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History of the Old Naval Hospital

To 1864 - Before the Naval Hospital:

The site on which the Old Naval Hospital stands has long been associated with naval medicine. Secondary sources state that soon after the Federal government moved to Washington in November of 1800, medical services and supplies were provided for the Navy Yard from an apothecary shop at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th Street, where the Hospital was later built. Then, during the War of 1812, a building on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th Street SE was rented for use by the Naval Surgeon for $200 a year.

On February 24, 1811, Congress had passed an Act Establishing Navy Hospitals. In 1830, Samuel L. Poulhard, Hospital Administration, issued a circular providing guidance on this subject.

1864 to 1866 - Authorization and Construction:

During the Civil War the Navy expanded from a peace time strength of approximately 8,500 to 51,000 officers and enlisted. In order to accomodate the needs of this vastly larger force, the Secretary of the Interior leased several wards at the Government Asylum for the Insane (known today as St. Elizabeth's) for use as a temporary Naval hospital.

Then, on March 14, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress that included authorization "For erecting naval hospital at Washington City, District of Columbia, twenty-five thousand dollars." [38 Stat. 26] Almost a year later (March 2, 1865) Congress approved another bill that supplemented those funds - "Washington, District of Columbia. - For completing building authorized by act of March fourteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-four, thirty thousand dollars." [38 Stat. 465]

On April 17, 1866, Congress approved an appropriation "For completing building authorized by act of Congress approved March fourteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-four, including cost of enclosing premises, grading sidewalks, laying curbstones, together with the necessary out-buildings and their appurtenances, thirty thousand dollars." [39 Stat. 36] On July 28, 1866, Congress approved an appropriation "For navy hospital at Washington, District of Columbia, thirty thousand dollars." [39 Stat 325]

The Hospital was built on Pennsylvania Avenue SE between 9th and 10th Streets SE not only because it was close to the Navy Yard and Marine Barracks, but also because the Federal government already owned two of the four lots on this square. In 1821, lots 1 and 2, valued at $3,000, had been transferred to the Federal government from the estate of Louis DeBlois, a Naval Purser who died with his books out of balance. The other two lots were purchased after Congress gave approval to the Secretary of the Navy " purchase the balance of square nine hundred and forty-eight, in the city of Washington, District of Columbia, some fourteen thousand feet, upon which a naval hospital is now in course of erection: Provided the same can be obtained, in the judgment of the secretary, upon terms deemed just and reasonable." [38 Stat. 467]

As noted above, Congress had originally budgeted $25,000 to build the Hospital, but the final cost was $115,000, which included the cost of purchasing the remaining two lots.

While the Hospital was being built Ammie B. Young, the Superintendant of Construction, filed Monthly Reports detailing progress. The Alexandria Historical Society published an informative article on Ammi B. Young ("Supervising Architect of the Treasury and his 1858 Alexandria Post Office and Customhouse") in the Spring 1994 volume of their publication The Alexandria Chronicle.

Regrettably, no one has yet been able to locate the original plans for the Hospital. Neither do we know the name of the architects who designed it, nor the contractors who built it. We do know that the massive fence surrounding the property was cast before 1870 because we can see it in the first known photograph of the Hospital, which was taken that year. We also know that the fence was cast at the local iron foundry of F. & A. Schneider, but only because their name is stamped on some of the parts.

1866 to 1906 - Naval Hospital, Washington City:

Circa 1870 - this is the first known photograph of the Naval Hospital, Washington City  (Now known as the Old Naval Hospital)

Circa 1870 - First known photograph of the Naval Hospital, Washington City. It was taken just four years after the Hospital opened from the Southeast corner at the intersection of Tenth Street SE and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE.


Ironically, although built to treat Sailors and Marines during the Civil War, it was not ready for use until 18 months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, ending that terrible conflict. Construction was finished in July of 1866, and the first patients were admitted on October 1 - one Sailor and six Marines. The first patient admitted was the Sailor, Benjamin Drummond.

His admitting ticket states that he was an "Ordinary Seaman, Colored" who had been wounded in a battle off the coast of Texas when his ship, the USS Morning Light, was captured by Rebel cutters. After escaping from a Confederate prisoner of war camp, he was treated in a hospital in New Orleans. His wound appeared to heal and he reenlisted, serving aboard the USS Squando, a powerful monitor patrolling Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, where the Civil War had started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

When Drummond's wound reopened he was set ashore and entered the U.S. Temporary Naval Hospital at the Government Insane Asylum before being admitted to our Hospital the day it opened. Discharged from the Hospital and the Navy at the expiration of his enlistment in March of 1868, Drummond was granted a fifty percent disability for his combat wound, for which he was initially paid a pension of $4 a month.

