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Superior Hospital Care Didn't Happen Overnight

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Hill Country Memorial Hospital in Fredericksburg is one of the best small town hospitals in the country, but high quality hospital care didn't happen overnight. Until the early 20th century Hill Country doctors practiced medicine in their offices or in the homes of their patients. There were no hospitals. Doctors usually did the traveling, not the patients.

The earliest hospital in Gillespie County was Lambert's Sanitarium. On May 19, 1913 Miss Mattie Lambert, a businesswoman and skilled nurse, bought property located south of Main Street and east of Baron's Creek on the outskirts of Fredericksburg. Her white frame house served as the only hospital in the area for years.

Miss Lambert ran a tight ship. Visiting hours were strictly enforced.

Health care was private in those days. There was no health insurance. Patients paid a weekly fee or sat down across the desk from Miss Mattie and made other arrangements.

Fredericksburg  TX - Mattie Lambert's Sanitarium
Mattie Lambert's Sanitarium in Fredericksburg, June 30, 1976
Photo courtesy Fredericksburg Standard
On January 1, 1918 Miss Lambert sold the sanitarium to Miss Adele Lindig from Stonewall. On August 1, 1918 Miss Lindig sold it to Herman Schmidt, who sold it to Paul C. Pressler 5 days later. Pressler sold it to N. R. McLendon in 1921.

Dr. Victor Keidel and Dr. Oliver B. Witte bought the sanitarium on October 5, 1921. They operated the sanitarium together until they severed their partnership. Dr. Keidel continued to treat patients there until he opened the Keidel Hospital on the corner of North Lincoln and Main Street in 1938.

On December 8, 1927 Dr. Joseph Hanus bought the old Henry Meckel House at 307 W Main St. in Fredericksburg. He remodeled the building to use as a medical office and sanitarium. The Hanus Sanitarium opened for business on October 1, 1928.

The Hanus Sanitarium had all the latest technology including a $5,000 X-ray machine and a system of lights that connected each patient room to the head nurse's station. All patient rooms had toilets and baths.

Dr. Hanus practiced medicine there until World War II when he left Fredericksburg to join the medical corp. His sanitarium never reopened. The Catholic Church bought the property in 1949.

The Fredericksburg Hospital and Clinic at the corner of South Adams and San Antonio Streets served as doctor's offices and a hospital from 1939 until 1971 when the new Hill Country Memorial Hospital opened for business.

While sanitariums are usually associated with the treatment of chronic diseases like tuberculosis, hospitals have a broader scope. Hospitals provide places for medical professionals to diagnose and treat diseases, perform surgeries, deliver babies and give emergency care.

And in case of emergencies, time is the key. The sooner an injured person receives skilled medical attention, the better his chances for survival.

It was a lesson learned on the battlefield. The Spanish Army first used ambulances to quickly move wounded soldiers in the 15th century. Ambulance wagons transported the wounded from the field of battle in the American Civil War.

In the early 20th century some large cities used street cars and trolleys to transport sick and injured people to hospitals.

Joe Schaetter and Son, furniture dealer and undertaker, operated the first real ambulance service in Fredericksburg. Beginning in 1926, Schaetter's used a hearse that converted to an ambulance but soon began offering a straight ambulance service for $5 a trip.

Houy and Beckman began a rival ambulance service in 1927. Houy and Beckman's vehicle was white. Schaetter's was black.

Both Schaetter and Beckman provided ambulance service until the 1970s when the new Hill Country Memorial Hospital opened and the 911 system revolutionized emergency services. At about the same time Gillespie County began operating the ambulance service and training EMTs.

In 1928, at the opening of his sanitarium on Main Street, Dr. Joseph Hanus told the Fredericksburg Standard "I have done all anyone can do for the benefit of the patients here and I hope to see the day that Fredericksburg will be placed on a high medical and surgical standard as any place else."

If only the doctor could see us now.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" July 15, 2019 Column

"Opening of Sanitarium," Fredericksburg Standard, September 29, 1928.

"Lambert's Sanitarium Sold," Fredericksburg Standard, December 22, 1917.

"Lambert's Sanitarium," Fredericksburg Standard, June 10, 1916.

"Notice to the Public," Fredericksburg Standard, August 17, 1918.

"Hanus Sanitarium," Fredericksburg Standard, October 6, 1928

"Hospital Care Abounds Here in Past," Fredericksburg Standard, June 30, 1976.

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