The U.S. Marine Hospital is located along the Mississippi River, south of downtown Memphis in the French Fort community. The history of the Marine Hospital dates back to 1798 when President Adams established the Marine Hospital Service to care for injured and disabled seamen working on the Mississippi River, and was a precursor to the Public Health Service. The first hospital to support this region was located in Napoleon, Arkansas, but washed away when the Mississippi River changed course in the 1870s. The current site was selected in 1881 and was an area known as Fort Pickering, a town eight years older and at the time larger than Memphis. The hospital opened in 1884 and consisted of six buildings – the stable, two wards, the surgeon’s house, the executive building, and the nurses’ quarters. The facility was originally used to treat Civil War veterans and to conduct scientific research in the hopes of finding a cure for yellow fever.
The Marine Hospital was the city’s first federally-funded public health facility, and until after World War I, was the only government hospital in the area. During the 1930s, several new Works Progress Administration buildings were added to the site. Only two of the early buildings remain, the executive building and the nurses’ quarters. Both of these buildings were moved 300 feet by wagons pulled by mules to make room for the new WPA hospital in the 1930s. The wards and stables were eventually demolished. The administrative building was later repurposed as a museum until 2022. Both were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
The present-day Colonial Revival-style hospital building was constructed on the site in 1934-1936, followed by its associated steam laundry building in a Modernist style in 1939. A couple of other smaller buildings were constructed as staff quarters at the same time just west of the hospital along what is now Metal Museum Drive. In order to make room for the large three-story, three-wing hospital. The western portion of the hospital grounds was sold to the City of Memphis shortly after closing in 1960 and later leased to the National Ornamental Metal Museum in 1979. Throughout the years, the hospital was used by the Coast Guard, cadets from the state maritime academies, active duty armed forces, Public Health officials, the Army Corps of Engineers, and government employees injured in the line of duty. Most recently the grounds were leased in the 1990s by the Army during Desert Storm to house soldiers.
In 2003, the federal government sold the eastern portion of the complex containing the 1930s marine hospital, the nurses’ quarters, and the steam laundry to a private group headed by Lauren and Hilliard Crews. After several attempts at redevelopment, construction finally began in 2019. Today, the complex is known as The Marine Residence and houses 71 pet-friendly apartments.
In 2022, I returned to the former Marine Hospital to photograph the renovation.
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