Cassville hospitals bring rich history

Wednesday, March 9, 2016
The Barry County Hospital, which was established in Cassville in 1933 and run by Dr. George Newman and his wife Dr. Mary Newman. George Newman died in 1949, and Mary Newman sold the hospital two years later, then practiced locally before retiring in 1984. "Dr. Mary" as she was affectionately known, was said to have delivered half the babies in Barry County, and prided herself on never losing a mother. Fields photo contributed by the Barry County Museum

First Barry County hospital opened in 1933

Mercy Hospital just celebrated its 125th year of serving patients in the Ozarks, but long before Mercy came to Cassville, there was the Barry County Hospital, the Purves Hospital, the Cassville Community Hospital, the Cassville Osteopathic Hospital and the South Barry County Hospital.

The Barry County Hospital, established in 1933, was originally a residence owned by J.W. LeCompte, a banker and great-grandparent of Cassville attorney Jim LeCompte.

The Purves Hospital, completed in 1947, was built where Mercy now sits. The entrance faces Gravel Street. The facility was built by Dr. G.A. Purves, who owned the hospital until 1951, then practiced in Cassville until 1997. The hospital changed names and hands a few more times before Mercy finally took the reins in 2001. Photo contributed by the Barry County Museum

"It was on 15th Street," LeCompte said. "I passed it every morning on my way to school. They sold it to Dr. George Newman, M.D., and that's where the Cassville hospital was for at least 15 years."

The hospital employed four RNs, nurse's aides and several doctors. In 1949, Dr. Newman, who had married Dr. Mary Northcutt Newman, died, and in 1951, "Dr. Mary," as she was affectionately known, who was rumored to have delivered half the babies in Barry County, closed the hospital, and practiced locally before retiring in 1984.

In 1946, Dr. Gail Alexander Purves, a D.O., and his wife moved to Cassville and proceeded to build a hospital where Mercy currently sits.

Equipped to care for all types of surgical cases, obstetrics and illnesses, the hospital accommodated 18 patients, was heated with steam heat, and its windows were made from metal and glass block. The X-ray equipment was the most modern, and the nursery had four bassinets. There was a kitchen, dining and dressing room for nurses and doctors. Dr. Purves' wife Velma served as an assistant, nurse and cook.

In 1966, after the hospital originally built by Dr. G.A. Purvis in 1947 changed hands several times, a district was formed and the facility renamed the South Barry County Hospital District by a vote of the people. Dr. W.G. Barnes, D.O., served Cassville patients at the hospital from 1967 to 2000. His picture and the traditional doctor's bag he carried are on display in the main lobby of Mercy Hospital. Dr. Barnes died in March 2002. Photo contributed by the Barry County Museum

Physicians in the area were invited to use the hospital, and Dr. McDaniel, Dr. Baldwin of Purdy, Dr. Brown of Seligman, Dr. Smith and Dr. Clark of Wheaton and Dr. Cardwell of Stella were on staff.

"The M.D.s and D.O.s didn't associate with each other back then," said Bob Mitchell, former Cassville Democrat editor. Dr. Mary was an M.D., so she took all her patients to St. Vincent's Hospital in Monett."

When the hospital opened in June of 1947, ladies from the Methodist Church hosted an open house and provided tours.

In a letter from the early 1990s, the late Dr. G.A. Purves states: "In-home deliveries were still made after the hospital was opened. A delivery at that time cost the patient $15-$25 in the home, regardless of mileage."

Over time, the field of medicine changed.

"The change in treatment over the following years was remarkable," Dr. Purves wrote. "In 1947, a major surgical case was kept in the hospital for at least 10 days. Now, they are able to return home in four or five days. The same holds true for obstetrical patients. All are usually up and walking the next day."

Gail Purves, Jr. looks at a ledger his father, Dr. G.A. Purves, used in his medical practice to record office visits and charges, which in the 1950s, averaged about $1-$2 for an office visit. If a patient didn't have the ability to pay, Dr. Purves often took eggs, chickens and garden produce in lieu of cash. He also made house calls and as a young boy, Gail Purves Jr. remembers someone pounding on the door at 3 a.m., waking him up, to get help from his dad for someone having a heart attack. Julia Kilmer

In lieu of cash, Dr. Purves often took eggs, chickens and hams for payment.

"A hospital stay was $5 a day plus medication, which is a far cry from what it is today," he said. "At that time, there were no health insurance policies. Many a days, a doctor would drive to the moon for a dollar. Although everything was less expensive, it was still hard to make ends meet."

In 1951, the hospital was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Homer Summerville, California potato farmers, who renamed it the Cassville Community Hospital, before closing in 1956. Later, it was known as the Cassville Osteopathic Hospital. Then, in 1966, the facility was renamed the South Barry County Hospital District by a vote of the people.

Over the decades, the original structure built by Purves was incorporated into new additions, including a million dollar remodel in 1982, and improvements in 1995, 2003 and 2010.

In 2001, Mercy took the reins.

"Building and operating a hospital is quite an experience, but I wouldn't recommend it for the weak in spirit," Dr. Purves said in his letter. "Your hospital is a valuable asset to Cassville -- don't lose it."

In the emergency room lobby entrance is a display case containing several medical instruments used by Dr. G.A. Purves, who built the original hospital structure where Mercy now sits and practiced in Cassville until 1997. Dr. Purves also served as mayor for the city from 1956-1958, and county physician. Julia Kilmer

Dr. Purves practiced in Cassville until 1997.

"One of his most common beliefs was, don't use medication if it wasn't necessary," Gail Purves Jr. said. "He believed that there were way too many things that people could take care of that just needed rest. He believed in using [chiropractic] manipulation to relieve pain.

"He was the kind of physician that if you went into his office and had something bothering you, he'd talk to you for an hour. Today, docs have to see as many patients as possible."

He also made house calls, and delivered about 2,000 babies, Purves said.

In 1958, a 10-year-boy was rushed to the hospital whose abdomen had been ripped open after falling off his horse onto a barbed-wire fence.

Bud Fielder, a hospital employee, remembers the emergency. A doctor wasn't available, so he called Dr. Purves, who arrived in five minutes.

Pictured is Dr. W.G. Barnes, D.O., who served Cassville patients at the South Barry County Hospital from 1967 to 2000. His picture and the traditional doctor's bag he carried are on display in the main lobby of Mercy Hospital. Dr. Barnes died in March 2002. Julia Kilmer

"He had been ripped open all the way around his mid-section to his spine, his ribs were exposed and internal organs were ripped open," Fielder said. "Doc looked up and told Nurse Perriman to get the [operating room] ready, and to get ready to do the anesthesia, then he looked up and said, 'Bud, old boy, you are going to scrub with me and work across the table until another doctor shows up.'

"It was absolutely amazing to watch Doc repair and start stitching that boy back together. Doc said after we were through, about two hours, that he lost count at 200 stitches."

The next morning, the boy, Johnnie Hilery, was, miraculously, walking down the hall pushing his IV.

Today, Hilery, now 68, doesn't remember much about the accident.

"It was raining, and my saddle wasn't tight," he said. "I slid off and hit the fence. It ripped my side open from front to the back. I got up and started to the house but couldn't make it. "

A neighbor saw him fall off the horse. When he got to the hospital, Lloyd Ball, the hospital janitor, carried him in.

"If he were here today, I would tell him thanks," He said. "He saved my life."

Dr. Purves' medical instruments and items from his practice are on display in the main lobby of Mercy and at the Barry County Museum.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: