Old Hospital and later University Building in Maine


Children's Hospital, Portland Maine
Date added: February 15, 2024 Categories: Maine Hospital Colonial Revival Tompson, Frederick A.
View southwest from High Street (2011)

Erected in 1909 as an institutional building in a neighborhood of federal-style homes, the Portland Children's Hospital is notable both for its architecture and for its contribution to the health and welfare of Maine and the state and the nation. The Victoria Morse-Libby Mansion and the McLellan-Sweat Mansion are within sight of the Children's Hospital property.

The recognition of the treatment of children as a specialized branch of medicine was a relatively new concept at the beginning of the 20th Century. Its roots reached back to the foundling "hospitals" (really orphanages) which began to be established in Europe in the fourteenth century and the outpatient "dispensaries," the first of which to offer care to children was established in London in 1786. The first children's hospital for the treatment of ill children was founded in Paris in 1802. The opening of the Hospital for Sick Children in London in 1852 inspired the first such institutions in the United States, starting in 1855. The American Medical Association established a Section on the Diseases of Children in 1880 and the American Pediatric Association was founded in 1888. However, there were fewer than 50 physicians specializing in the field, and none working in pediatrics exclusively, at that time. By the first decade of the 20th Century, approximately 500 physicians in the U.S. either practiced pediatrics exclusively, or devoted more than 50% of their practice to the field. By 1900, there were more than 30 children's hospitals in the United States, the majority founded in the 1890's.

In 1908 the Mussey Mansion in Portland was acquired for the establishment of a children's hospital by a newly formed group of prominent Portland residents concerned about the lack of adequate medical care for poor children. The hospital's 1908 Annual Report makes clear that it was the first such hospital in Maine. In a story about the new hospital published in the Lewiston Evening Journal of January 21st, 1909, it was reported that the Children's Hospital opened in the Mussey Mansion on December 14th, 1908. A long description of the mansion notes that it was "...one of the most attractive houses of Colonial architecture in Portland" and that "... there is ample ground for the erection of additional buildings." Writing about plans for additional buildings, it states, "In order to carry on the work to the best advantage, certain additions are necessary. Plans for these improvements consist of an out-patient department, surgery, nurses' home, machine and shoe shops, laboratories and solariums. As soon as arrangements can be made, a beginning will be made on the new out-patient department which will consist of a three-story building with rooms for examinations of patients, operating room, gymnasium, clerk's office, plaster of paris (sic), x-ray rooms, etc. This building will be situated on High Street and connected to the Mussey Mansion through the ell. The architectural design of the present hospital [the Mussey Mansion] will be followed out." A description of the hospital in the 1912 Annual Report of the Children's Hospital makes clear that once the new buildings were completed, the Mussey Mansion was used for administrative purposes and housing staff.

The first children's hospital in the United States was founded in Philadelphia in 1855 by two prominent doctors and several other wealthy residents. In 1869, a similar group of individuals opened the second children's hospital opened in Boston. Writing in the American Journal of Public Health, Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., notes that, "Early in the 20th Century, the paucity of children's health and welfare programs and the alarming rates of infant mortality were major causes taken up by activists among social workers, nurses, public health workers, government officials, philanthropies, immigrant societies, concerned citizens, and pediatricians." On the title page of the first Annual Report of the Portland Children's Hospital, in 1908, it states, "The Children's Hospital: For the Care of the Crippled and Deformed in the State of Maine." Within the same report, the lists of the Corporation, Board of Trustees, Board of Managers, Executive Committee, Advisory Board, and Visiting Board read like a "who's who" of turn-of-the-century Portland society and includes well-known family names such as Baxter, Brackett, Brown, Burnham, Chisholm, Clifford, Cobb, Dana, Davis, Deering, Frye, Hale, Merrill, Longfellow, Noyes, Payson, Shaw, Southard, Thaxter, Tompson, Verrill, and Washburn, among many others. The consulting and attending medical staff lists are equally prominent within the field of medicine. The report states that, "The Children's Hospital was organized on the 14th day of October 1908, as a charitable corporation for the care of the crippled and deformed of the State of Maine. In the opening of a hospital for the free treatment of the poor and crippled, a much needed charity has been supplied."

