Historic Structures

Harper Hospital, Detroit Michigan

Date added: May 13, 2022 Categories: Michigan Hospital

Harper Hospital is significant for the role it has played in the history of medicine in Michigan and the United States. It was established in 1866 as the first public hospital in Michigan. In 1869 it became the first hospital in the world to work with a medical school when it established a relationship with the Detroit College of Medicine, forerunner of Wayne State Medical School. This tie between an educational institution and the hospital set a pattern for the future which was later refined at places such as Johs Hopkins and Harvard Medical School. Research laboratories at Harper preceded similar laboratories in other hospitals by several years.

The money to establish the original hospital was donated in 1859 by Walter Harper and his housekeeper Nancy Martin on the condition that they be given’a small annuity and a cottage to ensure their care in their old age. They lived in the cottage until Harper's death in 1867. Mrs. Martin then moved to Harper Hospital and lived there until her death in 1875.

The original hospital buildings were wooden structures erected in 1864 by the United States Government for use in treating civil war casualties. In September, 1865, the government turned all buildings and supplies over to the trustees of Harper Hospital. These original, temporary buildings were replaced by a brick structure in 1883-1884.

This new building was designed by Elijah E. Myers, Detroit architect who was renowned for his public buildings. He designed the Michigan State Capital at Lansing, the Illinois Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb and the Detroit City Hospital for Contagious Diseases. His plans were accepted for the renovation of the parliament buildings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and, at the request of the U.S. Government, he served as a consultant and huilding inspector at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. His work included numerous city halls, courthouses and hospitals. While most of his government buildings used a classical vocabulary, his hospitals incorporated Gothic elements. Harper Hospital is a well proportioned example of Myers' work and is the only major Myers building still existing in Detroit. Its bay windows and modified E shape enables maximum natural light to enter the spaces which were originally hospital rooms. The brick work along the cornice and the gothic details of the dormers in the attic story give the building a lively appearance which serves as a counterpoint to the solid, more somber appearance created by the building's mass.

The Harper Hospital building is located on the east side of John R Street between Alexandrine and Mack. It is a red brick structure exhibiting a strong Gothic influence. The building is in the form of an E with the open part facing east. There is a main corridor running north and south the length of the building with corridors branching off in each arm of the E. A large, main center hall extends from the front door to the intersecting corridor. The building is five stories high, including attic, with a steep gable roof and double sash windows. When constructed the rooms were separated by brick fire walls. Each floor was sound proof. The woodwork in the rooms and the furniture was in natural oak. The building could accomodate 250 patients.

Over the years several additional buildings were erected to the east of the original Harper building. These structures were connected to the old building at the center arm of the E. Several chimneys and the tower over the main entrance to the Harper building were removed during the 1950s and 60s.