By Harry McCawley
There’s not much left of the original Bartholomew County Hospital, the one that opened its doors 100 years ago this month. Even the name has vanished. Today, the complex on 17th Street is called Columbus Regional Health.
Its customer base is a lot bigger than it was in 1917 when almost all of its patients lived within the county. These days its coverage map extends throughout much of southern Indiana. And the four-story building in which it all began was reduced to rubble almost a quarter of a century ago, leaving behind only memories.
That 1993 demolition was part of a transition process in which the county’s primary health care provider morphed into something much bigger. It was a significant break from a past in which things seemed a lot simpler.
The hospital’s history has not been discarded. If anything, CRH officials are celebrating the 100th anniversary, tying major festivities to Feb. 6, the anniversary date for the opening of the original facility, and a 10 a.m. reception in the Kroot Auditorium. Staff members have completed work on two major historical projects, one a video presentation highlighted by taped interviews with important figures from the facility’s past (including rare footage of longtime administrator Olive Murphy) and the other a book about the hospital’s history.
The book and the video are not the only links to the hospital building that opened its doors in 1917. Standing as twin sentinels alongside a driveway on County Road 200N are two cupolas that from 1917 to 1993 were perched on the roof of the hospital’s main building.
They were saved by Byron “Barney” Carr, a longtime contractor in Bartholomew County who had a number of personal connections to the hospital. For eight years (1995 to 2003) he served as one of three county commissioners, the government body that technically is the owner of the hospital.
On a more personal level, his wife, the former Marilu Finkle, is the great-granddaughter of John M. Thompson, one of the original trustees of the hospital who oversaw the construction of the 1917 building.
None of that was on Barney’s mind that day in 1993 when he drove by the building’s demolition site. The cupolas certainly were.
“I really hated to think of them as facing demolition,” Barney said last week. “They were not only a part of the original building, but I was particularly attracted by their red tile roofs.”
Fortunately, he had come upon the scene before anything had been done to the cupolas. “I talked to the foreman on the project and asked about the possibility of acquiring them for personal use,” he said. “He didn’t have any problems, and I arranged to have them hauled away from the site.”
At the time Barney didn’t have any specific plans on how to use the roof adornments. He kept them in storage for several years until coming up with the idea to install them at the entrance to a driveway leading up to his home near Petersville. Unfortunately, the red roof tiles were not part of the finished product. Several had to be replaced, and in the end both roofs were covered with standard materials.
The cupolas are quite a few miles away from their original home, but the more important point is that they’re still in Bartholomew County. They guard Barney Carr’s driveway, but they also serve as a reminder of what once was.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.