Building a hospital for Montpelier | Local News

It rained all day on Aug. 5, 1896, and Homer Heaton watched as Montpelier’s new hospital was dedicated. He had contributed the lion’s share — over $30,000 — toward Heaton Hospital’s construction, even initiating the project by purchasing the 10-acre lot on which it was situated.

When prevailed upon for some brief remarks at the ceremony, Heaton recalled a few incidents from his early life, as reported in The Watchman, “when he needed the care and attention that only a hospital can bestow.” Heaton, born in neighboring Berlin in 1811, had read law with Jonathan P. Miller, Montpelier’s stalwart abolitionist. Miller, impressed with the industrious young man, brought Heaton into his practice. It was noted that the younger man’s success was “obtained by careful preparation, lasting vigilance, and going around such obstacles as could not remove.” In his later years, he was president of the Montpelier Savings Bank.

“When Heaton was 12 years of age,” noted the Argus, “his father had a very difficult surgical operation performed in Hanover, New Hampshire. In 1877, he was ill with typhoid fever for eight weeks in the hotel and a few years later he sustained an injury to his hip from the effects of which he was partially crippled ever since. All this may have had something to do with what you see here today.”

Hiram Huse, historian and librarian, spoke for the trustees and acknowledged that it was because “Mr. Heaton had all his life long practiced the old New England virtues of frugality, hard work, and fidelity to his profession that he was able today to found this hospital as a public benefaction.”

The Argus concluded, “the people of this city are pleased with the hospital and grateful to Mr. Heaton.”

Heaton Hospital was planned in the style of “the cottage hospital,” a design meant to serve a rural area. It offered a level of care in a village where the alternative would have necessitated a trip to a larger population area. In that respect, Heaton Hospital served the needs of Montpelier and the surrounding towns very well for over 50 years.

Almost from the first, the hospital reached maximum capacity and expansions were planned in 1898, in 1910 and in succeeding decades.

In 1899, when Homer Heaton died at age 87 at his home at 143 State St., Dorman Kent recalled that Heaton was “an able lawyer, a real banker, a kindly man. His name has been and will be perpetuated high on the roll of honor in this city in the Heaton Hospital which he gave to the people.”

A large measure of the success of Heaton Hospital was due to the efforts of its architect, Bertrand Taylor, a St. Johnsbury native who had ventured to Boston to learn his trade and became one of the foremost designers of hospitals in the country. His firm, Rand and Taylor, was responsible for over 200 hospitals from coast to coast. Taylor literally “wrote the book” on designing these facilities with “Hospital Planning” (1903), initially published as a series of essays in Brickbuilder, a magazine for architects. In addition to the experience he garnered while working as a professional architect, he examined the design of European hospitals during two transatlantic tours. By the time Taylor designed Heaton Hospital, he had garnered a surfeit of experience from his work on countless other facilities.

Taylor emphasized the “pavilion” style in his designs, which was intended to limit much of the construction to a single story and designate specific functions to individual building components. This idea had its genesis in the military or “barracks hospital. An early advocate of this plan was Florence Nightingale, whose ideas gained great currency in Great Britain. “Nightingale’s ideal hospitals,” according to Rise of the Modern Hospital, “comprised a number of separate ward buildings, called pavilions, each functioning independently.” In this way, the size could be increased by adding pavilions, yet the scale would always be the same.

Bertrand Taylor’s treatise integrates the pavilion concept with the Cottage Hospital, which originated in England. Taylor notes that America’s first cottage hospital was Pittsfield, Massachusetts’ “House of Mercy,” which opened in 1875. It initially housed eight beds but a later expansion allowed for 13.

Taylor specified seven precepts for the design of the small or cottage hospital:

1. Accessibility — an open, uncrowded neighborhood

2. Floor space for each patient — not less than 144 square feet

4. Prevention of foul air entering ward

5. Warm in winter, cool in summer

7. Facilities to maintain cleanliness.

Clearly, Taylor’s design for Heaton Hospital met these criteria. He also noted that “the site is ideal, on a hill overlooking the city.” Many of Taylor’s designs evinced a similarity, especially his use of pavilions to keep much of the ward space on the first floor. The very nature of the cottage hospital — particularly the small number of beds — made the installation of an elevator impractical.

Taylor noted that his design for the first Mary Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, completed in 1890, was the first such edifice constructed from fireproof material. It was substantially larger than Heaton Hospital, likely due to the fact that it accommodated the operating theater for Dartmouth’s Medical College. The operating theater was the largest pavilion in this design. Taylor also incorporated a solarium (or sun room) into the connecting hallway, which offered a welcoming infusion of light on a winter’s day as well as additional use as a passageway. He soon traveled to the west coast to begin work on an important project, The Merritt Hospital in Oakland. While resting in southern California, he was interviewed by the Los Angeles Herald:

“Today is the hospital era. An immense number of them are being constructed. People in small places who took long journeys for hospital treatment can now get much better care in their home town. The fact that we have 40 hospitals under construction today gives a very fair idea of the growth of this idea. The hospital or sanitarium is no longer a place of last resort, but a place to get well.”

While Taylor was developing the plans for Mary Hitchcock, he was also working on the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury, Vermont’s centralized facility for patients with mental health problems. While Taylor was mostly in demand for designing hospitals, he also accepted commissions for private residences, especially in his home town of St. Johnsbury, where he built residences for Mrs. C.A. Forrest, Dr. Alice Wakefield and Arthur F. Stone. In the town of Hyde Park, he drew the plans for Gov. Page’s personal residence. The Page home today serves as an elegant bed and breakfast at 100 Main St.

In 1907, Taylor agreed to design the Watts Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. George Watts, a local philanthropist, was prepared to spend $500,000 on this endeavor. The News and Observer of Raleigh reported:

“The plans were prepared by Bertrand Taylor of Boston, who is said to be the greatest hospital architect in the world, a man who has made a specialty of this work. He has prepared plans for more than 200 hospitals, so it is said.”

Taylor had previously designed Mr. Watts’ personal home, a structure that the newspaper called “magnificent,” and the firm of Rand and Taylor was quite active in developing Pinehurst, a planned community in the Sand Hills area of North Carolina. The community has been described as a “New England village amid the pines,” and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead participated in the project.

Upon the occasion of Taylor’s premature death — he was 53 — the August 1909 Caledonian obituary observed:

“The phrase, a self made man, so often used inappropriately, applied with rare force to Bertrand Eugene Taylor. Leaving here in the seventies to study architecture in Boston, he steadily rose from an apprentice to the high pinnacle of the greatest specialist in his profession in the country. When he built his first hospital some twenty years ago, he was confronted with the problem of building a small hospital that should be as complete in its equipment as the more costly ones in the big cities. He was told if he achieved this result his professional success was assured. He succeeded, and since then he has built hospitals all over New England besides structures in North Carolina and California costing over a million dollars apiece. The 25 busy years of Mr. Taylor’s life ought to be an inspiration to any young man who has a laudable ambition to do things.”

After 72 years of service to Montpelier, Heaton Hospital was supplanted by the Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin which, in effect, merged Heaton Hospital with Barre’s hospital. Homer Heaton’s gift to Montpelier began a second life as Heaton Woods, an assisted living facility.

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