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Blackwell Hospital

The Tabernacle

By Jeff Clark


Alameda - Cheaney folks of a certain age often start our visit, "I was born in the Blackwell Hospital in Gorman." Like most good things in Eastland County, the Blackwell Hospital can trace its ancestry to the Mansker Lake Community.
I vaguely remember driving by there as a child, but the visual is fuzzy. Both my parents were born there, one going home to Cheaney, the other to Blanket, between Comanche and Brownwood. The Blackwell Hospital was said to be "the" hospital in this part of Texas. An empty city lot, its grass knee high to a new historical marker, is all that remains of the building from which so many began their lives.
The text from the historical marker reads: "Much of Eastland County's medical history can be traced to the work of two brothers, George and Edward Blackwell. George (1882-1955) attended Baylor Medical College and Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, where Edward (1890-1956) also attended. Both men returned to Eastland County after receiving their degrees.
"In 1907, George wed Frankie Brogdon, and in 1913, Edward wed her sister, Bessie. The two young physicians served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War I. Following the war, the brothers opened the Blackwell Clinic in downtown Gorman. They soon realized the need for patient care facilities, and in 1919 they built Blackwell Sanitarium, later known as Blackwell Hospital, at this site. Frankie and Bessie prepared meals at the new facility, which utilized its own livestock as a source of meat, eggs, milk and butter. Nurses performed medical service, as well as housekeeping tasks, and the brothers treated patients at both the clinic and the hospital.
"Contemporary to the hospital's opening, two large oilfields began drawing scores of new residents to the area, and the hospital continued to grow to meet demand. The brothers, who eventually moved their clinic to the hospital facilities, began to specialize and add new physicians to the staff. These included Dr. David V. Rodgers (1910-1971), George Blackwell's son-in-law who joined the staff in 1938 and assumed hospital leadership in the late 1950s. In 1971, hospital administrators completed a larger building elsewhere (WHERE?). Having grown to become a four-story brick edifice, with doctor and dental offices, clinic and laboratory, the old Blackwell Hospital building remained vacant until its demolition in 1989."
So, how can Alameda take credit for the Blackwell Hospital? Dr. Ed and Dr. George were both born and raised in the "Mansco Lake Community" to Edward F. and "Rantie" Jane Motley Blackwell (both buried at Alameda). Their father, Edward F., moved to Ranger in the early 1870s from Chicago, on the advice of his doctor (he had tuberculosis, so a drier climate was recommended). The tiny settlement of Ranger must have been a shock to Ed's system, after having come from the bustling commercial city of Chicago.
Their mother Rantie's family fled to Texas from Georgia. They say Rantie never got over being forced out of her Georgia home by Sherman's Union Army of destruction (a trauma shared by more than a few of the area's earlier settlers. She referred to Abe Lincoln as "that old buzzard" into her twilight of her life.
Her husband Ed worked as a county surveyor here until some "good Southerner" needed his job. Ed's coming from Illinois (read: Yankee) costs him his job. He bought 375 acres above the cliff, just west of the Leon River in Alameda in 1884 (his brother Jim ended up across this Alameda - Eastland Road a few years later, marrying Julia Jones, also born in Georgia). {Jim and Edward F's kids (except Dr. George, who attended Cheaney) are said to have attended Triumph School two miles to the west…. I wonder why…both Cheaney and Triumph were farther from their house than Alameda, just down the hill from both houses}.
Edward and Rancie's two sons, Ed and George, left those Mansker Lake roots to become doctors, though they served the Alameda - Cheaney Community til the end of their careers. George taught for one year at School Hill (probably knew the Elrods). He went to medical school in Dallas, then Northwestern University of Medicine in Chicago. After graduation, he returned to Eastland County's Romney Community, where he married Frankie Lee Brogdon in 1908. Their only daughter, Buryl was born there in 1912 (she later taught at Alameda).
George's brother Edward attended "country schools" then Hankins College in Gorman. He later joined his brother George in Chicago where Ed worked his way through medical school (one job was as a street car conductor).
After received medical degree, he came home to Texas. Still being too young to take the State Medical Board exam, he went to Romney working in George's drug store. Ed moved to Gorman in 1915 and went into medical practice with George.
The early oil boom and a major flu epidemic greatly increased demand for medical services. The first Blackwell hospital opened in 1919, boasting a kitchen, bathroom, and eight patient rooms. The hospital reached full capacity before all the furniture arrived. Makeshift cots were borrowed and patients were put out in the hallway. In 1921, eight more rooms were added. Regular office calls were $2. Eyeglasses cost $12.50. Tonsillectomies were $35.
Dr. Rush, Dr. Brandon and Dr. Stubblefield were also there, in practice with the Blackwells at one time or another. Blackwell Hospital gradually enlarged until it had four stories and fifty-two rooms, seven MDs, a dentist and lab technician.
Dr. George's daughter Buryl married David Verle Rodgers in 1932, who was also a teacher at Alameda (brother to Shafner Rodgers, also an Alameda teacher).
His father-in-law, Dr. George, talked him into entering Baylor Medical School in Dallas. He graduated in 1937. Dr. Rodgers began practice in July 1938 at the hospital. He became a partner and later the owner. Dr. Rodgers continued the hospital's traditions, treating sickness, slowing epidemics, curing disorders, and conducting surgery. Dr. Rodgers made house calls late into his career, enduring him to hundreds of residents.
The doctors accepted almost anything as payment during the depression/WWII era. One child's tonsillectomy was paid for with homemade apple jelly. By 1969, Dr. Rodgers had delivered 8,850 babies, approximately eight times the population of Gorman.
Compiled from stories written by Buryl Blackwell Rodgers, Marilyn Harrison Currie and Maurice E. Currie, all in the red "Gateway to the West" Eastland County History.

Jeff Clark -

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