Providence Hospital opened just six weeks after the start of the Civil War, and was one of the longest running hospitals in the city, operating from 1861 to 1961. Opening on the corner of Second and D streets SE, the hospital’s mission of serving its community would be put into action by the Sisters of Charity from Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Providence Hospital was constructed on land owned by Major Augustus Nicholson of the U.S. Marine Corps. His widow, Mrs. Nicholson, would move across the street, and share a home with the daughters of Daniel Carroll of Duddington. Mrs. Nicholson rented the property to the Sisters of Charity, who would slowly buy it back from the widow over the next decade. As the military had confiscated Washington’s only other civilian hospital at the time, the Washington Infirmary, Providence Hospital would serve a unique role, especially amongst the 83 other military hospitals in the area, and the other nine that would eventually be built for civilians. The Sisters of Charity and Dr. Joseph M. Toner ran Providence Hospital and served both the Washington civilian population and the soldiers wounded in nearby Virginia.
The hospital opened on June 10, 1861, just six weeks before the Battle of Bull Run. As the war raged on, Capitol Hill became “Bloody Hill,” as soldiers were brought back from combat. Hospital facilities stretched to the furthest reaches of the hospital’s property, creating an outdoor hospital. Medical tents spread across the landscape, and served soldiers from both the North and South. The hospital would be incorporated by Congress in 1864 and receive financial support several times thereafter, with thanks to Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, who was a patron of the institution.
The hospital would be a driving force in the continuous innovations toward higher standards in medical care. For example, Providence Hospital had the first surgical amphitheater in 1882, and the Sisters of Charity were committed to continuous social work and affordable care. There would be a soup kitchen for the unemployed housed in the basement of the hospital. Remarkably, this soup kitchen served the community through seven different economic depressions (during the hospital’s century of existence).
A mixture of several different styles would be found at the hospital, following renovations in 1872 and 1904, as well as continuous expansions of the hospital’s campus. Large portions of the hospital were Italianate, as well as Second Empire in design. The hospital also included a 175-foot bell tower which referenced 18th century English Style. The Italianate influences were shown in the wide, bracketed eaves, and flat facade, while the French Second Empire influence showed itself in the mansard roof and lacy metal roof crests, as well as the structure of the building itself, consisting of three pavilions.
Eventually, Providence Hospital would become a victim of overcrowding. This would lead to the construction of another location at 12th and Varnum streets NE to house more patients. The new, $8-million dollar complex was completed in 1956. The original Providence Hospital on Capitol Hill would eventually be purchased by the federal government for temporary use, until the building was demolished in 1964
What is left of the old Providence Hospital is the memory of nearly one hundred years of service to its community, as well as a park that bears the name “Providence Park” at the corner of 2nd and D streets SE.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964
Demolished in 1964