Health care facilities are commonplace in modern day Charlotte. However, in the early days of the Queen City, medical services were not as prevalent. Rather than going to a hospital, townspeople accessed medical care through doctors’ house calls.
The predecessor of Charlotte’s first civilian hospital has its roots in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. In 1875, members of St. Peter’s formed a group called the Church Aid Society that looked after the less fortunate and the sick. Some of Charlotte’s prominent women served in the Society, one of whom was Jane Renwick Wilkes. A native of New York City, Jane moved to Charlotte with her husband, John Wilkes, in 1854 and devoted her life to helping people in the community.
During their work with the Society, Jane and other members believed the sick would be better served in a hospital environment. After their idea received a positive reception and backing from Rev. Benjamin Bronson, they began looking for a suitable location. Because of limited funding, renting a small house for the white applicants was the most feasible option (Good Samaritan Hospital, for black patients, would later open in 1892).
The first site was at the home of Mr. Ferdinand Kuester on East 7th Street between College Street and the North Carolina Railroad. The Society rented two rooms there until May 1876. Known as “Charlotte Home and Hospital,” the hospital was forced to change its location several times as the need for St. Peter’s services grew. In 1877, a lot on the corner of Sixth and Poplar Streets was purchased to use for a permanent facility. The one story, four-room building was completed in May 1878 and began serving patients shortly afterwards. The organization had a charter amendment in February 1899 giving it the legal name of “St. Peter’s Hospital”.
The hospital initially operated on subscriptions solicited by St. Peter’s Board members and from proceeds earned through different musical or social events. Members of the community donated many items such as furniture or linens. Despite the challenges and struggles of keeping the hospital open, everyone involved pressed on to see the realization of public health care in Charlotte. St. Peter’s established a nursing school to better train staff for patients that were coming from as far away as Alabama and New Hampshire. Many native residents in the early 20th century could claim the hospital as the place where they were born.
The hospital underwent several additions in subsequent years and after 1935, the facility encompassed nearly the entire property lot. There was no room for expansion, but the patients kept coming. In October 1940, the operations at St. Peter’s were moved to the newly opened Memorial Hospital on Blythe Boulevard. The old building then became the Kenmore Hotel, which rented several apartments and over 80 rooms to various kinds of tenants for almost four decades. In January 1980, the property was sold to a development group and converted into the 36-unit “St. Peter’s Condominiums,” which still exists today.
For over 60 years, St. Peter’s Hospital stood as a place of respite and care for the sick and infirm. It was not only the local public hospital but also a part of the community as the residents of Charlotte were often called upon for its support. Despite its humble and meager beginnings, St. Peter’s grew to be one of the most recognized hospitals in the Southeast and was the forerunner some of Charlotte’s modern day health care facilities.
Wilkes, Jane R., The History of St. Peter’s Hospital. Charlotte, NC: Elam & Dooley, 1906.
North Carolina State Nurses Association, Southern Hospital. Vol. IV, No. 9, September 1936.