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1,000 Feet of Pipe: White Rock Hospital (1919 – 1932) 
(excerpted article)

Although White Rock Hospital was established in Madison County, a county contiguous to Buncombe and about 20 miles from Asheville, it is included in this article to highlight the role the Protestant Home Missionaries played in the development of Appalachian health care. In the last decades of the 19th century, most denominations sent workers into the home mission field of the south to work with newly freed slaves and, later, in Appalachian communities. Their emphasis was on providing salvation, education, and to a lesser extent health care for the least fortunate in society. Contributors and workers in the Home Missionary movement hoped that through their endeavors, the lives of the poor would be “uplift[ed]. The Presbyterian Board of Home Missions felt a kinship to folks in the southern mountains because of loyalties during the Civil War, as explained in this Presbyterian publication, New Era Magazine, in July 1920:

The towering importance of the mountain work stands first in a sentimental consideration, and second, in a practical fact. The mountain people had no connection with slavery and were loyal to the North in the Civil War. This started feelings of responsibility and of sympathy for them among northern people, which still persist. The practical consideration is that ‘the Southern Appalachians are the chief source of the white population in the South.’ This significant sentence from Professor Tate justifies all the work that is done by mission agencies of all churches, North and South. The mountain people are poor and they are many. For generations to come the mountain country will be dependent upon national resources.

Seeing these mountain communities as an investment in a unique region and population of the nation, beginning in 1893, Presbyterian Home Missions established sixteen schools throughout Madison County. In 1895, a young female, Presbyterian missionary named Frances Goodrich moved to the area. Motivated by the overall poor living conditions she found, Goodrich worked from a more holistic perspective, seeing beyond educational needs only and into the development of economic opportunities and healthcare resources for students and their families.90 She initiated and helped a group of women establish a marketable cottage industry “Allanstand Cottage Industries,” an effort that brought not only much-needed cash into the community, but also a sense of pride and accomplishment and a way to preserve their heritage.

Madison County had had few physicians, none of whom had lived in the county, and certainly there was no hospital. Travel to Asheville to seek medical care was difficult over unpaved, steep mountain roads in the best of times, and with winter snows and ice, some roads in the county were nearly impassable.

Miss Goodrich determined that a local hospital was needed and that the Presbyterian Church should sponsor it.

Dr. George Packard, a Presbyterian from Massachusetts, whose wife had been a missionary in China, became the first physician for the proposed new White Rock Hospital. At first, local people were leery of this novel undertaking.

While Goodrich’s influence enabled Packard’s presence in the community, Packard still had to gain the community’s trust. As the story goes, when Jimmison Tweed, who was prominent in the community, had a severe attack of appendicitis, Dr. Packard made the tough decision to go ahead and operate – on Tweed’s dining room table. Through Tweed’s full recovery, Packard earned the respect and acceptance of the local citizens. The recovered patient donated the land needed to build White Rock Hospital.

The first and only hospital to ever operate in Madison County opened in 1919, costing $75,000. Besides the twenty-bed wards for sick and recovering patients, the Madison County website boasts: “…the 20-bed hospital opened in 1919 equipped with complete operating and clinical facilities as well as a ward for children and adults and an isolation and orthopedic area.” The community was fully behind the effort and showed it through ‘buying’ pieces of pipe auctioned off by a pastor, so that the people owned and contributed the 1000 feet of pipe needed to bring running water into the hospital from a spring located on top of a nearby mountain.
New Era Magazine, quoted above, also notes White Rock Hospital as one of the Home Missions accomplishments and as part of a larger effort in the White Rock community, mentioning “Dr. and Mrs. Packard, Dr. and Mrs. E.C. Holden, and three nurses in charge.”

The Packards retired in 1923 for health reasons. In 1925, Dr. Eve Locke joined White Rock Hospital as the medical director. She soon organized a public health program for the county, in which all of the nurses spent a portion of their time out in the community providing home health services, prenatal instruction, and making follow up visits on people recently discharged from the hospital. They also inspected, inoculated and weighed the school children. Hospital staff set up regular clinics for immunizations, maternity care and general services in the most remote portions of the county. In the winter months, a hot lunch for every child enrolled in White Rock School was sent from the hospital kitchen.
The need for health care and acceptance of White Rock Hospital and its programs is
demonstrated by hospital statistics: in 1928, care was provided to nearly 3000 patients. By 1929, in just one year, the number had doubled.  Unfortunately, due to inadequate funding, the Presbyterian Church ended its sponsorship of White Rock Hospital in 1932, and the hospital closed its doors. There has not been a hospital in Madison County since.

The White Rock Hospital, 2016, closed in 1932


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