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Miners Hospitals


The industrialization of West Virginia in the late 19th century brought dangerous new occupations to the Mountain State. Coal mining was particularly hazardous, in an era when hundreds of West Virginia miners were injured or killed annually and when a single accident might bring scores of casualties. In February 1899, the state legislature passed a law requiring the building of state hospitals for those engaged in dangerous occupations. Three hospitals were built in different sections of the state. While not restricted to miners, they were known as Miners Hospitals One, Two, and Three and in fact drew a majority of their patients from the surrounding coal mines.

Miners Hospital No. One opened at Welch on January 28, 1902. Young Dr. Henry D. Hatfield, the nephew of feudist ‘‘Devil Anse’’ Hatfield and later governor of West Virginia, was made hospital president. Miners Hospital No. Two, located at remote McKendree in the New River Gorge, opened for patients in December 1901, while No. Three in Fairmont had opened the previous October. The McKendree and Welch hospitals both opened affiliated nursing schools by 1910.

As intended, the hospitals dealt largely in industrial medicine and the treatment of victims of trauma and other injuries. Burns provided the largest category of injuries at McKendree during its first year of operation, followed by crushing. That year the hospital also treated 30 gunshot wounds, from which eight people died, a reflection of troubled times in the coalfields. Miners accounted for two-thirds of the McKendree patients the first year, with a sizable minority also coming from the nearby railroad. Each hospital served a large region, and they were heavily used. Welch No. One had to lodge patients in aisles and corridors, according to an early report.

The Miners Hospitals offered a valuable backup to the ‘‘company doctor’’ system prevalent in the coalfields, providing care for patients whose needs exceeded the ability of the local doctor’s office or coal company clinic. The hospitals served for several critical decades, until improved transportation and additional medical facilities made modern health care more readily available. McKendree was the first to go, closing as a hospital in the 1940s although it served for several additional years as a home for elderly Black patients. Fairmont No. Three closed in 1980. Miners Hospital No. One survived longest, being replaced by Welch Emergency Hospital and continuing today as Welch Community Hospital.