Jacksonville Historical Society’s Old St. Luke’s Hospital was the subject of a special segment last week on the year-old television show, River City Live, seen from 11 a.m. to noon on Ch. 4 WJXT. The popular weekday talk show explored some of the city’s more mysterious structures, and Old St. Luke’s, now the JHS Archives, was part of the series.
The segment can be accessed at the River City Live website. Executive Director Emily Lisska offered the stories and the history of Old St. Luke’s for the Ch. 4 show. Eden Kendall, former radio morning talk show personality, hosts on River City Live and brought a film crew to Old St. Luke’s to conduct the interview.
The influx of sickly tourists to 19th century Jacksonville was oddly the impetus behind a hospital. Three Jacksonville women initiated a plan to build a hospital for the city, following a winter tourist season that left visitors alone and dying in hotels, boarding houses and even on city streets. The women, touted as founders of the movement—Susan Hartridge, Anna Doggett and Myra Mitchell helped convince Martha Reed Mitchell, a relocated wealthy northerner and sister of Florida Governor Harrison Reed, to lead hospital fundraising efforts.
The initial years to construct a hospital were filled with challenges. While some citizens and businesses generously gave to the hospital cause, sufficient construction dollars required an endless series of fundraisers, including dramatic readings, bazaars and grand fairs. These events were supported by local businesses and citizens, particularly the city’s women, who baked, sewed, jarred and created other specialties to raise money for construction. A kissing booth was clearly a favorite at these events, often taking in some of the biggest donations.
More than three years of exhausting fundraisers by the Ladies of the Benevolent Association, soon known as the St. Luke’s Hospital Association, finally realized adequate construction funds. A large lot at Market and Caroline (today’s Ashley Street) streets, was selected, and only days before the new hospital was ready for patients, the building burned to the ground on July 22, 1876.
Undaunted, the women began the endless fundraisers once again. This time, 314 Palmetto Street was selected as the site, opening as an active hospital in December 1878. The hospital was billed “as one of the finest institutions of its kind in the United States.”