Old Smith Hospital

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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

64 Comments

  1. I just took a picture of my dads birth certificate showing he was born in this hospital and the attending physician was john smith. I love abandoned Arkansas and thought it was cool that my dad was born in one of the places.

  2. I was a patient there back in 1941 or 1942 and my father was injured in a saw mill accident and admitted as well. In the late 70's I was working in the Paris area as a debit insurance agent and did drive by the old hospital building but did not go inside. Yes, it would be great if this place could be renovated and opened as a museum and listed on the Arkansas register of historical places.

  3. Good news, the doc must have been a Razorback fan (note the clock)! The old telephone has the red colored "on hold" buttons.

  4. The guys from American Pickers bought an eye chart similar to this one at this hospital. One of my favorite episodes!!

  5. Some one should write a book on the hospital. Those wooden wheelchairs are just like we had on orthopedics at Sparks, but they were new. Suggest to Paris Chamber to offer guided tours. Infrared glasses might work at night and be undetected. I would love to get in there.

  6. Great to see my hone towns old hospital on here! There's the hospital records still in there and many other things!

  7. if this is on national historic register, someone should collect and preserve the items inside the hospital to be used as a display if anyone ever opened as a museum. i love looking at old pictures you post alongside the "abandoned" ones.

  8. This is just..wow! I agree with Brenda, it appears as if they just decided to walk out one day and never come back. Another life and another time! Good shots.

  9. Londyn Payne on

    There are many abandoned places to tour in Blytheville, including the old airbase and shoe factory, as well as a Indian burial ground. Also, nearby in Burdette is an abandoned school full of the desks and much more! I would love to help out with your touring of these, as I've toured some areas myself! :)

  10. This piece of history brought me to tears. I hope it is preserved. What an honor to those who have been a part of this place.

  11. i was watching american pickers and seen this and was wonder wherre it was and learn something new today reading and looking at the pic thanks

  12. Sandta Jones on

    I was born at this hospital Feb. 3, 1949. Doc John delivered me. I remember him very well.. Later he lost both hands and had hooks. Being a small child and a girl it kind of scared me at first but he was the sweetest doctor. .I also remember Doc Charles

  13. Barbara Wilhelm Hood on

    I had six siblings. All of us were born in that hospital except for my sister Joan. She was born on Jan. 1st & there was a winter storm that prevented my Mom being taken to the hospital. I have always dreamed of it becoming a museum. Way too much history not to. Come on Arkansas strut your pride & go forth with a plan to bring that wonderful old place back to life.
    Susie Hood

  14. Regina McDaniel on

    I was born there in 1978…the hospital was closed but still delivering babies apparently. I'm told that I was the last baby born in this hospital. If that is true, I think it's pretty neat. I would love to see it restored.

  15. I worked there as a nurse's aide when I was 19. One thing I remember is the wonderful food served there. Ladies prepared it in the kitchen from scratch, real home cooking. Nothing like the hospital food of today.

  16. Toward the end of the photos, there are a couple of photos that show a small glass cream bottle with a pair of scissors or forceps in it. I'd be willing to bet that cream bottle came from the Cotton Dairy in Paris!

  17. I was born in the Paris Hospital in 1946, my sister in 1950, and I remember my mother and dad talking about Dr. John — they thought he could do no wrong. My dad was a coal miner and was hospitalized there for several weeks with severe burns. There is so much history in the hospital. I wish someone would make a museum out of it. I hate to see these old buildings just "fall down" from lack of care.

  18. Clara Roddy-Worsham on

    It would be great to restore such a sensational and fantastic history here in Arkansas. There is also another hospital in Arkansas called Mercy Hospital in Brinkley (Monroe Co.), Arkansas that has been boarded up since the latter 1980's with a great history as well.

  19. I don't have money and I've never been to Paris Arkansas. But seeing these pictures are amazing. I think someone with money should make this place a museum. And yes I hope American Pickers didn't mess with it to much. Please some one step up and preserve Arkansas history. There is enough there to do an awesome place to see where we have been. Jodi b

  20. Marlon Steffy on

    I used to cut the Smith brothers hair there in Paris in the late 50,s and early 60's they were fine doctors, I worked for Spec Breed there on the street that went up to the hospital.Dr. James borrowed my razor once to do some skin grafting. When he bought it back he said it sure was sharp.

  21. Phyllis Harris on

    I was born in this hospital in 1946 delivered by Dr. John. My brother was also delivered by Dr. John and my mother worked for Dr. John during the War. My grandpa Clarence Smith was a cousin to the Smith Doctors. To hear my mom and grandma talk there was no other doctor like Dr. John.

    • I was delivered by Dr. John. He was a family friend and made many house calls to see my mother, who had a serious heart condition. He was an outstanding surgeon.

  22. My father was born in this hospital in 1944. We laid his body to rest in the nearby community of Alix just yesterday and I took my children by to see this hospital after the services. It was very neat to imagine my grandparents coming out of that hospital with my father for the first time. I will have to look at his birth certificate and see what doctor delivered him. Thank you for sharing this.

  23. Quinton Rowan on

    I’m not sure what all services they continued to offer but I know I went to see Dr. James as late as 1987 and my wife was born in that hospital in September 1977. Doc James was a bit rough to a kid but was a great doctor.

  24. To your the hospital, you would have to get permission from the current Dr. Smith, who still owns the building. City of Paris had nothing to do with it. They were only involved during the filming of “American Pickers” because those guys showed up and entered the building at 6:00 or so on the morning… Setting of the alarm..

    • You are correct! That is who we got permission from to get inside. He gave us a tour and it was super fun!

  25. Loretta Dickey on

    I hope the American Pickers didn't pick all the history out. I heard a lot of thing had been stolen. Is that true. Will it ever be a museum? I was in the hospital there in 1954 and had a two sisters and a brother born there. Our family would like to see it restored.

  26. Is it possible to tour the hospital? I am a nurse in Dallas, Texas. I absolutely love historical medical buildings and equipment.

    • You will have to get in contact with the current owner Dr. John Charles Smith but he is a busy man and we planned weeks in advance to come tour the hospital. I planned to tour the hospital before American pickers showed up.

  27. Very cool. I was an out patient at smith hospital around 1986 tho when dr. John Charles Smith used the site as a clinic. Tho I did see doc james a few times as a child around 1980. Great piece of history.

  28. Fascinating! I live on the other side of Magazine Mountain in Havana, so I am familiar with this area and hospital. I have always wondered what it looked like inside! Your website is really neat! Thanks for sharing with us!

  29. Jeanne Reynolds on

    Thanks for posting these. The Logan County Museum will display some of these in the Museum along with the Smith Dr.'s exhibit,

  30. 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 for 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.

  31. There was also a white house that the Smith Doctors maintained that the nurses stayed in. The Smith doctors had the "Hospital Association which was the name of the insurance plan that they had created and though I can't remember how much the "Hospital Dues" were each year I do remember an office call being 6.00 if you belonged to the association. Also I have been told that the Smith Hospital had the first x-ray machine in the state of Arkansas.

  32. My brothers and sisters were born in this hospital as well as both of my sons. I remember when the doctors made house calls also. The three doctors that ran the hospital always had time to visit with their patients. And if needed in the middle of the night, you could call them and they would be there…either at the hospital or your home. Just a piece of history that I hope is never forgotten.

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