Historic Structures

Wise Sanatorium No. 2 - Plains Convalescent Home, Plains Georgia

Date added: July 15, 2021 Categories: Georgia Hospital

The Wise Sanitarium was founded by three brothers from one of Plains' prominent families. Dr. Burr Thaddeus Wise (1882-1950), son of Plains' first mayor, Burr Thomas Wise, was the first of the brothers to become a doctor. Upon graduating from medical school at Tulane University in 1908, he began to practice in Plains with a case of supplies and a folding operating table. In 1911, his brother, Sam (1884-1943), also earned his medical degree at Tulane and, in 1912, the two men established the first hospital in Plains on the second floor of the Plains Pharmacy; it could accommodate ten to fifteen patients. In 1914, the youngest brother, Bowman J. (1888-1951), returned home from Tulane with a medical degree and joined his brothers, creating the threesome that would come to be known as the Three Wise Men. In 1916, the brothers moved from the office over the pharmacy to the second floor of a building on Main Street. The second story of the building was destroyed in a fire during the time that the current structure was under construction.

The construction of the $75,000 hospital was a community effort and a great source of local pride. Much of the wood structure came from the Wise farm in Plains. Jimmy Carter's father, James Earl Carter Sr., was on the hospital's board of directors, and soon after James Earl Jr. was born at the hospital in October 1924, he became the proud owner of several shares of Wise Hospital stock. The new facility for sixty patients featured an X-ray, an operating room with skylights, and a radium department. The only other radium obtainable in the area was in Atlanta, so black and white patients with cancer came from miles around for treatment. A security deed for $5,000, taken out on June 10, 1922, describes a "large brick hospital for white people and a smaller hospital for negroes." In 1931, the Americus Times Recorder reported "Wise Sanatorium (sic) is also a great asset to Plains and the surrounding territory, providing expert medical and surgical attention for those needing the facilities of a hospital." Ailing people reputedly came long distances to see the Wise doctors. So many that a hotel was built on the lot where the Phillips 66 Service Station that was formerly Billy Carter's now stands.

From 1917-34, the Wise Sanitarium was an accredited school for nurses with Lillian Carter among its alumnae. From 1921-23 she did her training in Plains, and after finishing her intern work at the Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Carter returned to Plains and nursed throughout most of Jimmy Carter's childhood. It was because of her professional affiliation with the facility that Jimmy Carter has the distinction of being the first president to have been born in a hospital. The doctors had a tradition of delivering the babies of the nurses at the hospital if there was a room available, which there was the night of Jimmy's birth. Lillian Carter claimed he was born in a small room on the west side of the west wing, although Dr. Sam Wise, who delivered the child, claims he was born in the delivery room, which was in the east wing. Nevertheless, the room on the west wing has been preserved intact despite the renovations made on the structure.

As a child, Jimmy remembers often leaving the Plains School at noon and walking the short distance to the sanatorium to join his mother for lunch, where "they always had grape juice." He also remembered growing up among nurses and doctors, and the many times his mother would entertain them at his boyhood home.

January 21, 1936, disaster struck the hospital when a fire ignited in the boiler under the kitchen. Glenn Godwin said that when the fire swept through the area where the doctors stored organs and body parts, the formaldehyde used for preservation caused a huge explosion. The Americus Times Recorder reported that no one was injured in the blaze, although thirteen patients had to be carried from the hospital. A valuable supply of radium and other equipment were also removed from the burning structure; damages were estimated at a few thousand dollars. The interior, which had been recently repaired and redecorated, was damaged by water and smoke although the fire was confined to the kitchen and dining rooms. A virtual hole was left where the kitchen had been and rather than repair the building, the brothers Thaddeus and Sam moved to Americus to open a clinic there, causing a great deal of resentment among the people of Plains. Bowman split off from his brothers at this point and continued to practice in Plains.

Between 1936 and 1956, the Wise Sanitarium remained vacant, serving for a short time as temporary housing for dependents of soldiers during World War II. On December 29, 1956, E.W. Barber of Sharon, Georgia, purchased the gutted structure for $2,300. The deed of sale includes the signatures of E.J. Wise as the president and J.E. Carter as the secretary. Several days later, an article in the Americus Times Recorder announced the purchase, and stated that the late doctors had still owned fifty-one percent of the stock in the building and the rest was owned by Plains citizens. The article also stated that Barber, who had been running a convalescent home in Washington, Georgia, planned to invest $35,000 in the forty-seven-patient structure to create a modern convalescent home. The long-awaited purchase was greeted enthusiastically in Plains, and the mayor requested everyone at the city council meeting of July 11, 1957 to attend the grand opening scheduled for the following day.

Barber did as he had promised and increased the value of the property more than twentyfold, selling it less that a year later for $50,000. The deed of sale included the new fire alarm system and air-conditioning and heating systems, as well as furniture, linens, medicines, office equipment, and other convalescent-care accoutrements. Barber sold the hospital, due to failing health, to a three-member corporation known as the Plains Convalescent Home Inc. The new owners, one from Atlanta and the other two from New York City, were described as having "wide backgrounds in the field of gerontology," and their purchase as perhaps "a stepping stone in the establishment of at least a half a dozen new nursing homes throughout the state." S.H. Greenwald served as the administrator of the home until his retirement in 1958, when he was replaced by L.E. Godwin, Jr. and his wife, Dorothy, director of nursing.

Increased demand for space, as well as stricter state codes for nursing homes, made expansion and renovation necessary in 1960 and again in 1978.

The building codes that went into effect in 1991 required larger rooms and more window space per room, standards that were impossible to meet in the original structure without great cost and without severely changing the appearance of the structure.