York Hospital’s, WellSpan’s beginnings: ‘A man named Small acted upon a not-so-small idea’

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York Hospital started sprawling along the hillside south of York, Pa., from its earliest days after its move from West College Avenue in 1930. That move marked its 50th year of operation. Now, the hospital’s parent is reaching into Harrisburg. This week, officials at WellSpan said they would explore a merger with PinnacleHealth of Harrisburg. This photograph comes from longtime York Hospital surgeon Ray Kehm’s book “The Birth of a Surgeon.” Also of interest: Doctor wrote about oxygen use to aid ‘average country practitioners’ and Spanish flu epidemic in York: ‘People died one right after the other’ and Civil War hospital: A master’s thesis waiting to be written and West Side Sanitarium, later West Side Osteopathic and later Memorial Hospital born in The Avenues in York.

“One winter day in December 1879, a man named Small acted upon a not-so-small idea and began the serious planning that would before long culminate in a hospital for York, Pennsylvania.”
So began the preface of Florence La Rose Ames’ “That Sovereign Knowledge,” a history of York Hospital’s first 100 years.
A hospital was needed in post-Civil War York County… .


“Although still a country town,” she wrote. “York had a population of 16,000 and was ready for a centralized place to care for it sick.”
Samuel Small, the man credited with the not-so-small idea, answered the need for a hospital to serve the general public. He spearheaded construction of a three-story, 12-bed building on College Avenue.
Small, York’s leading 19th-century philanthropist, was accustomed to executing big ideas. He sparked the York Collegiate Institute, forerunner of York College, the Children’s Home of York and the York Benevolent Association, among other community work.
And Small was no newcomer to hospitals and their work. He and the volumnious Small family had been involved in the U.S. Army General Military Hospital that operated at York’s Penn Park during the Civil War.
“Thus the sprawling, twenty-acre York Hospital that today dominates the city and its environs from a commanding hilltop on South George Street, and that serves approximately a quarter million people, had is inauspicious beginning,” Ames wrote in 1990.
Those 12 beds have now grown to 558. The hospital, which along with Gettysburg Hospital operates under WellSpan’s big tent, employs more than 3,400 people.
WellSpan’s tent covers 40 locations in the region and counts 8,000 physicians, employees, volunteers, board members and auxiliary members. Those numbers could grow. It is now considering a merger with Harriburg’s PinnacleHealth.
Health care around York is, indeed, a not-so-small idea.
Sources: Florence La Rose Ames’ “That Sovereign Knowledge,” www.yorktownsquare.com, www.wellspan.org.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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2 Responses to York Hospital’s, WellSpan’s beginnings: ‘A man named Small acted upon a not-so-small idea’

  1. ED says:

    I’m shocked to see that Damon’s is closed. But, I am impressed that York Hospital is expanding in that area. Now that I live in Florida, I REALLY miss Wellspan.

    • Jim McClure says:

      Ed, you might not know it but Memorial Hospital expects to relocate on the old Hawk Lake Golf Course, not far from where WellSpan is looking to place its office. So the northwest side of town will be rich with medical providers.

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