An Echo From the Past

Old Smith Hospital

Old Smith Hospital

Mar 23, 2013

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Also referred to as the Old Paris Hospital and the Old Mercy Hospital in Paris, AR. In 1910, medical service in Paris was upgraded by the arrival of two brothers, Doctors John James “Dr. Jim” Smith and Arthur McDaniel “Dr. Mack” Smith. They established the Paris Hospital, the only hospital in Logan County for years. The hospital offered what was said to be the first medical insurance plan in the nation. By the 1960s, because of rising equipment costs and government regulations, the hospital could no longer be maintained financially. The hospital closed in 1972, but Dr. James Smith, son of Dr. Mack Smith, and Dr. John Charles Smith, son of Dr. James Smith, continued their medical practice in the hospital building for a few years. After Dr. James Smith retired, the Smith medical practice closed.

As Mike Huber remembered the Hospital and what he knows, he said “When you went to see one of the doctors at the Smith Hospital there was no such thing as an appointment. You simply went to the waiting room and sat down and waited your turn. Either a nurse would stick her head into the waiting room and announce “Who’s next Smith Hospital x6for Dr. Charles or John or James which ever doctor had just finished with his patient or the doctor himself would stick his head through the door and ask if there was anyone who wanted to see him. It was their policy that no one would ever be turned away for lack of money to pay. If you wonder how a small town such as Paris could have such a hospital staffed by three doctors you have to realize that Paris in its earlier days was a bustling coal mining town and as such there were also a lot of injuries connected to the numerous different coal mines and companys in the Paris area.”

The origins of the Smith Hospital in Paris begin with two brothers, John James and Arthur MacDaniel Smith, who grew up on a farm near Chismville in Franklin County. Their father had homesteaded the land there in 1860, but was killed while fighting for the Confederacy in 1863. The elder brother, J. J. or “Jim” as he was known, aspired to become a doctor. After finishing the grades offered by the nearby one-room school, Jim taught for three years in addition to tending the farm, to earn tuition for medical school. He graduated from Jefferson College in Nashville (now known as Vanderbilt University) and received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Tulane University. Returning home, he practiced medicine all over Logan County before moving to Paris in 1899 where he established an office. Dr. Jim was joined in practice by Arthur, or “Mac” as he was known, in 1901. Dr. Mac had shared his brother’s ambition and attended the same medical schools.

Paris became the Logan County seat in 1874 as the result of a county election to determine the center of county government. The town grew gradually and prospered with the completion of the Little Rock-Fort Smith Railroad which extended through Paris in 1876. Considerable Swiss-German immigration accompanied the arrival of the railroad to stake claim to the abundant railroad-owned land. At the turn of the century, the town is reported to have contained two butcher shops, three drug stores, seven general merchandise stores, one furniture and undertaker store, two banks, two newspaper plants, lumber yards, blacksmith shops and other businesses. In addition, six or seven thousand bales of cotton were marketed and shipped annually from town, while approximately three hundred tons of coal were exported daily. Indeed, the coal mining industry would remain important to the town’s economy through the 1950′s.

It was in this atmosphere that the Smith brothers dreamed of establishing Logan County’s first hospital. They envisioned building on the hill top north of the square where the old Potts residence was located. Although it was once one property, the land had since been subdivided, and the Smiths began purchasing one parcel at a time until they could obtain the necessary acreage for a hospital. In 1910, the Smith brothers opened the old Potts home, where Dr. Mac had lived temporarily, as a hospital. By retaining their downtown offices, the Smith doctors were able accommodate up to twelve patients in the makeshift hospital. Electricity at that time was provided by a private generator owned and operated by August Bartsch.

Two obstacles remained to the construction of their new hospital. The first, the presence of a cemetery only a few feet from the building site, was dispensed with rather easily by today’s standards. The town, eager to have a new hospital, simply relocated the graves to the present Oakwood Cemetery. A more serious problem, however, was a lack of water on the hill. As no pressurized “city water” was available, a special pipeline had to be constructed from Dr. Mac’s homestead lower down the hill to the hospital. Despite these hindrances, the hospital was completed in 1913. The Smith brothers were joined in practice at this time by Dr. I. H. Jewell.

