159th Anniversary of the Smallpox Hospital

Architectural rendering of the Smallpox Hospital

Architectural rendering of the Smallpox Hospital

Today marks the 159th anniversary the Smallpox Hospital. On December 18, 1856, Isaac Townsend, Chairman of the Committee of the Almshouse Department for Blackwell Island, presided at its opening ceremony.

At the ceremony, Townsend stated that the Almshouse Committee, which was established to care for many of the hospital and prison institutions on the island, had redeemed its pledge that the Smallpox Hospital "afford accommodations to all persons laboring under the [smallpox] disease.” He spoke beautifully of the island and the committee’s progressive views of providing quality healthcare for all. Quite interestingly, Townsend also provided details of what the structure once looked like, before it was a ruin.

Townsend Description of the Building Exterior

Stereoscopic photograph of the Smallpox Hospital, original footprint was 104 feet by 45 feet and three stories in height

Stereoscopic photograph of the Smallpox Hospital, original footprint was 104 feet by 45 feet and three stories in height

The Smallpox Hospital is of a smoothly cut, hard, and durable blue stone, quarried on the island. The style is early English Gothic. It is 104 feet in length by 45 feet in breadth, three stories in height, resting on a heave base, and surmounted by a bold stone cornice. The principal front, looking toward the city, is broken by a massive stone porch, surmounted by an oriel window. The north and south fronts have a stone bay-window, bracketed out upon the second floor. The roof is of slate, pierced with clusters of tall chimney shafts, and surmounted by an octagonal stone cupola.

Townsend Description of the Building Interior

Two corridors cross each other on each floor, the entire length and width of the building. The staircase is of iron. The first floor is devoted to the use of the Physician, Matron, servants’ rooms, kitchen, laundry and stores. The second floor is for charity patients, and is divided into four large and four small wards. The larger are 23 feet by 15, the smaller 15 by 11, and are calculated to accommodate 50 to 60 sick persons. The ceilings throughout are sufficiently lofty. Ventilation is secured by an air duct connected with a chimney and a windsail, and communicating by flues in the walls with each ward. Other flues, connecting with the cupola, are traversed by air that has been rarified by a constant fire, and drawn from the rooms below…

Townsend ended his remarks:  “The consciousness of having in our day and generation anticipated the future greatness and glory of our country, ought to form a sufficient reward for the preserving labors we bring to so satisfactory a termination. We would that every citizen might raise for himself a monument in some new institution, destined to carry down to future ages the blessings of a progressive civilization.”