Olney Hamilton Hospital History

1908 to present

By Anita Palmer with the collaboration of Glenn & Kathrine Atchley
Published by The Hamilton Hospital Foundation

The township of Olney, established in 1889, was dependent on midwives or the physicians in Archer City or Graham to meet the medical needs of the community for nearly two decades. Finally, in 1907 a physician, Dr. Joe Daniels, a Fort Worth University Medical School graduate, set up his medical practice in Olney. The next year Dr. George B. Hamilton, a former classmate of Dr. Daniels, joined the medical staff of this small community. Dr. H. C. McKinney, another graduate of that medical school in Ft. Worth, which later became Baylor University Medical School, came to Olney in 1912. With capable doctors, this budding community became known as the place to go for exceptional medical care.

Doctor’s Bag
When doctors made house calls, these little black bags contained their medical supplies. An example of the items typically carried: Stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, bandages, thermometers (mouth & rectal), swabs, scalpel, Otoscope for ear exam, fever powder, ointments, tongue depressors, Iodine, and after 1935 penicillin.

Dr. Hamilton was a man with diverse skills: accomplished blacksmith, scholarly physician and surgeon, astute businessman, and innovative entrepreneur. His vision of a better medical facility in Olney resulted in him purchasing a frame building at the corner of South Avenue F and Cherry Street in 1908. Six years later, in 1914, Dr. Hamilton built a frame two-story structure on West Main Street, where the First National Bank is today. Half-dozen years again brought such growth in the number of hospital patients, that he added ten additional rooms to that building.

Original Hamilton Hospital
In 1908, Dr. George B. Hamilton established Hamilton Hospital in this frame building known as the Cathey House

Dr. Hamilton, a mover and shaker, wanted only the best for his community. In 1927, he built a two story brick building at the hospital’s present location on West Hamilton Street (West Third then). It was one of the most modern and best-equipped hospitals west of Fort Worth. The patients listened, with earphones, to piped in music and radio—a real innovation in 1927! This hospital had 17 patient rooms, surgery suite, delivery room, nursery, x-ray room, emergency room, kitchen, dining room, a dumb waiter, and nurse’s quarters. Unfortunately, Dr. Hamilton only got to enjoy this new up-to-date hospital a short time. In 1933, Dr. Hamilton died at 55 years of age. His beloved Olney was remembered generously in his will. Two of his properties, Hamilton Hospital and Morris Hotel (Olney City Hall today), were bequeathed to the city of Olney.

Yes, there were nurses’ quarters in the third Hamilton Hospital. Part of the nurse’s salary included room and board. The single ones lived at the hospital. In the early years, they lived inside the hospital, and then a small house was moved in behind the hospital (where the laundry is now). Even living on the grounds, nurses had little free-time. Back in the “old days” nurses did all the cleaning of the rooms. That meant cleaning walls, woodwork, and floors with a disinfectant. There were no antibiotics at that time, so hospitals had to be much more careful with their sanitation. Even mattresses were taken outdoors to be sunned before being put back on the bed. The room was closed with the door taped, and a formaldehyde candle fumigated the room. It was thought, at that time, that it would kill germs. The nurses in their starched white uniforms, caps certainly earned their pay.

1951 Addition to Hamilton Hospital
A $90,000 bond issue added twenty-two (22) patient rooms and a $10,000 push button elevator to the brick twenty-six (26) bed hospital built in 1927 by Dr. George B. Hamilton with his personal funds. He gave his hospital to the city of Olney upon his death in 1933.

The hospital continued to grow with the local and area demand for the competent care received at Hamilton Hospital. In 1936, Miss Nancy McChresey, a local patron, gave the money to install a new laboratory. After World War II, in 1945, a remodeled army barracks became a hospital annex containing ten beds. Then, in 1951, the city voted a $90,000 bond issue to build a new addition to the front of the hospital; this was the first time tax money was used to fund Hamilton Hospital improvements.

It added twenty-two beds increasing the capacity to fifty-eight beds. The patients continued to crowd into Hamilton Hospital, by 1961 it was again time to think of expansion; a $350,000 public subscription campaign with local funds to be matched with a Hill-Burton Grant was entered. The people of Olney and surrounding area quickly matched the grant, and the “New” Hamilton Hospital was opened November 1, 1964. Even with the one hundred three (103) bed capacity, this hospital was full in the 1960’s and 70’s.

It took many nurses to staff such a large hospital. To aid with the nursing shortage, a Licensed Vocational Nursing School was established at the hospital in 1959. The school produced quality nurses for several years.

George B. Hamilton School of Licensed Vocational Nursing 1959-1984
In twenty-five (25) years, over six hundred (600+) licensed vocational nurses graduated from this school. Pictured is “The Dorcas Class”, April 1961.

With the coming of Medicare, and the expansion of nursing homes, medicine was seen in a whole new light. The Government was here to stay, sending out new regulations almost daily. If the hospital does not comply with government rules, there is the constant threat of closure. All of this added to the expense of running a hospital. The number of patients declined, causing the second floor of the “Old” hospital to close, and later its first floor also closed. Government regulations kept coming, but no government funds followed. The hospital was loosing money! In 1990, Hamilton Hospital became a taxing authority for Olney and Newcastle School Districts and the Young County portion of the Megargel School District. By the mid 1990’s Hamilton Hospital was also in the business of establishing Rural Health Clinics, first in Archer City, and later in Newcastle. The buildings that house the physicians in Olney were purchased by the hospital, too. Hamilton Hospital has seen tough financial times, but has managed to continue quality healthcare for the community.

Today, the “Old” building is in full use. Physical Therapy is now where the old kitchen was. Several rooms are used for bookkeeping and administrative offices. Young County ambulance crew, Hamilton Hospital Auxiliary, and Hamilton Hospital Foundation all have rooms. Home Health, a big business that continues to get bigger, is using a large portion of the building. Every room is used.

Lovett-Meredith Rural Health Clinic (Formerly Lovett-Meredith Clinic 1935-2002)
Two Olney Clinics are owned and operated by Hamilton Hospital.

Much credit for the beautiful and expansion of the hospital campus can be attributed to the donations of the community. In September 1962, the auxiliary was formed with 73 charter members. In 1985, the “Donald McClatchy Intensive Care Unit” was added, financed by the Donald McClatchy Foundation, public subscriptions, and Hamilton Hospital. The Pearl M. Armstrong Estate donation of $100,000 in 1998, laid the groundwork for the Hamilton Hospital Foundation. For several years Hamilton Hospital has been the recipient of the Junior Altruistic’s community project. These groups continue to be much needed and appreciated aids to the hospital.

As Dr. Hamilton had so ably instructed, two physicians and the mayor of Olney governed the Hamilton Hospital for many years. In 1946, the first business manager was hired, Grace Dunagan, but it was not until 1960 when the first administrator, Richard Higgingbotham, was employed. One of the secrets of this hospital’s longevity is the stability of its administrators and governing board, chaired by Glen Atchley, son-in-law of Dr. George Hamilton, for over forty years. For a century now, Hamilton Hospital has continually provided southern Young County with quality medical care. This 100 years is an unprecedented longevity for a rural Texas hospital.

Shadowbox depicting 100 years of medical care.
Brands exhibit from the hallway of the hospital.
Telephone history shadow box from the Hamilton Hospital hallways.