When Miners Hospital was built, before World War I, it had the distinction of being the only general hospital in Maryland that had state support.

Until it opened in 1913, Frostburg people had to be treated at home, or go to one of the hospitals in Cumberland. For pneumonia, or childbirth, home treatment could suffice, but here in a coal mining area there were serious accidents, requiring amputations and other treatments that were beyond the capabilities of family members. So, local people - as enterprising as the ones who had cajoled the legislature into providing a teacher training school here - persuaded their elected officials to appropriate funds for a local hospital..

There was some question about where it should be built, and just as they had in the case of the Normal School, the authorities asked property owners to offer land that they considered appropriate.

The new Western Maryland Hospital Center is planned for an area several miles from the center of Cumberland, but close to the interstate highway and served by public transportation via bus. Miners Hospital was supposed to be close enough to the route of the trolley cars so that patients, and their visitors, could arrive by that kind of rail.

Mr. Jeffreys offered a tract at the corner of Ormand and Broadway. W.E.G. Hitchins had a double lot on Ormand Street that he was willing to sell for the purpose. But when Consolidation Coal Co. offered land on the north side of Main Street, the town fathers agreed that it should be built there.

Unfortunately, there were no roads in that direction. If one approached from Mount Savage, there was a choice between using the steep and narrow Water Street or the roundabout route up Depot Road, to Main, then to Water and down to Fairmont.

The solution, according to the town fathers, would be to broaden Beall's Lane, upgrading it to Beall Boulevard, and building Tarn Terrace, where water and sewer lines had already been laid, but where no road had been started. That road never did become a reality and the residents of the four houses on the terrace now reach their homes through the alley behind the houses.

There were two groundbreakings in 1912, for the hospital and for the Post Office - and the canny town fathers used the same yellow-ribbon-decorated shovels for both ceremonies.

The hospital, besides being the only such establishment state-supported and intended for miners, had the distinction of being headed originally by a woman physician, Dr. Helen Binnie. However, she left after a few months to join her father's private practice in Wisconsin. For some years the hospital had a matron, not a physician in charge.

Citizens who knew Miners Hospital have fond memories of it. True, it had a very inadequate operating room; maternity patients, pneumonia sufferers and accident victims were all assigned to adjacent rooms, and the nursing staff went from one room to another. ... But what the former patients remember is the TLC that made up for any shortage of facilities.

One man, Mr. Suter, who was in Miners following an automobile accident, liked his care so well that he just stayed on - until the end of his life! The cost was probably far under what he would have paid in an Old Folks Home and the care was considerably better.

I had one experience at Miners that I would never have had in a larger hospital - I was served a dinner tray in the delivery room less than two hours before my daughter entered the world. The door to the hall had been left wide open as I lay on the delivery table. There was nothing to prevent Leila Suter, the widowed former Latin teacher, from seeing me there and offering one of the oranges she distributed in the name of the Episcopal Church.

I had her put the fruit beside my other belongings, for later eating - but when one of the young aides put her head in the door, suggesting that I probably did not want a dinner tray, I asked what was on it. "Lamb chops," (my favorite!) and chocolate ice cream - which I would eat in any position... So she brought me a tray, I ate while lying supine - and at 1 p.m. Anne entered the world. Neither she nor I suffered any ill effects.

In 1988 an addition was built to Miners Hospital, designed to house the maternity ward. But it had not been opened very long when the board came to the conclusion that Miners Hospital could no longer hold its own in a world of increasing electronic technologies.

Local people hoped that the emergency room - where all of us went for bumps and burns, for fish bones in the throat, or symptoms which might be Bell's Palsy... would remain - the staff was known to telephone last week's patients to find out whether they were recovering comfortably!

The Historic District Commission recommended retaining the old facade in a new structure - only to be told that such retention wouldn't work. New equipment in the projected offices would put too much weight on the wooden structure's floors. And so, little by little, Miners Hospital was eroded and unfamiliar structures replaced it.

The nursing home has had several different names, several different forms of governance, since it replaced Miners Hospital, but the original structure still holds a place in Frostburg memories.

It was not just the closeness to home that made staying there attractive. In addition to one's own family, one had brief interchanges with all the other visitors - and the clergy, in particular, were faithful in walking through the halls every day, and offering, if not a prayer, at least a greeting with every patient. Frostburg people considered themselves family.

We have a steadily aging population in Frostburg. There are at least three largish facilities for elderly people who need some level of assistance. The two big hospitals in Cumberland - now in the process of consolidation - can take care of almost any form of problem, and the medical staffs in Allegany County are in constant communication with specialized facilities elsewhere.

But we lost an important part of Frostburg when Miners Hospital closed, and TLC was replaced by high-tech machinery. Maybe we will all live longer because of the changes - but is the quality of life appreciably improved?

Betty VanNewkirk is the historian for the Frostburg Museum.

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