Naval Hospitals in Washington

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 7/10/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10144

Washington has been home to a variety of naval hospital facilities since the end of the nineteenth century. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton received a naval hospital soon after its establishment in the 1890s. The first hospital, a frame building, was soon replaced by a permanent hospital on the hillside above the shipyard. This hospital served the navy community for many years until a new hospital was opened in 1980 at Jackson Park in Bremerton. During World War I a hospital housed in two university dormitories served trainees at a naval training center established on the University of Washington's Seattle campus. Then in World War II the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard hospital could not expand to meet all the increased need so a temporary naval hospital operated during those years just north of Seattle in Shoreline.

Naval Hospital, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton

The Puget Sound Navy Yard (later the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard) was established in 1891 at Bremerton in Kitsap County. Lieutenant Ambrose B. Wyckoff (1848-1922) located the shipyard on undeveloped land on Sinclair Inlet. In 1892 construction begin on the first dry dock. Dry Dock #1 went into service in 1896. The first medical department was housed aboard the decommissioned gunship USS Nispic in 1896. A wood frame building was constructed on the hull amidships to make it a barracks ship. In 1901 a sick quarters was opened in a building above Dry Dock #1. It had 16 beds and four tents for patients. This two-story frame building was designated a naval hospital in March 1903. The staff included one surgeon and two hospital stewards. In 1907 the hospital cared for 225 patients.

In March 1909 the Navy Yard received funding for a permanent hospital. Construction workers completed the building on January 27, 1911. However, medical equipment did not arrive until late 1911, delaying the opening until January 1, 1912. The hospital was a two-story masonry brick administration building with two attached wings. Built in a Neo-Classical style, it had a capacity of 200 beds. The building was built in the navy yard's northwest section on the hillside above the industrial area to take advantage of breezes and cleaner air. Patients had a view of the water or the golf course on the landward side. Meanwhile, construction of Dry Dock #2 had undercut the foundation of the old hospital building, which was therefore condemned. The navy sold the building to a private group that moved it to Seventh and Chester Streets in Bremerton. It became a civilian hospital and expanded over the years. Still surviving, it has served as a hospital and a nursing home, and now houses apartments.

In 1915 an isolation building was added to the Naval Hospital. It proved insufficient to handle the influenza epidemic three years later. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard hospital was hard hit by the 1918 epidemic. A staff of one medical officer, one nurse, two stewards and 12 American Red Cross nurses on loan dealt with four to five deaths a day at the peak of the epidemic. The death toll for 1918 was 89 patients, 77 of those from influenza.

In the 1920s additional buildings were constructed. On November 8, 1920, an American Red Cross Hostess House opened. The two-story wood frame Hostess House offered a relaxing home-like setting for patient recreation. A frame nurses quarters was completed in June 1921. Over the next three years medical officer housing and a commanders quarters were built. Additional masonry brick wings, connected by an enclosed corridor, were added to the hospital in 1924 and 1925. The hospital reached a capacity of 400 beds. In 1927 the hospital obtained guidance and advice from the Seattle Parks Department in developing a landscape plan. The navy landscaped the hospital grounds with flowering trees, plantings around the buildings, and grass. The hospital became one of the most impressive in the Puget Sound area. There was little construction activity during the early 1930s due to the Depression and limited budgets. Public Works Administration (PWA) projects starting in 1936 added more permanent buildings. These additions included a corpsman barracks and, in 1939, another wing. At this point the hospital had its administration or central building and eight wings.

In the early years of World War II, wood frame H-type temporary wards and other buildings were built at the hospital complex. A temporary barracks for Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) was erected in 1943. The WAVES performed clerical and support services in the hospital. The most famous visitor to the hospital during the war was President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945). He toured the facility in a convertible, stopping to talk with personnel outside the hospital. Patients leaned out the windows to see the president and shout words of encouragement. The patient count for all of World War II was more than 29,000.

During the Korean War the hospital became busy again with 17,000 admissions. Following this war the hospital continued medical care for sailors on visiting ships and the navy community. In 1980 a new Naval Hospital opened at the former Naval Ammunition Depot at Jackson Park in Bremerton. This modern hospital serves the Puget Sound Navy community. The old hospital was demolished with the exception of six buildings. Still standing in 2012 are the Sick Officers Quarters, Building 491 (built 1942), and the Corpsman Barracks, Building 443 (1937). The former Sick Officers Quarters recently underwent rehabilitation designed to maintain its historic integrity. It is now home to the Navy College, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and religious units. The Corpsman Barracks has also been rehabilitated and converted to office space. Four other quarters also survive, including officers apartments built in 1923 and now used as shipyard officers housing. Another officers quarters, a two-story frame house constructed in 1923 as the commanding officer's home, is used as base housing, as are two Warrant Pharmacists Quarters built in 1926.

Naval Training Center, University of Washington campus, Seattle

In World War I the University of Washington offered the Naval Reserve space on its campus for a training camp. The Washington Naval Militia opened a naval training center there on August 1, 1917. Commander Miller Freeman (1875-1955), a prominent Washington publisher and fisheries expert (whose son and grandson, Kemper Freeman Sr. and Jr., would become major developers in Bellevue), was a driving force in obtaining the center. It trained Oregon and Washington men and women in naval skills. The women were trained to be "Yeomen (F [for female])," clerical workers, and telephone operators. The training camp, which was located on Lake Union at the present (2012) site of the University of Washington Health Sciences complex, included tents and some temporary construction. Hospitals serving the camp were established in Lewis Hall, a men's dormitory, and Clark Hall, a women's dormitory. Lewis served as an officers hospital and Clark provided enlisted health care. Both hospitals were overworked during the 1918 flu epidemic, with many sick and a number of deaths.

