Chestnut Hill’s Slice Of Civil War History

 

PA state historical marker is all that remains of the Mower Hospital | Photo: Matt Szalwinski

PA state historical marker is all that remains of the Mower Hospital | Photo: Matt Szalwinski

One hundred fifty years after the Battle of Gettysburg, little evidence remains of the important role Philadelphia played in helping to heal its wounded. As the architect for the Quartermaster General’s Department in Philadelphia in the early 1860s, it was the duty of John McArthur, Jr.—who after the War would design City Hall—to draft twenty-four military hospitals where many patients came straight from the battlefield. One such ward, Mower U.S. Army General Hospital, stationed itself along the Chestnut Hill Railroad Company’s tracks, where the Market Square shopping center currently stands.

Recognizing the importance of keeping surgical hospitals in close proximity to the battlefield, the Union built several hospitals in the Philadelphia region due to the fact that many railroad lines transverse the city. Mower General, named in honor of Army surgeon Thomas Mower, was unique in its wheel-spoke construction when it opened in January 1863. The wagonwheel design allowed fresh air to flow through each radial hall of the sprawling 27 acre property; at the time, air circulation was considered crucial in battling disease. Fresh water from the nearby Chestnut Hill Water Company’s tower, built just four years prior, was used to flush toilets—into a nearby creek. (One man’s sanitation is another man’s pollution.)

Wounded soldiers from up and down the east coast were simply unloaded at the Chestnut Hill Railroad Station and transported right into the hospital, wasting little time toward their treatment and recovery. Under the watch of surgeon general Andrew Hopkins, Mower Hospital treated some 20,000 injured patients, returning 9,799 of them to active duty, and losing a mere 257.

Modern day Wyndmoor Station on the Chestnut Hill East regional rail line, built in 1930 by the Reading Railroad at the site of the Civil War Mower Hospital | Photo: Matt Szalwinski

Modern day Wyndmoor Station on the Chestnut Hill East regional rail line, built in 1930 by the Reading Railroad at the site of the Civil War Mower Hospital | Photo: Matt Szalwinski

After hostilities ended in 1865, the hospital was demolished and the site gave way to an 85 acre estate purchased that year by Chestnut Hill Water Company president Charles Heebner, a major land owner and developer in Chestnut Hill. Heebner then sold it in 1900 to Randal Morgan, vice president of United Gas Improvement Company. Temple University acquired the (by then overgrown) parcel of land in the 1950s and threatened to move the school there until the city agreed to federal funding and eminent domain, to both keep and grow the school in North Philadelphia. Development of the property ultimately saw a large commercial space and 3,000 residential units. (For a more detailed account of the sales and subsequent development of this tract, see Lou Mancinelli’s June 2011 story for the Chestnut Hill Local, archived online HERE.)

As the Birthplace of America, Philadelphia’s Revolutionary War history tends to outshine the lesser known but still important roles the city has played, even in the War Between the States. Mower General Hospital tends to exemplify this, with nothing remaining but a memory and a plaque.

Private William Ulsh, a soldier wounded in the Battle of Spotsylvania, spent time recuperating at Mower and wrote a poem recounting his experience there, leaving a lasting positive impression:

Seven miles north on the railway cars
From Philadelphia City the remnant of wars
There’s a place where wounded men stop
There’s a nice Hospital in a nice spot.

"Mower U. S. A. General Hospital, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia" lithograph by James Queen, 1863 | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Mower U. S. A. General Hospital, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia” lithograph by James Queen, 1863 | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

* * *

The author would like to thank Civil War historian Paula Gidjunis and historian of Civil War medicine and medical practices, Herb Kaufman, for their gracious assistance.

About the author

Matt Szalwinski has a Bachelor's Degree in History from Temple University. He's a happily married father of a fourteen year old son and one and a half year old daughter. He's a baseball coach and a lover of history, especially that of the American Revolutionary War.



4 Comments


  1. We find this fascinating and would love to hear more.

  2. Very interesting story. To identify how large the hospital actually was I would like to see the map superimposed on a current map of the same area.

  3. I\’m amazed by the low mortality rate at the hospital. My flawed perception was a very high death rate due to crude medicine and medical practice,not to mention sanitation issues. Very informative. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

 

Recent Posts
Inside SEPTA's Unused Underground Concourse, To Be Restored

Inside SEPTA’s Unused Underground Concourse, To Be Restored

December 2, 2016  |  Last Light

The Center City Concourse, a network of underground pedestrian walkways, has sat empty and largely unused for decades. But big plans are in the works to reopen and reanimate the dead space. Samantha Smyth and Chandra Lampreich takes us into the abandoned tunnels with this photo essay > more

Location Is Everything: Confessions Of A PhillyHistory User

Location Is Everything: Confessions Of A PhillyHistory User

November 30, 2016  |  Vantage

Volunteer PhillyHistory.org geotagger Louis Lescas is an urban historian, map wiz, and human GPS system all wrapped up in one. In this personal essay he shares his love and obsession with hunting locations of old photos for the Philadelphia City Archive > more

Triumph And Tragedy Under The El

Triumph And Tragedy Under The El

November 28, 2016  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow takes us to Front and Dauphin where the tragic downfall of a prosperous women's apparel merchant is entombed in sneakers and stucco > more

My Favorite Place: Rare Book Department At FLP

My Favorite Place: Rare Book Department At FLP

November 23, 2016  |  My Favorite Place

Join Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, and Grip the raven inside the Rare Book Department of the Free Library in the newest installment of My Favorite Place > more

Marked Potential: Fidelity Trust Company

Marked Potential: Fidelity Trust Company

November 22, 2016  |  Marked Potential

For this month's Marked Potential Shila Griffith is North Philly bound to convert an old bank on Lehigh Avenue into a market cafe and community co-working space > more

When Cattle Men Reigned In The West

When Cattle Men Reigned In The West

November 21, 2016  |  Vantage

Livestock, slaughterhouses, and stock cars: these are the sights of West Philadelphia after the Civil War. Contributor Joshua Bevan introduces us to Irish immigrant cattle drover Dennis Smyth, a leading figure of the city's stockyard industry in the late 19th century > more