The report goes on at some length to "make the case" for why such an institution is needed. They begin by explaining that in the treatment of "consumption," "investigations have shown that a human life is worth to any community, at least one thousand dollars, and their argument in the appeals to the public is based upon the fact that a life saved is worth this amount of money to any commonwealth," and, "Therefore, from an economical point of view it is a good investment to establish sanatoria where lives can be saved." Following this, the narrative moves on to the purpose of the Children's Hospital. It is quoted at some length here because as it appeals for support of the new hospital it provides a good overview of the concerns and objectives of the individuals who formed the organization:

That the treatment of cripples is even a more worthy object, whether considered from an economical or a charitable point of view, is not difficult to maintain. Generally speaking the crippled and deformed are not self-supporting and the vast majority of them are dependents who not only are obliged to appeal for aid either to their friends or to the public for their maintenance, and are also obliged to live a long, dreary life filled with suffering and pain. Now if these unfortunates can be taken to a suitable institution, even for a short time, where they can have the necessary treatment, many, if not all, can be helped or completely cured so that they are able to take their places among their associates and perform their part in life's work.

Can there be a more worthy charity than to take a poor, helpless, pain-suffering dependent and make him pain free and independent?

There is another phase in the life of these unfortunates which is often left unconsidered, and that is the effect of deformity upon individual pride and its influence in this way upon the character of a person.

Statistics on Criminology show that a relatively larger per cent of our criminals come from deformed people - the mis-shapen character in all our literature is familiar - than in any other class. Handicapped in the struggle with their associates for an existence in this busy world where health and physical ability count for more in success than any other one thing, it is no wonder that they turn to what seems the easiest way to make up for their inability.

For the prevention of this tendency, if for no other reason, our neglected children, especially among the poorer classes, should be sought out and brought to an institution where they may have proper care and attention. ...

It is a well recognized fact that, in cases of this character, the longer a deformity exists the more pronounced it becomes and the greater is the drain on the general health of the individual and the more susceptible is he to disease in general. A deformity which at first seems of little consequence is likely in the course of a few years to develop into a condition which will leave the unfortunate individual an object of pity for his friends and a seeker after the public charity. It is well known that early and efficient treatment assures, in most cases, a practical cure and all may be relieved. Our papers and journals are filled with articles on the enormous strides which are being made in preventive medicine, and in no department of medicine does the trite saying "a stitch in time saves nine," hold more true than in the treatment of cripples.

This clearly shows the various motivations and aspirations behind the civic-minded effort to establish the hospital. This bringing together of the hopes and fears of the well-to-do part of the community for the well-being of the "have nots" (and also the protection of the "haves") is reflective of a widespread approach to maintaining social order and stability in a rapidly changing society in early 20th Century America.

When Architect Frederick A.Tompson was commissioned to design the new hospital complex there was already a Federal Style house on the property. As such, he designed the new hospital complex to compliment the numerous Federal style mansions in the neighborhood, particularly replicating key architectural elements from the to-be-connected Mussey Mansion, as it was then called. By replicating the formal front entry portico below a Palladian window and other architectural elements on the new High Street frontage, he gave the new building a principal facade of equal importance to the facade of the Mussey Mansion, which faced onto Danforth Street. Because the Mussey Mansion served the hospital as an administrative wing, the main entrance to the Children's Hospital was through the new entrance on High Street.

The Federal-style mansion that the new hospital was connected to was built in 1801 for Ebenezer Storer on a large lot at the corner of High and Danforth Streets, two of Portland's most prestigious streets at the time. The building was likely designed by John Kimball, Sr. (1758-1831), one of Portland's leading house wrights during the Federal era. It was sold to John Mussey, a merchant, in 1817. By the third quarter of the 19th Century, the house was known as "The Elms" and was the home of Mussey's daughter, Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat (1823-1908) and her husband, physician and Congressman Lorenzo de Medici Sweat (1818-1898). In 1880, the Sweats purchased and moved to the former McLellan Mansion, another large brick Federal-style house by Kimball, just up High Street. Sanborn maps from 1886 and 1896 show the three-story brick Mussey Mansion with a two-story ell, and a one-story wood framed extension to the ell and also a large one-and-a-half-story barn separated from the house, at the north edge of the property. A brick retaining wall is indicated on the north side of the barn. Maine, a Guide "Down East", Federal Writers Project, 1937, refers to the "old building" on the hospital property and states that it is, "...a fine example of Federal architecture, presenting one of the best Studies of hallways and stairways west of Wiscasset. The delicate details of the sidelights and panels of the front entrance are exceptional and the doors and fireplaces and the woodwork of the interior are in keeping with the appearance of the exterior. Set above a terraced lawn, it offers an excellent view of the harbor." In 1908 the Mussey Mansion was acquired by the Children's Hospital, newly formed by a group of prominent Portland residents concerned about the lack of adequate medical care for poor children.

