Since its founding in 1837 as a railroad hub, Atlanta has been shaped by its industries. As the city grew into the “Empire City of the South,” residents led the development of innovations in transportation, agriculture and commerce. A series of visionary doctors, civic leaders and philanthropists helped support this growth by establishing the medical services, education and facilities that today provide care for millions of residents.
In 1854, only a few years after the city was incorporated, John Gray Westmoreland, M.D., and Joseph P. Logan, M.D., established the city’s first medical society, “The Brotherhood of Physicians.” The name was later changed to the Atlanta Medical Society, the precursor to the Medical Association of Atlanta.
Dr. Westmoreland secured a charter and $15,000 in donations to build the Atlanta Medical College in exchange for training one doctor from each of the state’s congressional district. Built on land donated by Colonel L.P. Grant, the Atlanta Medical College held its first lectures in May 1855 in a building constructed near present-day Grady Memorial Hospital.
Because of the start of the American Civil War, the faculty of the medical college suspended lectures and joined the war effort in 1861. As fighting grew closer to the city in 1862, 40 buildings were repurposed at the Atlanta Fairgrounds, south of present-day Memorial Drive near Hill Street, as a Confederate hospital. The hospital, originally named after Daniel Heery, M.D., president of the Atlanta Medical Society, was later renamed to Fairgrounds Hospital and organized into two divisions. By the end of the war, the facility was caring for over 500 soldiers per day.
As the war progressed and Atlanta’s value as a hub for transportation and supplies grew, the Atlanta Medical College was also converted into a hospital. Noel D’Alvigny, M.D., a faculty member and veteran of the French army, stayed behind to protect his beloved school during General William T. Sherman’s siege in November 1864. Dr. D’Alvigny was ordered to evacuate the city by officers preparing to burn the college.
The doctor accused the union soldiers of wanting to burn wounded men in a hospital and took them to the top floor where hospital attendants feigned wounds and sickness. The officers gave Dr. D’Alvigny until the next morning to relocate the patients, but to everyone’s surprise the soldiers had already left Atlanta for Savannah by sunrise.
An effort by Marcus Aurelius Bell helped establish the predecessor to Emory Wesley Memorial Hospital. In 1860, Bell contracted Tom Crusselle, Atlanta’s first stone mason, to build a 12-room, 5,500-square-foot home at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Courtland Street. Nicknamed the “Calico House” for its faux marbled walls, the main room of Bell’s home served as a hospital during the war, while other rooms became a hub for manufacturing and packing supplies. Spared by Sherman during the siege, it remained Bell’s home until 1876.
In 1904, the Methodist Church, with support from Asa Candler, bought and renovated the house into Wesley Memorial Hospital. In 1915, the hospital became part of Emory University and in 1922 moved to its present location on the university’s campus. Bell’s house was eventually demolished and since 1994 has been the site of the Auburn Avenue Research Library.
With post-war reconstruction underway, the Sisters of Mercy opened “Atlanta Hospital” on May 2, 1880. The two-story brick building, located on a one-acre corner lot at present-day Courtland and Washington streets, had well-ventilated rooms and convenient water pipes for bathrooms and kitchens. Sister Cecilia from Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah and F.H. O’Brien, M.D., a talented young physician from New York, oversaw the operation of the hospital. Another building was constructed to accommodate black patients, and no compensation was ever requested for medical services. In 1978, the hospital changed its name to Saint Joseph’s Hospital and moved to its present-day location on Peachtree Dunwoody Road. In 2012, Emory Healthcare partnered with Saint Joseph’s, obtaining a 51% share of the hospital, and renaming it Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.
Journalist and orator Henry W. Grady is credited with much of post-war Atlanta’s success. When Grady died in December 1889, residents of Atlanta proposed memorials in his honor, including a new hospital. City leaders met in January 1890 to discuss plans for the hospital using donated funds and concluded that they were short $30,000, which was eventually procured by private donations.
Colonel L.P. Grant donated $1,000 and sold the land on Butler Street to the hospital for $5,000 below value to build the facility. Local shops, factories and railroads assisted the construction of the original building. Grady Hospital was officially opened and dedicated on June 1, 1892.
In 1898, Len G. Broughton, M.D., moved from his native North Carolina to pastor Third Baptist Church in Atlanta. Shortly afterwards, he founded the Tabernacle Baptist Church and, in 1901, the Tabernacle Infirmary for Helpless Women and Children. In 1904, a new infirmary was built with modern operating and sterilizing rooms, and, in 1908, the infirmary relocated to the corner of Luckie and Harris streets.
