Forgotten Warne Hospital

The Forgotten Warne Hospital
J.R. Zane

Taking my Pinto wagon for a drive once again, I headed up Mahantongo Street and approached the corner of Second Street.  The tape in my cassette player got twisted so I pulled over in front of the Reading Anthracite building.  I wanted to fix the tape with the use of a pencil.   I was successful.  I could now listen to “Beggars Banquet” by the Stones without fear of ripping the tape.   Mick was singing a song never performed in concert – the obscure “Dear Doctor.”

“Oh help me, please doctor, I’m damaged
There’s a pain where there once was a heart
It’s sleepin’, it’s a beatin’
Can’t ya please tear it out, and preserve it right there in that jar.”

While listening to the music I could not help but notice the fence around the closed parking garage.  That garage once had signage large enough for airline passengers flying high above to read that this is THE place to park one’s car.  That three story, 277 space lot opened for business on October 6, 1969 when Pottsville was still a city with a multitude of shops, stores and restaurants.  I remember getting parking stamps in the stores which entitled me to an hour of free parking.  I still had a few in my glove compartment.  Now the lot is being demolished to make way for a new parking lot.  Pottsville will soon have more parking spaces than ever but less shops, stores and restaurants.  Figure that one out.

Little did I realize as I sat there listening to the Stones that I was transported back through time.  No longer was I looking at the concrete garage ruins; I was now looking at the house of Walter Scott Sheafer, the famed civil and mining engineer, real estate and insurance businessman.  He was one of the developers of the Mahanoy and Shenandoah coal fields.  Mr. Sheafer was instrumental in getting the Tilt Silk Mill to locate in Pottsville bringing employment to many as well as starting the Steam Heat Plant.  Not many people realize that Mr. Sheafer acquired a great deal of land in New York City bounded on the north and west by Riverside Drive and the east by Broadway.  Walter Sheafer died in 1908 and these NYC holdings of his were sold by his heirs to none other than John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1917 for a pretty penny.

Somehow the tape in my cassette player got stuck again but I surgically removed the tape with a paper clip.  Putting it back in, I noticed that I had now moved ahead in time.  No longer did I see the prestigious Sheafer residence.  I now saw young Joseph L. Warne, M.D., who had come to Pottsville as a young intern and who opened a private practice next to the Presbyterian Church.  He was standing outside of the building which was now his hospital which was named in honor of his beloved wife, Lemos B. Warne, who died in 1919 due to a septic ulcer.

His hospital opened on March 8, 1923 with a modest capacity of ten to twelve beds.  It was located in the old Walter Sheafer home which he purchased from Sheafer’s daughter, Mrs. Frances Halberstadt. Soon after the building was enlarged with more beds.  A formal opening to the public was held on July 15th, 1926.  Dr. Warne had acquired the smaller, adjoining home of Miss Sally Sillyman, who was the daughter of the late Margaret Sillyman, the first female postmaster in the United States.  The Sillyman house was not destroyed but rather moved to Howard Avenue for a nurse’s quarters.  More additions were added as the years went by with the Warne Hospital took on the appearance of a square with a court in the middle.  There were also several offices for doctors and nurses as well as a pharmacy, managed by E.S. Fernsler. Dr. Warne, of course, had his office there.

In 1945 Dr. Warne turned the hospital over to the city and it was governed by a board of local directors.  Shortly after Dr. Warne died of a heart attack at age 60.  In 1964 the Warne Hospital merged with the Pottsville Hospital and the new entity was known as the Pottsville Hospital and Warne Clinic.  The Parking Authority bought the old Clinic for $65,000 in 1967.

When I looked over at the hospital again, I no longer saw it.  I was back in 2018 among the ruins of the parking garage.  I understand that a new parking garage will take its place.  I wish it great success.  There had been a short-lived revitalization effort in Pottsville with a false rumor that a movie complex would be on the upper level of the parking garage.  Sort of a vertical drive-in, I guess.  I remember when Pottsville was a city vying for my attention with both the Capitol and Hollywood Theatres.  Movie aficionados now must be content to drive to Pine Grove or Coaldale to see a first run film in Schuylkill County that serves popcorn.  I drove away with an appreciation of the rich history of that one city block thanks to my trusty Pinto station wagon and my brittle cassette of Beggars Banquet.