A trip down memory lane with Monadnock Community Hospital

By MELISSA FRENCH

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 05-17-2023 2:38 PM

First of a series of articles leading up to Monadnock Community Hospital’s 100th anniversary celebration June 3.

Monadnock Community Hospital began with an act of community spirit when Robert Parmelee donated his summer home to create a hospital one hundred years ago. The Peterborough Hospital opened its doors to the Monadnock community on June 21, 1923.

Over the past 100 years, the community has shown their support repeatedly in so many ways. MCH is gearing up for a centennial celebration on June 3, and all are invited to come and celebrate this 100th anniversary in grand style. 

Early days, 1915 to 1923

The history of Monadnock Community Hospital goes all the way back to 1917, when community members asked Robert Parmelee to donate his unoccupied summer home to the town of Peterborough to become a community hospital.  

In 1873, the first American hospital survey located only 178 hospitals in the country. People who were ill were treated at home or went to the poorhouse/almshouse. Household medicine was nearly identical to hospital treatment.  

In the early 20th century major scientific advances were made in germ theory, antiseptic surgery, clinical pathology, X-ray, and more. Acute care was centered in hospitals, such as the ones closest to Peterborough in Keene, Nashua and Fitchburg, Mass. There was little chance for a rapid medical response or immediate physician contact in our small rural community.  

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In 1915, Parmelee and his wife Alice Elizabeth Parker Parmelee began to build Evergreen, their summer home in Peterborough. It was situated on 70 acres with a beautiful view of Monadnock. Site work was a labor-intensive operation in the early 1900s. Horse power went hand-in-hand with manual labor.  

In 1917 the home’s value was assessed at $35,776 ($353,718.08 adjusted to 2022). 

“It can be established that it will be supported by the people of Peterborough and the adjacent country, if they can be made to feel that it is theirs and so conducted that they (the residents) will be proud of it,” Robert Parmelee said.

World War I slowed progress on the fundraising and conversion of the home to a hospital. In December 1918, 185 generous community members pledged $10,330.40 ($200,215.35 adjusted) for each year over a period of five years. 

In March 1919, Mrs. Benjamin P. Cheney and Elizabeth C. Kauffman underwrote the entire $200,000 ($3,876,236.20 adjusted) needed to renovate the Parmelee house and equip it as a hospital. Robert Parmelee wrote, “I am so glad to have my friends and neighbors share with me in this, which will make us all, I trust, better neighbors, better friends.” 

On March 28, 1919, the first meeting of the Peterborough Hospital Corporation was held. After many contributions from the war-burdened community and the efforts of many committee members and skilled craftsmen, the Peterborough Hospital opened its doors to begin caring for the community on June 21, 1923. There were few rural communities the size of the Monadnock region that could boast having its own modern hospital.  

In 1923, a room with three beds cost $2.50 per day ($42.79 adjusted), a private room was $3.50 to $5 per day ($59.90 to $85.57 adjusted), and a private room with bath was $7 per day ($119.80 adjusted).

The capacity was twelve beds. Most rooms were furnished as wards with three beds. There were four permanent doctors, 12 associate physicians and 47 medical consultants from as far as Boston. There were six bassinets in the maternity ward. 

By 1974, there were 29 members on the medical team. In 2023, there are 108 active doctors and 41 associate doctors.

Melissa French is the marketing specialist for Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough.

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