The Naval Training Center closed in 1919, having trained about 5,000. Both Lewis and Clark halls, constructed in 1899, survive in 2012. They have been renovated and converted to office and classroom spaces. Lewis Hall houses the School of Business Administration. Clark Hall has Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) offices and classrooms. They are among the oldest surviving buildings on the University of Washington campus. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has named a fisheries and research vessel in Miller Freeman's honor.

Seattle Naval Hospital

World War II found the navy seriously short of hospital beds. Large numbers of wounded and injured were expected from the war in the Pacific. The Oakland, California, naval hospital expanded, but more hospital beds were also needed in the Pacific Northwest. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard hospital could not be expanded. Seattle was selected as an alternative since it had a good transportation network. Construction of the Seattle Naval Hospital began in March 1942 and the hospital opened that August. It was located on 165 acres in Shoreline, north of Seattle, at 15th Avenue NE and NE 150th Street.

The hospital had 41 one-story wood frame wards with a 500-bed capacity. It had two surgical wards, a surgery building with four operating rooms, and staff quarters for 780 personnel. A contract authorized on September 19, 1942, added three special wards and Officers Sick Quarters. The first wounded from the South Pacific arrived in January 1943. Large groups of patients arrived by special hospital trains from San Francisco. Soon the patient load exceeded the hospital capacity. An expansion program approved on May 24, 1943, added another 500 beds to the facility. On July 20, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) made her second visit to the hospital, talking with and encouraging patients in all seven wards.

On May 23, 1943, Captain Joel T. Boone (1889-1974) became the hospital's commandant. He was described as the most decorated U.S. Navy officer. Captain Boone had been awarded the Medal of Honor in World War I, the Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, and other awards. The distinguished captain had also served as physician to three presidents. His Chief Nurse was Lieutenant Ida Ann Netter (1890-1981) of Seattle. She had joined the army in World War I and in 1923 left the army to join Navy Medical Corps. Lieutenant Netter advanced in responsibility to chief nurse.

Joining the staff in 1944 was Robert E. Bush (1926-2005) of Tacoma. At age 17 he dropped out of high school and joined the navy. Bush attended Medical Hospital Corps School and trained to be a hospital apprentice. He was assigned to the Seattle Naval Hospital in May 1944 for four months of intern training. From there he went to Camp Pendleton for additional training and then overseas. He took part in the invasion of Okinawa and on May 2, 1945, cared for the battle wounded, running from one to another under intense enemy machine gun and mortar fire. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic action. After the war Bush used the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the G.I. Bill, to complete high school and graduate from the University of Washington. Bush had a successful South Bend, Washington, lumber and hardware business. The naval hospital on the Marine Corps base at 29 Palms, California, is named in his honor.

Near the end of the war a five-wing building for military dependents care opened. Captain Boone departed in March 1945 for duty in the Pacific. In 1945 hospital staff included 15 Seattle physicians and surgeons serving as navy doctors. Most of them had already seen overseas duty. Included in the group were Captain C. E. Watts (1890-1958), who was a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington for many years and instrumental in obtaining funding for the university's medical school. The hospital reached a capacity of 1,500 beds but had 2,000 patients at its peak. Patients were placed in hallways and other available space.

Following World War II the hospital closed and in 1947 the property was transferred to King County. Firland, a tuberculosis hospital, took over the facility and 399 tuberculosis patients moved in on November 25, 1947. By 1948 the population had grown to 750 patients. Firland occupied the facility until October 30, 1973. In 1952 the Fircrest School for developmentally disabled citizens moved into one section of the former naval facility, which was divided from Firland by a fence. Eighty-five acres of the former hospital grounds became the site of Shorecrest High School in 1961. Over the years the Naval Hospital buildings have been removed.


Sources: History of the Naval Hospital, Bremerton, Washington, pamphlet ca. 1955, copy in Rare Publications Collection, Washington State Library, Tumwater; Louise M. Reh, Fair Winds of Change: A History of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Bremerton: Red Deer Press, 1984); Fredi Perry, Bremerton and Puget Sound Navy Yard (Bremerton: Perry Publications, 2002); "Four Deaths Reported at Bremerton Naval Station," The Seattle Daily Times, October 11, 1918, p.11; "Captain Boone, Noted Medic, Is Hospital Chief," Ibid., May 2, 1943, p. 13; "War Victims Get Handshake, Cheery Words," Ibid., July 20, 1943, p. 11;  "Navy Hospital's First Birthday," Ibid., August 22, 1944, p. 4; "Navy Hospital Expansion O.K'D," Ibid., September 14, 1943, p. 4; "Seattle Doctors 'Tour' World," Ibid., April 8, 1944, p. 15; "WAC Dance Will Mark Anniversary," Ibid., May 15, 1944, p. 8; "U. Establishes Fund to Honor Dr. C. E. Watts," Ibid., October 14, 1958, p. 10; "Navy Region Northwest: Cultural Resources Overview, 29 Feb 2012," Washington State Arts Commission website accessed June 22, 2012 (www.arts.wa.gov/projects/documents/NRNW-CR-Overview-02-29-12.pdf).

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