Comprised of 45 beds divided across four three-story wards, pediatrics occupied two wards while the others specialized in general sickness and physical disability. The hospital, purchased by the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1913 and renamed Georgia Baptist Hospital, moved to a location on Boulevard in 1921. Tenet Healthcare acquired it in 1997 and changed the name to Atlanta Medical Center. WellStar Health Systems eventually acquired the hospital in 2016, maintaining the name.
As Atlanta’s population passed 90,000 at the turn of the 20th century, Ludwig Amster, M.D., and Floyd McRae, M.D., opened the Piedmont Sanatorium in 1905. Located on the corner of Capital Avenue and Crumley Street, later the site of a new baseball stadium, the hospital treated World War I veterans in a new five-story building equipped with fire escape slides from all floors. Renamed Piedmont Hospital in the 1920s, hospital staff began publishing a journal to share medical experience and knowledge.
During the 1930s, George Burt, the hospital administrator, introduced group insurance plans, a debated and divisive concept at the time. By the 1940s, Piedmont Hospital had become nonprofit and, in the 1950s, moved to its current location on Peachtree Street at the intersection of Collier Road.
While many hospitals were built and expanded to accommodate the growing population, none was dedicated to pediatric care. The idea of a children’s hospital was conceived in 1913 when Michael Hoke, M.D., cured William Wardlaw’s nephew of a bone infection.
With the help of friends and family, Mrs. Wardlaw raised $1,000 by selling pencils. She then asked the Scottish Rite Masons to underwrite the cost of a children’s hospital and added “Scottish Rite” to its name in honor of their contribution.
Scottish Rite Hospital opened on September 15, 1915, in Decatur, Georgia with 20 beds. The hospital covered all expenses that families endured while their children underwent treatment. Dr. Hoke served as the chief surgeon until 1926.
Around the time that Scottish Rite Hospital opened, Thomas R. Egleston Jr. added a $100,000 donation to his will for a children’s hospital in honor of his mother who lost four out of her five children. Construction for the Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children started shortly after Egleston Jr.’s death in 1916 and opened on October 15, 1928, in Atlanta’s Fourth Ward.
Wood W. Lovell, M.D., Scottish Rite Hospital’s medical director, announced the move to North Atlanta from Decatur in 1976. The new hospital boasted 50-beds and a four-bed Intensive Care Unit.
Now with two pediatric hospitals, Atlanta became a national center for children’s care. In the 1980s, Egleston Hospital became the first hospital to perform pediatric liver and heart transplants, and the State of Georgia designated Scottish Rite as a Pediatric Trauma Center. In 1998, Egleston Children’s Health Care System and Scottish Rite Medical Center merged to form Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the nation’s most extensive pediatric system for family-centered care.
In 2015, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta celebrated its 100th anniversary and its services with the addition of the Center for Advanced Pediatrics, a 260,000-square-foot outpatient facility that opened on July 24, 2018, at the corner of North Druid Hills Road and Interstate 85. After the new hospital at North Druid Hills is complete, Children’s will no longer operate an inpatient facility at Egleston.
As Atlanta expanded northward in the 1960s, local citizen groups, physicians and city leaders proposed the establishment of a hospital to care for an increasingly affluent community. Located at the apex of the then-new Interstate 285, 250-bed Northside Hospital opened in the summer of 1970 with services that included a pharmacy, auxiliary services, labs and more than 100 doctors’ offices. The Sandy Springs location inspired the establishment of numerous medical offices and facilities over the next three decades, giving the area its nickname of “Pill Hill.”
Many early medical establishments in Atlanta continuously reinvented themselves as they grew. In 1908, Edward Campbell Davis, M.D., and Luther C. Fischer, M.D., founded the 26-bed Davis-Fischer Sanatorium on Crew Street, two blocks south of the present-day Georgia State Stadium. The hospital was moved to Midtown Atlanta in 1911 and renamed Crawford W. Long Memorial in 1931. It was later acquired by Emory University, operating as Emory Crawford Long Hospital until it was renamed Emory University Hospital Midtown in 2009.
While many hospitals have been built around Atlanta throughout its history, some, including Doctors Memorial Hospital (1970-1986) and West Paces Ferry Hospital (1972-1999), did not survive economic challenges. Others, such as Southwest Hospital, opened in 1943 by the Society of Catholic Medical Mission Sisters, constantly reinvented themselves as the city changed.
Located on Fairburn Drive, Southwest Hospital was built to care for African Americans from Atlanta’s Third Ward who were underserved by other medical establishments. The name changed to Holy Family Hospital in 1962, and then to Southwest Community Hospital in 1975. While financial troubles forced the hospital’s closure in 2009, it reopened in 2014 as the Atlanta Center for Medical Research.
The city of Atlanta has experienced well over a century of improvements in medicine and health care delivery. Thanks to generations of leaders, residents of Atlanta today have access to high-quality hospitals no matter where they live.