Recalling pleasant things and taking the time to dwell on them.
The Medical Building – SUI’s Ill-Fated Medical Experiment.
The Medical Building was built in 1882 at a cost of $45,000, and was constructed to house the growing Medical College, which opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 20, 1870. Over its short 19-year existence, this stately building was twice remodeled, the last time in 1888. Twice struck by lightning and once having its roof torn off in a wind storm, the nemesis which seemed to pursue this building completed its work of ruin on a wild night – March 10, 1901 – after a storm of ice and sleet had been raging for hours. The fire alarm was turned in at 2:15 in the morning and a great crowd gathered to watch the fire and offer assistance – but it was too late, for the flames made short work of the interior wooden construction.
Location: The Medical Building was located directly south of Old Capitol and South Hall, on what was, at that time, called University Square. The Medical Building faced east, with two entrances: one on the east side, and the second on the south, leading to the intersection of Capitol and Washington Streets.
The SUI College of Medicine opened doors for its first class on Sept. 20, 1870, meeting in SouthHall (1861), for which an appropriation of $3,000 was made in the summer of 1869 for alterations to meet the needs of the new department. The remodeled building included a 100-seat amphitheater and a basement dissecting room, as well as cabinets and storage facilities for medical supplies and equipment, but it did not provide hospital beds.
By the late 1870’s, the College of Medicine had completely outgrown its allotted space in South Hall, but despite the growth, the State General Assembly was very stingy in giving SUI what it needed to expand facilities, let alone maintain the status quo. Soon after SUI President Josiah L. Pickard came into office (1878), the Visiting Committee noted that chairs, desks, and furniture in all departments were old and very dilapidated, having been in active service for ten to twenty years – plus, none of the University property carried any insurance!
In response, the State Regents set up an annual endowment of $20,000 for building purposes, but with all four University facilities (see below) in great need of repair, and with inadequate heating systems, it was obvious that $20K per year would only scratch the surface.
In 1879, the University Board, in desperation, met and passed the following resolution:
Resolved that in the opinion of this Board the time has come when steps should be taken toward heating the University buildings with steam.
This action put into place the construction of the Armory/Power Plant – adjacent to Old Capitol – (see pics above). And in 1881, the Regents responded in kind by voting in additional appropriation of $1500 for stone walks on University Square and $1400 for repairing and enlarging University Hospital (Mechanics Academy) – but still no word on any new buildings!
But then suddenly, the Regents surprised everyone – approving the Visiting Committee’s recommendation for an additional $80,000 appropriation to be used for constructing two new buildings on University Square – and new furniture! Back in Iowa City, an elated Dr. J.C. Shrader, a member of the University medical faculty, quickly secured an additional appropriation of $30,000, and a new home for the College of Medicine was about to become a reality.
Without a doubt, the Medical Building was a state-of-the-art facility, offering both students and faculty a place to learn and grow.
As the 19th century was drawing to an end, an insurance appraisal of SUI buildings and grounds was set at $400,000. But despite the impressive numbers, a true picture of the University showed more limitations than assets. The inadequacy of hospital accommodations at Mechanics Academy was limiting the growth potential of the Medical and Homeopathic Departments, while the Dental Department, working out of a crowded South Hall, had been forced to limit admissions due to lack of space.
Some concrete achievement was discernible, nevertheless, in the nine years of President Pickard’s tenure (1878-1887), only four structures had been erected: the first Homeopathic Medical Building (1878), the Power Plant (1879), the Medical Building (1882), and Science Hall (1884). In spite of the addition of these new facilities, acute shortages still existed, especially in classroom, office and laboratory space. Urgent also were the needs for a gymnasium, athletic field, and assembly hall.
Yet as bad as all this seemed, things got much worse before it got better. Case in point?
Over its short 19-year existence, the Medical Building was twice remodeled, the last time in 1888. Twice struck by lightning and once having its roof torn off in a wind storm, the nemesis which seemed to pursue this building completed its work of ruin on a wild night – March 10, 1901 – after a storm of ice and sleet had been raging for hours.
Sadly, tragedy fell on March 10, 1901, when the 19-year old Medical Building, along with the adjoining South Hall, were completely destroyed by fire.
Historian Katherine Bates reflects upon the demise of the Medical Building and South Hall this way…
The Old Capitol still stood serene and beautiful upon the hill above the Iowa River, looking down upon the ashes. Few of the curious onlookers that Sunday morning realized that the old era of buildings had ended, and that both the physical and spiritual University was entering upon a new age.
After the 1901 fire, when both the Medical Building and South Hall were destroyed, classroom space was at a premium. This problem proved to be a perfect assignment for the Engineering Department. As soon as the smoke cleared and the debris pulled away, students were at work, building two temporary structures (see pics above) directly over the foundations of the burned out buildings.
Here’s to the Medical Building – 1882 to 1901– SUI’s Ill-Fated Medical Experiment . . . long gone, but never forgotten.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.