Hospital’s legacy celebrated at Milford Museum

The Milford Museum opened its exhibit celebrating Milford Memorial Hospital’s legacy last month, displaying a variety of tools used throughout the years and imagery reflecting those who helped keep the dream alive. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antonik)

MILFORD — As Bayhealth Medical Center continues to celebrate its expansion into Sussex County with the construction of a new health campus in Milford, residents and visitors can take a peek at past transitions at the Milford Museum.

The new exhibit, “A Legacy of Caring — The History of Milford Memorial Hospital,” officially opened during Downtown Milford, Inc.’s Third Thursday event July 19.

Featuring medical innovations and professionals from what began as just a few rooms to care for the sick in the Masonic Temple at 12 N.W. Front St., the exhibit takes visitors through several iterations of what is now known as Bayhealth’s Milford Memorial Hospital at 21 W. Clarke Ave.

: Artifacts in the exhibit highlight how much medicine has improved over the years.

“The idea for a hospital to care for the sick in Milford and the surrounding community was conceived in 1905 while Mrs. Mary Louise Donnell Marshall (wife of Dr. George W. Marshall) was visiting her son, William, an intern at the Delaware Hospital in Wilmington,” one placard reads in the display. “She knew that many patients died because there was no local hospital for treatment of serious medical cases.”

Prior to the birth of the then-Marshall Hospital, patients were sent to Wilmington “by cot in the train’s baggage car,” it reads.

This just would not suffice in Ms. Marshall’s mind. She and some of her friends created a local Red Cross chapter within two years. Together, they raised money to purchase emergency room equipment for three rooms in the Masonic Temple. They could treat up to four patients at a time.

It wasn’t long before the Masons found other uses for the rooms and the operation was forced to close. After storing the equipment in Marshall’s Pharmacy, a new hospital is said to have received its first patient April 12, 1909 — due to either “an exploding dynamite cap” or a foot in need of amputation.

In 1910 when the hospital reopened atop Windsor Hotel, then Central Hotel, services were just $1 per day. The hospital closed in 1912, citing financial problems. Soon after, Delaware legislators established the Emergency Hospital of Milford. The Marshalls came together to offer another solution: rent-free use of their building at 110 N.W. Front St.

“The hospital was administered by father and son team Drs. “Wid” and Sam and was open to all doctors and their patients with no restriction on color or creed,” a placard states in the museum.

Medical care in Milford continued to change, though, as the pair were called to military service during World War I in 1918. The hospital closed again.

: A photo inside the exhibit shows off the Milford Emergency Hopsital’s staff in 1922. From left to right, seated, are Dr. John Derrickson, Dr. James Martin, Dr. O.V. James, Chief of Staff Dr. C de J. Harbordt and Dr. John Prettyman. Standing, from left to right, are Dr. J. G. Dawson, Dr. John Roscoe Elliott, Dr. Joseph Bringhurst, Dr. Willard Pierce and Dr. W. T. Chipman.

A hospital wouldn’t reopen in Milford until 1921 when the Board of Trustees of the Emergency Hospital was able to open the Milford Emergency Hospital where Berry Funeral Home currently stands on N.W. Front St.

Called to continue serving the community, the Drs. Marshall opened their own hospital, the Marshall Hospital. Two hospitals operated in Milford from 1921 until 1934, according to the museum exhibit.

Growth was inevitable for Milford. By 1938, thanks to a property donation by former Board of Trustees President Dr. G. Layton Grier and his family, a new hospital was built to accommodate 100 beds and thus, treat more patients closer to their homes. That building still stands, although additions have been built over the years.

The new hospital also meant new experiences and possibilities, like the in-house training of nurses. The history of capping ceremonies of new nurses trained at Milford Memorial Hospital’s School of Nursing is highlighted in the exhibit along with a student’s nursing cape worn by 1941 graduate Esther Bullock Saulsbury.

Medical tools from the past can be seen inside the Milford Museum’s newest exhibit.

According to Bayhealth, the first male nurse graduated from the school in 1965.

Four years later in 1969, Oveta Whaley Gray became the first African-American nurse to attend and graduate from the Milford Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. She was also one of the “Milford Seven,” the first seven African-American students who graduated from Milford High School. Prior to Ms. Gray’s attendance at the school, it is believed that African-American nurses had to travel to Pennsylvania or other out of area nursing schools to obtain education in their field.

Milford Memorial Hospital continues to grow along with local communities and announced a merger with Kent General Hospital in 1997 causing the two entities to become, Bayhealth Medical Center as it is known today.

An annual reunion was held for babies born in the Milford Emergency Hospital, like this reunion in 1933.

Almost 20 years later, Bayhealth made another announcement: Milford Memorial Hospital will close its doors in 2019 just over 80 years after it opened. Bayhealth plans on completing construction to its new hospital and 169-acre health campus, Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus in early 2019.

Plans are underway to sell the current Milford Memorial Hospital to Nationwide Healthcare Services, LLC. which will provide myriad services at the new Nationwide Milford Wellness Village, including primary care, chronic disease management, training, social services opportunities and labs among other options. They also hope to provide a restaurant or café, an adult day care, childcare services and a skilled nursing home.

To learn more about the history behind Milford Memorial Hospital, visit the Milford Museum at 121 S. Walnut St. Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The museum can also be reached online at

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