From its founding, the Children's Hospital provided free care to patients who could not afford treatment, and in 1948 the Board of Directors concluded that the institution could not continue to operate at a deficit. The 20 patients then in the hospital were transferred to Maine General Hospital and the facility was closed. In 1949 it was sold to the Salvation Army, which made few exterior changes other than the erection of a metal fire escape on the back of the main building. On the interior, the first story experienced several alterations, such as the elimination of a row of examination rooms, and the second story received some alterations as well. John Howard Stevens was the architect for these changes. The basement level and third story were virtually untouched. In 1962 it was sold to the University of Maine (now the University of Southern Maine) to house the university's law school. A permit was issued by the Portland Building Inspections Department to the University of Maine for the demolition of the Mussey Mansion in May 1962. The common wall between the mansion and the connecting ell was faced with new brick and the same material used to connect the service wing to the ell. The site of the mansion was graded and seeded, leaving the terraced ground form it sat on. An iron fence, and a gate set between granite posts at the location of the steps to the mansion's portico, was left along the frontage on Danforth and High Streets. The fence was installed during the Children's Hospital's ownership but its exact date has not been determined (a 1908 photo shows a wooden fence). A 1976 Building Permit records the installation of a sprinkler system in the building. City records show that its use was changed from law school to Adult Learning Center in 1972. Alterations costing four thousand dollars were permitted with the change of use. In 1982 a permit was issued for the replacement of the roofing and solarium. This may have been the point at which the rooftop solarium was removed and not replaced. There are no later permits in the records related to its removal.

The loss of the 1801 Mussey Mansion in 1962 created a large lawn to the south of the 1909 Children's Hospital. Because the 1909 building was intended to be seen as the primary building of the complex, with its own principal facade facing High Street, the demolition of the connecting mansion did not have the effect of leaving it "orphaned" on the site. It is a commanding presence in its own right, successfully designed in the Colonial Revival style to carry the Federal style architecture of its neighborhood into the 20th Century.

The University of Southern Maine vacated the building in 2010. Plans were made for the conversion of the building to workforce housing by Community Housing of Maine.

Site Description

Constructed in 1909, the former Children's Hospital is a fine example of the Colonial Revival style by architect Frederick A. Tompson (1857-1919). It is located in a largely residential neighborhood bordering on the commercial downtown area of Portland, Maine. The property fronts two important streets, High and Danforth, which are both wide streets with tree-lined esplanades and brick sidewalks in this area. High Street is the principal artery for traffic entering the city over the Casco Bay Bridge and Danforth Street is an important connecting street between the residential West End and the commercial downtown and Old Port. Built adjacent to, and originally connected with, the Federal-style Mussey Mansion (built 1801, demolished in 1962), the hospital building intentionally replicated features of the mansion, such as the five-bay fenestration pattern, columned portico, and fan-lit entry below a Palladian window on the principal (east) facade. By placing the new building behind the mansion and screening the rear portion of it with a service wing, Tompson skillfully gave this much larger structure the scale and character of its smaller domestic neighbors, when viewed from the street.

The hospital is a three-story brick rectangular building with an attached connecting ell and service wing, and a boiler house connected by tunnel to the main building's basement. A subterranean brick coal pit is located between the main building and the boiler house. The building has a steel frame and a concrete and steel floor system. The main building is 57' x 89', the ell is 24' x 31', the wing is 26' x 45' and the boiler house is 28' x 40'. All portions of the complex have flat roofs. A chimney on the service wing served the basement laundry and the first-floor kitchen. The boiler house has a large square brick stack, which is approximately four stories tall. The main building faces east and is located at the northeast corner of the property. The ell extends to the south of the main building and the service wing extends to the west behind it. The boiler house is located at the northwest corner of the property, largely screened by the main building, ell, and service wing. A large lawn area is located to the south of the buildings, where the Mussey Mansion stood, and is enclosed by an iron fence with granite posts, which dates to the Children's Hospital period.

The lawn area south of the hospital (which occupies the former site of the Mussey Mansion) retains the eroded terraced landform that the mansion sat upon. A 20th Century wrought iron fence and gate are set between granite posts along the Danforth and High Street sidewalks. The gate aligns with the former location of the mansion's front portico. The fence dates from the Children's Hospital period. The front portico of the hospital sits on a concrete base. The concrete front steps of the hospital building have been largely encased in a modern concrete accessibility ramp that extends to the north in front of the building. Concrete window wells with iron pipe rails remain at either side of the portico. A large window well of similar construction has been removed on the north side and the basement-level windows in-filled with concrete block. A second, intact, light well on the north elevation contains an egress door and is served by a concrete stair at the east end of the north wall. A dirt driveway runs along a concrete and stone retaining wall along the north property line. A modern chain link fence closes off the driveway between the building and the retaining wall. The area in front of the ell, out to the street, has been paved for parking.

