Archived Story

Looking Back: Construction at SMH is almost complete

Published 10:10am Friday, April 5, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: Looking Back features past articles from The Tidewater News with commentary by local historian Clyde Parker.


APRIL 5, 1963

The long awaited completion of the new Southampton Memorial Hospital construction is coming by the end of this week. Installation of equipment is in progress. Patients will be admitted in May.

Chronology of the hospital’s advancement and the history of its predecessor, Raiford Memorial Hospital, appeared in recent editions of The Tidewater News.

Now we continue.

As previously reported, the community fund-raising campaign extended through most of 1959 and into 1960. And, during a meeting of the fund-raising committee on April 4, 1960, at the Stonewall Hotel, the fund-raising committee gave their final report. Organizers and campaign workers were jubilant when the report showed that the community campaign had raised $1,454,943 against a goal of $1.2 million.

In March and April of 1961, bids for hospital construction were being received. Finally, after much consideration and deliberation, a contract was let to low bidder Harry B. Graham Co., Inc. in the amount of $2,473,700, just about what the original $2.5 million estimate was.

Federal and State funds under the Hill-Burton Act were approved at a 55 percent rate of the contracted cost.

Therefore, when local fund raising, at approximately $1.45 million, was added to the $1.36 million Hill-Burton grant, total secured and pledged funds amounted to $2.81 million, approximately $315,000 above the projected total cost for the hospital.

In April of 1961, during a management meeting of the newly formed Southampton Memorial Hospital Corporation, Rawls said “I estimate that the annual payroll of the new hospital will be over $350,000.” “Including purchases of supplies and equipment, I believe the hospital will spend over $350,000 a year in the community,” he added.

Ground was broken on April 25, 1961. At that time, Rawls predicted that the four-story building, including the basement, would be completed in April of 1963. “And it will be designed and built for easy future expansion and will have facilities that will accommodate up to 140 beds if a need arises,” he said.

As actual construction was about to begin, it was determined that the hospital frontage was too close to Fairview Drive so they decided to build 100 feet further back. This move resulted in the backside of the hospital being in the County and the front side in Franklin.

During the latter months of 1961, there was much concern about the displacement of doctors due to the closing of Raiford Memorial Hospital where many of them practiced and had their offices.

Dr. Mason Andrews of the Norfolk General Hospital Medical Tower was consulted.

Among the doctors that led in discussions in regard to their displacement from the Raiford site and a possible move to office space adjacent to Southampton Memorial Hospital were:

Doctors T. A. Morgan, Radiologist; Henry Gardner, General Practitioner ; J. W. Lambdin, Internal Medicine; Kurt Hirsch, Surgeon; Swift, ; John Murray, Pediatrician.

Dr. A. B. Harrison, who had his offices off-site, was Chief of Staff for the doctors who practiced at Raiford. He was at the forefront of the effort to gain consensus among the doctors. They were often in conflict with each other and needed someone in their peer group to be a mediator. Dr. Harrison was the man.

Still, when the new hospital was to become operational, it was recognized that there may be some doctors that will choose to have their offices off-site.

In November of 1961, after a great deal of discussion, it was decided to construct a medical office building for practicing physicians adjacent to the new hospital. Additional acreage for that purpose was donated by Mrs. Rena Camp Rawls.

Also in 1961, Jesse Reel was working diligently, mostly behind the scenes, to get things done on a timely basis. Reel is Administrator at Raiford Memorial Hospital. He will hold that position at Southampton Memorial Hospital.

The hospital and the medical office building were under construction over the next two years.


NOTE: Chronology of the development and completion of Southampton Memorial Hospital and references to its predecessor, Raiford Memorial Hospital, will be continued in the “Looking Back” column on April 19.)

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is 

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