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City Hospital

The First 100 Years: From Poor House to Modern Treatment Facility

You have to be fairly old to even remember City Hospital. Founded in 1837, just one year after Cleveland became a city, it was Cleveland's first public hospital. In 1958, after 121 years in existence, and as a result of the growth of Cleveland's suburbs and recognition that the services provided by the hospital had become county-wide, it was transferred to the Cuyahoga County Hospital System, becoming Metro General Hospital. Today, it is the main campus of the MetroHealth System.

City Hospital had its origins in the great cholera pandemic of 1829-1837. It struck Cleveland in 1832, when soldiers on the Henry Clay, a ship that was transporting them across the Great Lakes to fight in the Black Hawk War in the West, contracted the disease while their ship was docked in Buffalo. They became sick as the ship sailed to Detroit, which, at least according to one Cleveland historian, stationed armed men on its docks to prevent the soldiers from disembarking there. Compelled to seek medical help elsewhere, the ship headed to Cleveland where the soldiers received treatment. Unfortunately, the cholera soon spread, killing 50 people within several months, which was at that time about five percent of the population.

In the aftermath of the epidemic, Cleveland created a Board of Health, and, in 1837, the Board took over the former Cleveland Township poorhouse, converting it into an institution that was initially called the City Hospital, but later became the Cleveland Infirmary. For a little more than a decade, the hospital operated out of the poorhouse, a two-story ramshackle building on the northwest corner of Sumner and Clinton (East 14th) Streets. It was located on the same grounds as Erie Street cemetery which prompted Mark Gottlieb, a journalist who wrote a history of University Hospitals, to note that that was "appropriate," because, in those days, people who went to hospitals usually died shortly thereafter.

In 1851, as Cleveland grew and in response to another cholera scare, the city purchased an 80-acre lot in Brooklyn Township along Scranton Road as the site of a proposed new and larger City Infirmary. Plans were drawn and, in 1855, the city completed construction of an Italianate-style red-brick building which had five stories, including its basement and attic. The land on which the new infirmary sat had formerly been the Brooklyn Township poor farm. That the first two sites for City Hospital were places where the community's poor had been housed provides an insight into society's perception in that era that a close relationship existed between poverty, morality, sickness and disability.

For the next three decades, medical treatment was provided in this building on Scranton Road, which became known as the "Middle House," because of the many annexes and wings that were added onto each side of it over the years. However, the building still served as primarily something other than a hospital during this time period. It was home--sometimes for decades, to an assortment of Clevelanders who were destitute, sometimes because of mental illness, sometimes because of disability, and sometimes simply because of poverty and advanced age. While some efforts were made to separate residents based on the condition which had brought them to Middle House, often the poor, the mentally ill, the disabled, the elderly poor, and even juvenile offenders lived in close proximity to one another and to actual hospital patients.

In the final decades of the nineteenth century as medical science entered the bacteriological era and as the medical profession became, well, more professional, major change came to City Hospital. Slowly it transformed itself from an institution serving society's destitute into a medical treatment facility. In 1889, a second building with the capacity to treat 200 patients was erected on the Scranton Road campus, just north of Middle House. While the latter building and its multiple annexes continued for several more decades to provide what were considered charitable services for the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, and others, the new building, which was officially designated as City Hospital, served exclusively as a place where sick and injured patients received medical treatment.

In 1890, the quality of the medical services provided at the hospital began to improve markedly when, at the instigation of Cleveland mayor George Gardner, the Board of Health took first steps to begin ceding authority for hospital policy and procedure to a medical staff composed of a number of respected area physicians who were engaged in different fields of specialization. Among those early City Hospital physicians were Dr. George Crile, who would several decades later co-found the Cleveland Clinic, and Dr. Dudley Allen, who had married into the wealthy Severance family and became not only one of Cleveland's great surgeons, but also one of its great philanthropists.

As the twentieth century arrived, City Hospital was on a fast track to becoming one of the largest and best hospitals in the United States. The campus grew immensely during the first three decades of the century. In 1913, while a new multiple building complex was under construction, the hospital became affiliated with the medical school of Western Reserve University, further enhancing its professional standards. By 1937, which marked the one hundredth anniversary of its founding, City Hospital was the country's sixth largest hospital, with sixteen hospital buildings and 1,650 beds on the Scranton Road campus. It had come a very long way from its beginnings in the city's poorhouse located on the grounds of Erie Street Cemetery.