The exterior of the main building replicates a classic Federal-style five-bay facade on the east side. The symmetrical elevation features an interpretation of a Palladian window on the second floor which has stone panels in place of the typical flanking windows and is capped by a semicircular arch with a wreath motif in relief. The Composite Order fluted columned portico protects an elliptical leaded fan doorway. The north elevation of the main building is thirteen bays wide, with varying groupings of window openings from floor to floor. The fenestration on the west (back) elevation is arranged in a group of four openings on the left and three on the right, separated by a section of blank wall, and is now somewhat altered to accommodate doors in several former window locations, to access the fire escape added in 1949. The south side of the main building is interrupted by the projecting ell just two bays back from the front facade. There are five additional windows on each floor behind the ell, facing into the narrow courtyard between the main building and the service wing. An arched secondary entrance (in-filled with brick) is located on the south wall, adjacent to the ell. Two secondary entrances are located on the north side of the main building, one from the first floor toward the rear and one at the basement level (with an areaway and concrete steps to grade), toward the front of the building. Window openings on the east facade and the first two bays of the south facade have limestone entablatures and surrounds, replicating the shape of those on the Mussey Mansion (which were wood). All windows are wood 6/6 double hung sash with modern triple track metal storm windows. A large window in the north wall of the original third-floor operating room has been replaced with two 6/6 sash similar to those on the remainder of the elevation. The steel lintel for the original larger opening remains in place and is visible from the exterior. The main building is topped with a parapet cornice with a standing seam metal-hipped "roof", approximately 30" deep and 18" tall, as if a typical Federal-style hipped roof had been sliced off a bit above the drip edge. At the top, this "roof" forms a short (4"-6") curb around the flat graveled roof, which was originally covered by a 30' x 60' "sun parlor" with a glazed roof, surrounded by a 10' wide walkway. When the rooftop solarium was removed in the 1980s, its glass walls and roof had long since been replaced with wood siding and asphalt shingles. Period photos of the "promenade" deck around the solarium show that it sat lower than the current roof level, creating a parapet approximately 18" high, topped with a wrought iron railing.

The floor plan and interior finishes are largely intact in approximately 70% of the building. Substantial alterations were made to the first and second stories in 1949 and several modern partitions dividing some of the large original spaces on the upper stories were installed after the building was purchased by the University of Southern Maine in 1962. Original terrazzo floors and baseboards, wood trim, doors, and transoms remain in place throughout the building. It appears that the original doors and trim were relocated and additional new matching trim was created for the 1949 alterations. Many of the doors and transoms retain original patterned glass. There is little evidence of the original walls being removed other than for the 1949 changes on the first and second stories. In the first story, the alterations replaced the series of "examination rooms" (shown on floor plans from 1909 and in a photo from 1912) with larger rooms, taking some space from the lobby. The published plans were modified before or during construction in several portions of the building, as is documented in a series of photographs and a published description of the interior, both from 1912. A large room at the northwest corner of the first floor contains a stage and three large roll-up doors, which open the space into the adjoining corridor. These elements do not appear in the 1909 plans or 1912 photos and are alterations made when the Salvation Army purchased the building in 1949. The original iron staircase with terrazzo treads and wood handrails has been enclosed at each floor in recent years, further reducing the width of the lobby as seen in early photos. The original plaster walls appear to be largely intact. Most ceilings are hidden by modern drop ceilings, but are in good condition where visible. In the basement, moisture has damaged some interior partitions, exposing an early example of metal stud and wire lath construction. A modern elevator serves the basement, 1" 2nd and 3" floors. The original ornamental iron elevator cage is disassembled and stored in the basement. It served the rooftop solarium as well as the lower floors.

The exterior of the ell appears to be the significantly altered rear ell of the 19th Century Mussey Mansion with an additional story added and the exterior brick veneer replaced except for a small area at the base of the west side. Period descriptions of the new hospital suggest that the ell of the original house was retained, but there is little evidence of its appearance before alterations at that time. The east facade has two arched entrances (one now in-filled with brick), located at the corners where the ell met the original mansion and the main building of the new hospital. Each of these doors had columned porticos similar to that on the front of the main building. These porticos did not match in width and there is evidence that the portico abutting the mansion was an original feature of that building (a fragment of stone foundation and granite capstone that clearly predate the 1909 work remains on the left side of the portico location). The outlines of both porticos are retained in the paint on the brick walls. There are two 6/6 windows on the first floor, between the two arched doors, with stone entablatures and surrounds like those on the principal facade of the main building. The upper two floors have a five-bay treatment, with a narrow window at the center flanked by two wider windows, on each floor. The upper floor windows have only stone lintels and sills, not entablatures and full surrounds. The south wall of the ell was constructed when the mansion was demolished in 1962 and was never painted to match the 1909 brick exterior. The west wall is partially shared with the service wing, leaving a single bay of windows looking into the courtyard on that side. The front edge of the ell roof has an iron railing from 1909, related to the use of this area for "airing bedding" when the hospital was in operation.

