Newton Memorial Hospital

Newton Memorial Hospital


The Newton Memorial Hospital at Cassadaga, which for four decades fulfilled its role in the care and treatment of tubercular patients, was closed in 1958, when the patient load significantly decreased with the advent of the so-called miracle drugs. It is now a federally-funded Job Corps Center to train young people in specific skills.

Erected in 1919 and located on about 200 acres on a hilly slope overlooking Cassadaga Lake, the hospital, with its eleven buildings and children’s camp, cared for hundreds of patients at a time when tuberculosis was a scourge and a threat to the health of many. Including its original buildings, additions, renovations, furnishings, equipment and clinics, the hospital was considered a million dollar project when it was closed December 31, 1958.

In 1959 the county sold the land and buildings to the Assumptionist Fathers, a Catholic Missionary Order, for the sum of $125,000. for seven years, from 1960 to 1967, it served as a seminary called Our Lady of Lourdes, for boys considering the priesthood. Subsequently, for ten years it was used by the Assumptionists as John XXIII Center, a retreat center "for renewal and ecumenism."

Since for two years there had been an annual loss of $8,000 to $10,000 a year, the Assumptionists in 1976 placed the property up for sale at $850,000. It was sold in 1977 as a Job corps Center, federally funded, with Singer Career Systems of Rochester assuming control April 1, 1978.

The State of New York in 1917 mandated that all counties of more than 30,000 population provide suitable facilities for care and treatment of tuberculosis. The Chautauqua Board of Supervisors was seriously considering a sanitarium when Mrs. Elizabeth M. Newton of Fredonia, who died May 16, 1913, willed the sum of $150,000 for a tuberculosis institution, as a memorial to her two sons, Albert L. and Henry J. - one of whom had died of the disease. It was also stipulated that it was to be "forever known and called the Newton Memorial Hospital." The "forever" proved to be four decades.

The miracle drugs which hastened the closing of Newton Memorial were streptomycin, isoniazed and para-amino-salicycle acid. also used were surgical measures for removal of infected parts.

Streptomycin was introduced in 1946. The year previous there was an average of 108 patients at the hospital, with 36 deaths. In 1958, when the Board of Supervisors decided to close the hospital, there were less than 30 patients, whom the board felt could be transferred to the J. N. Adams State Hospital in Perrysburg at considerable saving to the county.

Today, according to the County Board of Health, the few patients found to be tubercular are treated in local hospitals.

The story of Newton Memorial Hospital cannot be told without mention of the dedicated work of the late Dr. Walter L. Rathbun of New London, Conn., a Yale School of Medicine graduate. Coming to the county in 1922, he proved to be the man to lead the way in pioneer work against tuberculosis.

Dr. Rathbun not only started the county clinics program, the school and industrial examinations, but he built up the hospital to 180 beds and added a children’s camp. It is said that he read as many as 16,000 to 20,000 x-rays a year in addition to caring for the hospital patients.

Although Dr. Rathbun did see the introduction of streptomycin in 1946 and reported to the Board of Supervisors that its results were encouraging, he did not live to see "the new era" and the hospital’s demise. He died April 28, 1949, shortly after his retirement. His successor, Dr. Walter E. Lawrence, affirmed that although the hospital closed, the tuberculosis clinics should be continued.

At the time of the hospital’s closing there were those who favored its use as the relocation of the County Home and Infirmary then located in Dewittville. However, visiting state representatives, inspecting the hospital, told county officials the necessary changes would cost almost $1.5-million while the cost of a new building would be less than $2-million.

When, in September, 1958, the Board of Supervisors took action to call for bids for the hospital (none less than $100,000 to be considered) the lone bid came from the Buffalo-Niagara presbytery, a four-county church group which later withdrew its bid. In October, 1959, the Assumptionists bought the property for $125,000. Its sale as a Job Corps Center took place in September, 1977.

SOURCE: History of Chautauqua County, N.Y. 1938-1978
Submitted by Loraine C. Smith, 2004.