The first patient to die in our Hospital was Marine Private Charles Straib, a 20-year-old native of Germany. The records state that he died on October 5, 1866, of typhoid fever contracted as the result of "exposure to epidemic influences" while stationed aboard a warship.

To date, we have not been able to locate much information about the facility during the period that it served as the Naval Hospital, Washington City. In 1893, Dr. Gatewood published a book "Notes on Naval Hospitals, Medical Schools and Training Schools for Nurses" and a few pages were devoted to this Hospital, and it included a floor plan for the third floor.

Circa 1900 - Naval Hospital, Washington City

Circa 1900 - Naval Hospital, Washington City

In 1876, just ten years after the Hospital opened, Congress directed that "the Secretary of the Navy is hereby directed to report to the next session of this Congress the best method of making sale of the naval hospitals at Annapolis and Washington and the same shall be closed during the coming year." Yet it was not until 1903, following a report by the Secretary of the Navy that our Hospital was "antiquated and insufficient, and conforms in no respect to the conditions of modern hospital requirements" that Congress appropriated $125,000 for a replacement.

Built on a high point between the current State Department and Kennedy Center, it was called the "New Naval Hospital" to distinguish it from this one. It was at this time that people started referring to our facility as the "Old Naval Hospital".

1907 to 1911 - Hospital Corps Training School:

Graduating class photo of the Hosptial Corps Training School 15th Class Graduating class photo of the Hosptial Corps Training School 17th Class Graduating class photo of the Hosptial Corps Training School Photo of the students at the Hosptial Corps Training School in athetic gear taken near the well cover near the Northeast corner of grounds

Photographs taken during the period that the facility housed the Naval Hospital Corps Training School (1907 to 1911)

After the New Naval Hospital opened in 1906, renovations were made to the Old Naval Hospital and the Hospital Corps Training School moved into it from Norfolk, Virginia. After only seven classes had graduated, the school moved out of this building in 1911.

It was reported that the grounds were not large enough for the students to conduct required practice drills and exercises.

1911 to 1922 -

After the training school moved out the building was variously designated as an emergency hospital, and then as headquarters of the Naval Reserve. However, it appears to have generally stood empty from 1911 to 1922.

Undated photograph of the Southeast corner of the Old Naval Hospital with Tunnicliff's Tavern  visible at the far left Undated photograph of the Southwest corner of the Old Naval Hospital Undated photograph of the Northwest corner of the Old Naval Hospital Undated photograph of the North side of the Old Naval Hospital Undated photograph of the Northeast corner of the Old Naval Hospital, taken from the  intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Tenth Street SE

Before 1940? - Five undated photographs of the Naval Hospital, Washington City, that appear to have been taken on the same day. In the first photo the tower of Tunnicliff's Tavern, which was torn down in the 1930's, is visible to the left of the Hospital

1922 to 1966 - Temporary Home of Union Ex-Soldiers, Sailors and Marines:

In 1922, the Hospital was leased to the "Temporary Home of Union Ex-Soldiers, Sailors and Marines" for $1 a year. Operated by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans organization, it was essentially a hostel for veteran's who had business with the government in Washington. Veterans could stay for up to ten days if they met modest standards of proper behavior and assisted in cleaning duties.

As the years passed and veterans aged, the character of the operation changed, and different groups led the Home. By the 1920's the sponsoring organization was the United Spanish American War Veterans. Over the years funding of the Home moved to the District of Columbia, and newspaper articles document the District's attempt to be relieved of the fiscal burden.

In 1960 the Navy declared the property surplus, and in 1963 it was transferred to the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia. On August 1 of that same year the Temporary Home for Soldiers and Sailors was evicted, and the building was used by the District of Columbia. Briefly used to train police dogs, the District's Department of Human Resources then moved into the building and delivered anti-poverty programs.

1982 to 1999 - Center for Youth Services:

In 1982 the District leased it to a private agency, the Center for Youth Services. After that agency moved out Friendship House briefly considered moving in, but today this beautiful publicly owned building stands virtually abandoned.

This site is sponsored by the Friends of the Old Naval Hospital

Last updated October 24, 2008