heart Hall in 1946. St. Mary's soon became known as a hospital that pushed the boundaries of technology and teaching at the time - one of the first Catholic nursing schools in the country was established there in 1907. In 1933 Saint Mary's became the second city hospital to open its doors to African American patients, and was the first in the city to have a racially integrated staff.
The highly successful model of the hospital was adopted in other cities in the country, but as the neighborhood began to decline during the 1950s, both the nuns and their patients began to move away, and the facility entered a slow fiscal spiral. The five story building was shuttered in 1979, although parts of the facility were used by various city agencies until 1994. St. Mary's wonderful five-story building made the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, but without any rehabilitation efforts, the structure crumbled away and was left open to vagrants and vandals. Fires gutted parts of the building in 2012 and 2015, and by 2016, an emergency order to demolish the facility was issued by the city of St. Louis, when it was quickly brought to the ground.