Chestnut Hill’s Slice Of Civil War History

August 13, 2013 | by Matthew Szalwinski


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

Matthew Szalwinski 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.


  1. Victoria says:

    We find this fascinating and would love to hear more.

  2. Harriet says:

    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. Skip says:

    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.

    1. Matthew Szalwinski says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for taking the time to read it.

  4. Timothy Re, Ed.D. says:

    So happy to find this article. My great, great grandfather (Elihu Pease Cummer) was treated there during the Civil War. He was in the NY 24th Calvary (Company M). Wish something more of this place was still around or if there were more records to research it. He was shot off his horse while capturing Confederate cannons in Virginia.

  5. joanne mcgee forrest says:

    We were always told that our homes at 19-21 W Springfield Ave were constructed with the wood and stone from this hospital. In the basements you can see old stone walls.

  6. Bill Schrantz says:

    My great great grandfather was an amputee at the battle of Gettysburg. He was shot in his right leg on July 1st 1863& was amputated July 2nd. His name was John Gordon Potts. He was in ward 12, bed 40. Is there any way to get some photos or any information on him? My family & I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

  7. Fred Spengeman says:

    My great, great grandfather Private William of Gillis served in 140th, the “Rochester Racehorses,” was mustered into the Union Army on Sept. 13, 1862. He was discharged as disabled to Chestnut Hill Hospital on 27 April, 1863 and died within a year. Do your archives afford any way of determining the circumstances and cause of his death? Regards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.