Middle House
Middle House The first City Hospital building on the Scranton Road campus, Middle House was erected in 1855 at what today would be approximately 3405 Scranton Road on the MetroHealth campus. For this reason, that address has been designated as the geographical site of this story. Middle House was so named because of the maze of wings and annexes which were added to its two sides over the fifty plus years of its existence. This photo was taken in 1901, eight years before it was razed as a result of damage sustained during the severe windstorm that struck the west side of Cleveland on April 21, 1909. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photo Collection
Fear in Hudson, Ohio
Fear in Hudson, Ohio On October 11, 1832, the Hudson Telegraph and Observer reported these cholera deaths in Cleveland. The paper published a number of articles that year keeping its readers up to date on the toll the disease was taking among the populations of a number of Eastern and Midwestern cities. The epidemic, which claimed 50 lives in Cleveland in just several months, led to the creation of City Hospital in 1837. It is an interesting side note on the Ohio-Erie Canal, which had just recently opened, that people came to learn in this year that not only goods,but also disease, could travel along the canal to the state's interior lands. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Research Database, 19th Century Newspaper Collection
Birds Eye View South
Birds Eye View South The City Hospital on Scranton Road is circled in red on this famous 1877 map of Cleveland and parts south. It provides a good visualization of not only how distantly located the hospital was from the then urbanized areas of Cleveland, but also just how rural the Cleveland area itself was beyond the Walworth Run (the blue line), located only a half mile south of Lorain Avenue. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
City Hospital
City Hospital While the origins of City Hospital lie in the cholera epidemic of 1832 and the hospital created in 1837 on the grounds of Erie Street Cemetery, Cleveland's public hospital first officially became known as "City Hospital" in October 1889 when the building shown above, which was devoted exclusively to the treatment of patients, opened on the Scranton Road campus. This photo was taken shortly after construction of the building was completed. Image courtesy of The MetroHealth System Archives
Dr. Dudley Allen (1852-1915)
Dr. Dudley Allen (1852-1915) One of Cleveland's finest surgeons in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Dr. Dudley Allen became a member of the first medical staff at City Hospital when the Board of Health acted in 1890 to improve the quality of medical services provided at the hospital. Married to Elizabeth Severance of the wealthy Severance family, he and his wife became two of Cleveland's most important philanthropists. This portrait photo was taken in 1910. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photo Collection
Caroline Kirkpatrick (1850-1915)
Caroline Kirkpatrick (1850-1915) Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Kirkpatrick trained as a nurse in London under Florence Nightingale. She came to the United States in 1894 to become superintendent of the City Hospital east side facility known as Cleveland General Hospital, where she founded the first nursing school here in 1896. Her strict standards irritated some of the young doctors on staff, and, after spending six difficult, yet fruitful, years in Cleveland, she returned to Europe in 1900. In the above photo from circa 1896, she is the woman dressed in black. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library - Administration Branch
City Hospital and City Infirmary
City Hospital and City Infirmary This 1891 Atlas of the City of Cleveland graphically shows the respective locations to each other of the building complexes then existing on the Scranton Road campus. City Hospital (grey-colored building footprint just below Valentine Street), which had opened just two years earlier, was located to the north of the multi-winged similarly grey-colored building footprint below it on map, which was the City Infirmary (including Middle House). Both buildings faced Scranton Road. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Tuberculosis Sanitorium<br />
Tuberculosis Sanitorium
Built during the 1902 smallpox epidemic as a "pest house," this City Hospital building was located on the east side of the campus a distance from the rear of the buildings fronting on Scranton Road. In 1903, it became a facility for the treatment of tuberculosis, reputedly the first such separate hospital facility in the United States for the treatment of this disease. The above undated photo of the building appeared in the 1909 Cleveland Annual Report. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Administrative Library Branch.
The Playground of City Hospital
The Playground of City Hospital Until late 1909 when Middle House was razed, the Scranton Road campus of City Hospital was home to an assortment of children, ranging from juvenile delinquents to the mental ill to the poor and disabled. This undated photo, which appeared in the 1909 Cleveland Annual Report, shows children playing on a playground located immediately behind City Hospital. Middle House and the rest of the City Infirmary complex are the darker-colored buildings to the left. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Administration Branch
Progressive Era Model Hospital
Progressive Era Model Hospital Following the razing of Middle House in 1909, Mayor Tom Johnson's administration announced ambitious plans to construct a new complex of hospital buildings on the Scranton Road campus, which ultimately included an administration building, service building, hospital ward, nurses residence, laundry and power plant. The above model of the new campus was created in 1912 by Architect/Engineer Myron B. Vorce during the mayoral administration of Johnson's successor, Newton Baker. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Administration Branch
New Administration Building
New Administration Building The first of the new buildings constructed under Architect Myron B. Vorce's 1912 design for a new City Hospital complex at the Scranton Road campus, the Administration Building was completed in 1914. Two other buildings were also completed that year, and a number of others in the years that followed. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Administration Branch
Aerial View of City Hospital from the South
Aerial View of City Hospital from the South By 1937, the 100th anniversary of its founding, City Hospital was the sixth largest hospital in the United States, with sixteen buildings and 1,650 beds on its Scranton Road Campus. This 1938 photo presents a view of the campus from the South. The road seen on the right, which ran north-south, was a part of Jennings Road (West 14th Street) that was removed when Interstate-71 was built. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photo Collection


Scranton Rd at Valentine Ave, Cleveland, OH | Former site of first City Hospital buildings


Jim Dubelko, “City Hospital,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 24, 2024,