The interior of the ell does not appear to retain any visible fabric from the 1801 Mansion ell. However, unusual structural bracing on the second story (the original top story) and contemporary references to the retention of the ell suggest that the core of the exterior walls may date from 1801. The floor plan is largely intact from the 1909 renovations on the upper Stories with alterations from 1949 on the first story. It contains period restrooms on the upper floors and restrooms from the Salvation Army renovations on the first floor. Hallways connecting the main building to the service wing are also located on each floor. These originally connected the main building to the Mussey Mansion. The service wing was accessed from the mansion. When the mansion was demolished in 1962, the ell and service wing were connected by filling the 6' gap between them and creating new door openings from the hallways to the service wing on each floor.

The Service Wing portion of the structure was originally entered through the Mussey Mansion and was not attached to either the ell or the main building. It was connected to the ell when the mansion was demolished. Like the adjoining south wall of the ell, the short east wall of the service wing received new brick veneer at that time. A portion of the east wall and the south connector wail are the exterior walls of the northwest corner of the Mussey Mansion with new brick veneer applied in 1962 on the exterior faces (originally the interior of the Mansion). The south elevation of the service wing is five bays wide. One window opening on the second floor is an original blind window (in-filled with brick). All of the window openings in the north and west elevations of the service ell have been in-filled with brick. The 6/6 window sash are wood and have modern triple-track aluminum storm windows. A first floor door into the courtyard on the north side of the wing is its only exterior entrance. The door originally served a stairway which was the only entrance to the isolation ward on the third floor. There was no internal connection between the ward and the rest of the building complex.

The service wing originally contained a laundry in the basement, a kitchen on the first floor, rooms for nursing staff on the second floor, and the hospital's isolation ward on the top floor. The isolation ward could only be reached by a staircase that opened onto the courtyard between the main building and the service wing. No other floor had access to the staircase, leaving the third floor of the wing completely isolated from all other parts of the complex. The interior of the service wing currently has little integrity of design or material on the upper stories, as the floor plans are altered and it does not appear to retain any original trim, doors, windows, etc. The basement level and first floor retain the exposed painted brick of the exterior walls and the chimney that served the laundry facilities and kitchen. Portions of these brick walls are the 1801 exterior walls of the northwest corner of the Mussey Mansion. The original staircase is still in place, now connecting the first and second floors, but sealed off from the third floor.

The rectangular brick boiler house contains a single 16' tall room, which is sunk approximately 18' into the ground. The only exterior entrance is on the north side and is reached by an interior staircase. The boiler house is connected to the basement of the main building of the hospital by a tunnel. The flat roof is covered with modern membrane roofing material. Three large 6/6 windows are grouped in the center of the east wall, above the arched brick entrance to the coal bunker. A single 6/6 window on the north elevation lights the stairs up to the entrance. Additional window openings on the south wall are in-filled with brick.

The boiler house interior has exposed stone and brick walls and a concrete ceiling and floor. The square brick stack rises in the northwest corner. Two large boilers occupy the center of the space. The boiler on the right was coal-fired and is not in service. A more modern oil-fired boiler is on the left. A brick enclosure for the oil tank has been constructed in the southwest corner of the space. The coal bin opens off the east side of the space through a brick arch. It has brick walls and a concrete vaulted ceiling supported on exposed iron beams.

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine View west from Danforth Street, across High Street (2011)
View west from Danforth Street, across High Street (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine View west from corner of Danforth Street and High Street (2011)
View west from corner of Danforth Street and High Street (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine View southwest from High Street (2011)
View southwest from High Street (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine View southwest from High Street (2011)
View southwest from High Street (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine View south from High Street (2011)
View south from High Street (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Front portico (2011)
Front portico (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Boiler house (2011)
Boiler house (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Column on front portico (2011)
Column on front portico (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Window above front portico (2011)
Window above front portico (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Front entry from main lobby (2011)
Front entry from main lobby (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Main staircase on first floor (2011)
Main staircase on first floor (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Typical hospital ward space (2011)
Typical hospital ward space (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Boiler room (2011)
Boiler room (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Front entrance (2011)
Front entrance (2011)

Children's Hospital, Portland Maine Typical interior door (2011)
Typical interior door (2011)