Search

The Historic Gates Hospital

What is the value of an old building? From a monetary perspective they can be quite costly and take a tremendous amount of effort to maintain. In many cases though, the value of a historic structure is far more than just the costs incurred by maintenance or the potential profit of a sale. The value is something abstract and ethereal in nature, engrained into the collective memory of the community in which it resides. These artifacts of a bygone era silently stand watch as one generation transitions to another time and time again. These structures provide towns like Indiana with a unique built environment and serve as anchors to the past that span generations, providing residents with a definitive sense of place. Philadelphia Street is lined with many such buildings that harken back to the days when coal was king and the town was abuzz with activity. Hospitals, such as the Indiana Regional Medical Center (IRMC), serve as one such location where moments of joy, sorrow, and relief are experienced generation after generation at the same place. However, the large medical complexes that populate the country today were not always the case.


In an era where one rarely traveled more than thirty miles from home in their lifetime, healthcare was far removed from what it is today. Doctors braved the weather, the environment, and the unknown to improve the lives of their patients as best they could. The first physicians arrived by horse and buggy to the County in 1807 without the aid of complex medical equipment. All they had on the ever unforgiving frontier was their wit and their acquired knowledge of the human body. Doctors not only combatted the effects of common illness and injuries sustained from labor, but also the serious life threatening conditions that were not fully understood at the time. Private visits to homes were common, as there were no established hospitals in the area, just individual practices. As towns became more established and the built environment grew, doctors began to open offices in repurposed homes to accommodate the growing number of patients and to provide a familiar setting for surgeries when possible. These locations became pillars of the community, much like the men that operated out of them. The lifespan of these offices was often that of the doctors that resided within them. As time progressed and doctors passed away, many of the structures fell by the wayside, often making way for newer, more modern buildings. However, one structure in Indiana survived multiple generations of doctors and would serve as a familiar place within the community for more than one hundred and fifty years.


Located at 923 Philadelphia Street was a quaint two story white stucco structure that stood in sharp juxtaposition to the modern dwellings that surround it. The home was built with elements of the Georgian style, which puts emphasis on a high level of symmetry. The use of an odd number of bays fitted with multi-pane windows, each containing a six light over six light pattern, also lends itself to the style. Constructed in 1855, the building stood as one of the oldest surviving structures on Philadelphia Street. Upon first glance, there was not much to this plain structure with its rather limited front profile. However, a step around to the side of the building revealed an addition that stretched a significant distance toward Nixon Avenue, which flanks the property on its northern boundary. At one time a front porch, welcomed residents and eventually patients, as the structure transitioned from private residence to doctor’s office. Occupied by numerous physicians, the building was most famously tied to Dr. W.D. Gates, whose name became synonymous with the structure even after his passing. Through examining the lives of the four doctors and the legacy they forged, it becomes evident just how important the location they resided in was to their medical careers.


Dr. Thomas St. Clair

The first in a long line of Doctors to operate out of 923 Philadelphia Street was a descendant of a prominent pioneer family and a native of Indiana County. Dr. Thomas St. Clair was born in White Township and was educated within the public school system of Indiana. He later attended the Indiana Academy and in 1843 began to study medicine under Dr. Jenks of Punxsutawney in Jefferson County. Thomas entered Jefferson Medical College in 1845 and later graduated in 1847.


Upon returning to his native county, Dr. St. Clair formed a partnership with Dr. James Stewart before opening his own practice in 1849. Apart from curing general ailments, Dr. St. Clair was a reliable surgeon, which was quite the feat at the time. Most notably he was the first surgeon in the state of Pennsylvania west of the Alleghenies to successfully remove an ovarian tumor. The growth was recorded as weighing forty pounds. He worked with various other physicians during his career and eventually opened a practice with his son.


When the Civil War broke out, Dr. St. Clair offered his medical skill to the military. He used his surgical skill and medical knowledge to tend to the wounded after the Seven Days Battle at The Battle of Gettysburg.


St. Clair did not limit his interests to the medical profession. He also participated in numerous civic groups and served on his fair share of councils and boards. Most notably, he represented Indiana and Armstrong Counties in the State Senate during 1863 and 1864, and Indiana and Jefferson Counties in the Senate from 1876 to 1880. He developed a reputation as a man that voted on the issues using his conscience rather than down party lines.


His death warranted a full page article on the front page of local newspapers and still was not enough space to list all of his many accomplishments. A contemporary of his and former partner in medicine would take over the structure and ensure that its legacy would continue.


Dr. A. F. Purington


Dr. Augustus Franklin Purington was a native of Maine, and was educated at Maine Wesleyan Seminary. During that time, Purington studied medicine under Dr. James McKeene of Topsham. He attended a course of lectures at the Medical Department of Dartmouth College and would later graduate from the Bowdoin Medical College located in Maine in 1864. While working to attain his education, Purington would put his own interests aside and serve his country during the Civil War for 14 months from 1861 to 1865.

When first locating in Indiana he was in a partnership with Dr. St. Clair, then in 1877 the firm of St. Clair and Purington was dissolved on good terms and Purington continued practicing at the former location, which just so happened to be 923 Philadelphia Street. This would be the first time the structure changed hands to a new doctor. For Purington the office would not only function as his place of work, but also his residence. The 1900 U.S. Census has Dr. Purington operating out of the building and owning the structure


Dr. Purington’s work was common of doctors of the time. He traveled throughout the county and surrounding territories to visit his patients at their homes. His medical knowledge was used to treat miners and prominent families alike. He even set the bone of Ernest Stewart, brother of Alex Stewart, uncle of Jimmy Stewart.


Dr. Purington was quite active in the community and was an intellectual of his day, He read extensively and took part in scientific research. Purington was quite well traveled for the time, taking trips out of state to further his education or visit relatives. He no doubt brought back ideas from the east.


Purington aged and grew ill and eventually passed at the Markleton Sanitarium in 1909, leaving the estate to his wife, Lida. The good doctor lived in Indiana for 43 years and an excerpt from his obituary sums up his career, “To hundreds of families in Indiana County the death of Dr. Purington has come as a personal bereavement. To these he came not alone as one to look after their physical welfare but, as well, as a dear and sympathetic friend and counselor.” With Purington gone, the fate of 923 Philadelphia Street was in jeopardy. Fortunately, a descendant of Thomas St Clair would step in for a short time as its owner until it was purchased by the man who the hospital would eventually be named after.


Dr. W.D. Gates

The story of Dr. W.D. Gates is similar to that of his peers and predecessors. He graduated from a school in the eastern portion of the United States known as Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia, a predecessor of