The Crane Company and Collins Chapel.
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Collins Chapel Hospital
Dear Vance: I came across a reference to a private hospital called Collins Chapel, and had never heard of it. Where was it, and what happened to it? — d.s., memphis.
Dear D.S.: Everyone knows the large medical centers here — Baptist, Methodist, St. Francis, St. Jude, and Le Bonheur immediately come to mind — but years ago it wasn’t considered unusual for patients to be treated at smaller hospitals and clinics scattered all over town. I’ve written before, for example, about the old Gartly-Ramsey Hospital on Jackson, a privately owned facility whose patients included William Faulkner.
In their fine book Memphis Medicine: A History of Science and Service, Patricia LaPointe McFarland and Mary Ellen Pitts tell the story of Collins Chapel better than I can, but since this is my column, I’ll just summarize its history here. First of all, Collins Chapel was (and still is) an African-American church, located downtown at 676 Washington. In 1910, members established a clinic and “old folks home” (as we used to call them) at 418 Ashland. In 1919, Dr. William S. Martin was named director, and although he served as president of the Bluff City Medical Society and played an active role in other medical groups here, he is perhaps better known — to Memphis sports fans, at least — as one of the owners (along with his brothers) of the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American Baseball League.
But I digress. Collins Chapel Hospital apparently struggled to survive in its early years, but in the 1920s it expanded, adding a new wing, offering a nurses training school, and even operating its own ambulance service. Those ambulances were important, you see, because back in those segregated days, white ambulance companies often wouldn’t pick up black patients. Heck, for that matter, it wasn’t easy for black patients to get into some of the city’s largest hospitals. Hard to believe, but true.
In 1955, Collins Chapel opened an all-new hospital at 409 Ayers, which is the building you see here. It only offered 44 beds, but as McFarland and Pitts point out, “it was the fulfillment of Dr. Martin’s years of efforts to provide a modern healthcare facility for African Americans.” After the city hospitals were officially desegregated in the 1960s, the need for places like Collins Chapel Hospital diminished, and it closed in 1971. Though still standing, the building is empty.
Wait, one more thing: Who was Collins? That would be the Reverend J.T. Collins, who served as the first minister when the church was founded by slaves in 1841.