Newburgh Heritage

Our 150 year-old hospital

By Mary McTamaney
Posted 1/25/24

An unfortunate accident caused my husband and me to spend time in the emergency room of Saint Luke’s Hospital recently. (Complete healing is expected.)

Watching the hustle of hospital …

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Newburgh Heritage

Our 150 year-old hospital


An unfortunate accident caused my husband and me to spend time in the emergency room of Saint Luke’s Hospital recently. (Complete healing is expected.)

Watching the hustle of hospital personnel for hours that afternoon made me think of how far medical care has come in the City of Newburgh.

I have researched and reported on many accidents that happened to local citizens in the annals of our city. For generations, into the late 19th century, injured folks were carried home to be cared for by family with a doctor’s visit to their bedside if they were lucky. Then the women of Saint George’s Parish gathered in 1874 and organized what would become our community hospital. One hundred fifty years ago, there were fewer than 150 hospitals nationwide, so Newburgh’s charitable women were taking a significant step. At first, the hospital was just a rented cottage with three beds set up as a convalescence facility for elderly people of little means. Quickly, there was an urgency in the community to provide more care. Each time St. Luke’s grew and moved to a new rental space in its early years, something more pressing took over the space where those ladies were working. For example, they had set up in a house on the hill above Carpenter Avenue where there was a porch and lawn for healthy recovery but the city needed that spot for a new reservoir tank that could bring flowing water to the growing neighborhoods of the central city. That Marne Avenue water tank is still there where a city hospital might have grown.

Yet, the ladies of Saint George’s persisted and raised funds so that in 1883 they could buy the Liberty Street home of former Mayor Peter Ward. That spacious house, near the corner of Broadway, served Newburgh well as a hospital for over a quarter century until the old stone school on Seminary Hill became available in 1909 and the hospital organization bought it and immediately doubled its size by constructing a massive addition. Those twin grey stone buildings – the 1837 original north half and the 1909 south half – provided room for patients and the teams of nurses and doctors who cared for them.

Unlike the old Liberty Street hospital site, where young nurses carried their patients down one central staircase on sheets, the new Saint Luke’s had an elevator. In large new quarters on Dubois Street, the Saint Luke’s Hospital expanded its board from 13 to 21 members and allowed men to join what was still a private charity board.

Members were recruited from all Newburgh’s church denominations.

The city’s population grew and so did its expectation of good comprehensive care.

The great influenza epidemic of 1918 forced St. Luke’s to erect a tent hospital on its lawns and even the lawns of an adjacent property because all the flu victims couldn’t be accommodated inside the twin stone building. In 1921, the board bought the next-door property and established a maternity hospital on that north lot in the old brick Esmond home near the corner of Third Street. Then, with an endowment from the Senff/Cameron family, came a large wing added to the north of the former seminary in 1925 followed by another two additions that quickly replaced (in 1956 and in 1962) the old Esmond house. The newborns of the twentieth century “baby boom” years couldn’t be contained in that early Esmond structure despite constant renovations.

Newburghers can still recall many of the entrance doors that led to the services of our city hospital. My baby scrapbook, carefully curated by my mother, includes a snapshot she saved of her holding my tiny blanketed self at the big main doorway overlooking Dubois Street with a long double set of concrete stairs leading down to the sidewalk. We were homeward bound for the first time together in 1946.

Among promotional materials for our local hospital that I reviewed in various collections, I even saw a photo of the rooftop patio outfitted with lounge chairs and tables that patients enjoyed as they recovered in the post-World War II years. If you have images or remembrances of old Saint Luke’s, I would be happy to see, read and hear them in this, the hospital’s 150th year of service.