By 1922, the hospital had become overcrowded and could no longer adequately accommodate the needs of the populace. Dr. Jim and Dr. Mac decided to expand the Smith Hospital Post Card x7current structure, and in the following year the three-story annex was completed. Dr. Jewell left at this time to build a hospital of his own in Paris in conjunction with his brother. He was replaced by Dr. H. M. Keck, who worked at the hospital for five or six years before moving to Fort Smith and opening the Colonial Hospital in partnership with another doctor.

In 1926, the first of the second generation of Smith doctors joined the staff. Dr. John Smith, oldest son of Dr. Mac (Dr. Jim had no children), graduated from the University of Arkansas and received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Tulane University. Dr. John became the anchor of the hospital and served as administrator, general practitioner, and surgeon. He also was responsible for introducing the X-ray machine to Logan County. In 1929, Dr. Mac’s middle son, Charles, began work for the hospital. Dr. Charles, who had followed the same education path as John, bore the brunt of the general practice and brought his knowledge of radiology to the hospital. The death of Dr. Mac in 1930 signified the passing of the first generation of Smith doctors, although Dr. Jim was to work for six more years before officially retiring. The youngest of Dr. Mac’s sons, Dr. James, added his services to the hospital in 1939. Like his brothers, he attended the University of Arkansas en route to medical school at Tulane University. Dr. James was especially adept at keeping abreast of the rapid pace of medical advances through the years.

During World War II, Dr. Charles and Dr. James served in the armed forces for three plus years, while Dr. John was left with the sole responsibility of running a three-doctor hospital. Dr. Charles spent three years in North Africa and Italy as Chief of Staff in Radiology, while Dr. James spent his time in the South Pacific theater. Both doctors were discharged in 1945 with the rank of major. After the war, they returned to Paris to continue their work. Dr. John died in 1960, and Dr. Charles and Dr. James carried on until December 31, 1971, when the hospital was closed due to financial losses. Both doctors, however, continued to use the office space to see patients. Dr. Charles was killed in a car accident in 1979. Dr. James is currently retired.

Aside from the tremendous medical services the hospital provided to the residents of Logan County for over fifty years, the Smith Hospital is perhaps most significant for the pioneer hospitalization insurance that it offered. In 1920, Dr. Jim and Dr. Mac established the Hospitalization Plan of the Paris Hospital where families paid $1 a month and in return received hospital benefits. As these benefits were more restricted than the services most people needed, the coverage was expanded in 1926, the name changed to the Peoples Hospital Association, and the rate increased to $2 a month. It has been asserted this was the first known plan of its kind in the United States.

The Smith Hospital is being nominated under Criterion B with local significance for its association with Dr. John James and Dr. Arthur MacDaniel Smith, who founded the first hospital in Logan County and established an innovative insurance plan that extended health care to practically all of its citizens. Architecturally, the Smith Hospital is significant as an excellent and virtually unaltered example of an early twentieth-century hospital. Aside from reflecting the burgeoning demand for hospital care in only a ten year period, the expanded Smith Hospital reveals the increased proportions required by a modern hospital as well as the first exposure to a rural county of modern medical and technological advancements such as the X-ray room, laboratories, the electric elevator, etc. To a lesser degree, the hospital demonstrates the evolution of architectural styles from the earlier Plain Traditional/Colonial Revival style to the later Craftsman/Colonial Revival style, although the 1923 annex was undoubtedly designed to blend with the older structure in this regard. For these reasons, the Smith Hospital is being nominated under Criterion C with local significance.

Anybody with additional information/history please comment below. If you have any Historic Pictures of the Hospital please head over to the Submit page or send us a link! Thanks for your help to keep Arkansas’ history alive!

‘American Pickers’ Picks Paris Hospital

First Visit in February 2013

Second Visit in September 2013

Historical Photos


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