In the early 1800s, Williamsport was a tiny borough along the Susquehanna River. Vast tracts of rich pine, hemlock, and hardwoods surrounded the town.
Sawmills began to spring up along the river to feed the young nation's great need for lumber. This brought more and more workers looking to make a living in the new lumber industry.
A Growing City Needs a Place to Care for its Sick and Injured
By the 1870s, Williamsport was the lumber capital of the world and its population had grown greatly. With this growth came more illness and injury.
Family members cared for the sick in their homes.
Workers with job-related injuries often got treatment at the boardinghouse rooms where they lived.
Members of the Lycoming County Medical Society (LCMS) knew there had to be a better way to provide injured workers with care. They envisioned a hospital where patients could receive needed food and care in a clean setting.
The Williamsport Hospital Opens
In 1873, members of the LCMS along with 23 leading citizens, petitioned the Lycoming County Court.
Their request? A Charter to open The Williamsport Hospital.
The court agreed, and at first, there was great enthusiasm among community leaders for the hospital. But interest cooled when they realized they would need to donate money to buy a building and beds.
Then James H. Perkins, a lumberman and former mayor, footed half of the initial bill. Thanks to that money, the group bought a 3-story brick building on Elmira Street, between 4th and Edwin Streets.
The first hospital in Williamsport opened its doors around April 1, 1878.
In the beginning, the hospital was mainly a clean boardinghouse for charity patients without safe housing in Williamsport. A husband and wife fed and bathed patients in return for free living quarters.
During the 1st year, the roughly 20 doctors working at the hospital admitted only 9 patients. In the 2nd year, that number fell to only 4.
Doctors preferred to treat people in their own homes because they knew those patients were more likely to pay their bills.
A Failing Hospital Brings in an Expert to Help
LCMS members and others recognized that someone with medical training needed to run the hospital.
Dr. Jean Saylor, who had been active with the hospital, reached out to Dr. Rita B. Church, a former college classmate. Dr. Saylor convinced her to come to Williamsport and run the fledgling hospital.
With Dr. Church on site, hospital use soared, causing a shortage of nurses. So, the 2 doctors started a training course for student nurses. This became one of the first nursing schools in the state.
The first student, Alta J. King, graduated from The Williamsport Hospital School of Nursing in 1884.
That same year, the hospital began looking for a larger building. They bought a house on Pine Street near 5th Avenue.
Although this building was larger, it had its drawbacks.
A nearby railroad caused a lot of noise that distracted ill patients. When the flood of 1889 filled the building with 3 feet of muddy water, it was time to move.
Finally, a large tract of land near Louisa and Campbell Streets and Rural Avenue came up for sale. The board of managers bought the whole city block and built a new hospital, which opened in 1891.
The main building of the hospital is still on the same site.
History of UPMC Williamsport Divine Providence Campus
Starting around 1940, a suburban exodus was starting in Williamsport. People began moving out of the center city, mainly to the eastern end.
Meanwhile, Mary Theresilla Hills, a Sister in the Sisters of Christian Charity, was teaching in the city.
She told her motherhouse about the need for a place to treat the sick and injured. A place to serve people "with the mercy and compassion of Christ, coupled with the best principles of medical practice."
Religious Order Forms a Catholic Hospital
The religious order then began sowing the seeds of a new Catholic hospital.
To build the hospital, they ran 2 campaigns to raise funds:
- The 1st in 1945-46.
- The 2nd in 1948-49.
The community and its business members showed strong support. The religious order met its goals.
On June 27, 1948, they broke ground at 1100 Grampian Boulevard on the border of the city of Williamsport and Loyalsock Township.
The 185-bed hospital opened its doors on June 1, 1951, under Sister Emilene Wehner, SCC.
Today it's part of the UPMC Williamsport Divine Providence Campus.