Local hospitals have garnered headlines for the care of COVID-19 patients during the pandemic. In the 1880s, the Atlanta Constitution published editorials calling for a public hospital to serve Atlanta’s indigent residents. Following the death of Atlanta Constitution editor and owner Henry Grady (1850-1859), the Atlanta City Council set aside $30,000 in funding to construct Atlanta’s first public hospital for city residents regardless of income. A committee led by Atlanta Councilman Joseph Hirsch selected Springfield, Massachusetts-based Gardner, Pyne, and Gardner as architect for the project.
The Grady Hospital of 1892 featured 110 beds and a sunlit operating room for medical students to observe doctors during surgeries. Horse-drawn ambulances dropped off patients at a porte-cochere entry on the south side of this cutting-edge medical facility for its time. Black and white patients received care in separate wards reflecting racial segregation of the era and sentiments of its late namesake. Patients, who could afford their care, stayed in private rooms.
Residential structures surrounding the original four-acre hospital campus were torn down for subsequent expansions. The porte-cochere entry was demolished for a six-story hospital addition. Interior spaces in the building have been altered since 1892, yet much of exterior structure remains intact. The City of Atlanta designated The Grady Hospital of 1892, renamed Georgia Hall, as a Landmark Building in 1989 describing the building as “exceptional important to the city, state or nation and whose demolition would represent an irreparable loss to the city.”
The Grady Hospital of 1892 can be found at 36 Jessie Hill, Jr. Drive in Downtown Atlanta. An example of Richardsonian Romanesque style architecture popularized between 1880 and 1900, the massive three-story, brick landmark with a granite basement is softened with rounded arches at windows, doors, and porches and hipped roofs. Visitors are greeted with “The Grady Hospital” on floral-themed stonework above the one-story, arched entry. A five-story brick tower rising from the building contains an emergency water tank.
Today, this landmark houses the human resources department for Grady. The 953-bed acute care teaching facility for patients across the metropolitan area has been racially integrated since the 1960s. One of the oldest hospital facilities operating in Atlanta, The Grady Hospital of 1892 demonstrates that historic medical buildings can be sustained for the current needs of the medical community.
Melody Harclerode, FAIA enjoys connecting the public to wondrous places as an award-winning architect, author, and Executive Director of Blue Heron Nature Preserve in Atlanta.