Bronson Methodist Hospital

In the fall of 1896 the population of Kalamazoo had reached 24,000 people, some began to wonder if Borgess Hospital was equipped to deal with all the sick in the city. That winter Dr. Rush McNair took charge of a project to create a new, non-sectarian, hospital for the city. In December 1896 Dr. McNair, along with five other doctors, was deeded land from Henry Brees, Herbert Everard, and Mary C. Miller to be used for the new hospital. These deeds all contained land along John, Cedar, and Lovell Streets and created a continuous square block of land for the purpose of constructing a new hospital. The land also contained a moderately sized house that had belonged to Mary C. Miller which became the new hospital building. The house could accommodate 12 patients comfortably, and could fit 20 patients when crowded.

The Kalamazoo Hospital

Dr. McNair and the fellow doctors, Dr. Edwin H. Van Deusen, Dr. John W. Bosman, Dr. Harris B. Osborne, Dr. Oliver LaCrone, and Dr. Cornelius Van Zwaluwenberg incorporated themselves as the Kalamazoo Hospital Association in 1900. The Kalamazoo Hospital also opened to the public that same year. Dr. Van Deusen was elected as the first president of the association. 

First Bronson Hospital Building

The first Bronson Hospital building, located on the corner of Cedar and John Street.
Kalamazoo Public Library Postcard Collection

In 1901 the Women’s Auxiliary of the Kalamazoo Hospital was formed. The auxiliary’s mission was to assist in the building, equipping, and maintaining of the hospital. Following these guidelines, the group’s first task was constructing a new hospital building. The women sold subscriptions of stock in the Kalamazoo Hospital Association to raise money for the building fund. Two years later, through fundraising efforts and private donations, the women had raised $14,000, enough to build a new, small, hospital building. Ground was broken in December 1903 and the building was completed in late September 1905. It was officially opened to the public and dedicated on December 4, 1905. The Kalamazoo Hospital Association re-organized in 1907 and changed the hospital’s name to Bronson Hospital after the founder of Kalamazoo, Titus Bronson

New Leadership

Financial problems plagued the hospital for the first 15-20 years that it was open. Several times, the only thing that kept Bronson from closing its doors was emergency money raised by interested citizens of Kalamazoo. In 1918 the hospital began a campaign to raise $50,000 for the purposes of paying off debt and making improvements to the facility. Unfortunately the campaign did not reach its goal, and although the hospital’s board reported that financial obligations had been reduced in 1919 the hospital continued to struggle. The board decided that the only way to guarantee financial security was to turn the hospital over to a church. An inventory of the hospital valued it at $116,000 and the hospital raised $45,000 to pay off its debts. On May 1, 1920 the Michigan Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church took control of the hospital. The name was then changed a final time to Bronson Methodist Hospital.

Expansion Begins

The hospital grew under the leadership of the Methodist Church and in December 1945 Bronson proposed an $800,000 expansion. This expansion, adding 100 beds, called for three separate additions around the building. Along with the extra beds, space was also planned for a new emergency clinic, pharmacy, laboratories, and X-Ray rooms. The campaign began in May 1946 with the hospital receiving an offer of $200,000 from the Kalamazoo Foundation. The offer was conditional however, the hospital had to raise the remaining $600,000 from public donations in order to receive the money. Bronson was able to raise the money and with the money received from the Foundation their building fund totaled over one million dollars. Work began on the additions in January 1948. In the end, the new hospital building would have six floors and planned space for future expansions, but the project did not go as smoothly as hoped. 

Due to a population increase in Kalamazoo and the increasing costs of construction, the construction committee felt the need to revise their original expansion plans. In June of 1950 the hospital began a campaign to raise $991,000 to cover the remaining costs of the expansion as well as the addition of another 21 beds. For this campaign Bronson received a $250,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation in Detroit. Along with the grant the hospital received donations from prominent businesses in the community such as the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company, the Upjohn Company, and the Kalamazoo Automobile Dealers Association. After receiving the money construction progressed quickly. The new 121-bed addition was formally opened on May 12, 1951 and dedicated that December. 

New Programs

At the same time the hospital was planning and building the expansion, the board was also planning an intern program and a new medical center. The intern program, intended for students from the University of Michigan Medical School, sought to use Bronson’s new additions. The first students arrived in July 1947. The medical center began at the same time as the hospital expansion program in January 1948. The medical center was independent of the hospital expansion program though, its costs were financed by long-term loans. The basement and first floor were to be used by the hospital and the second and third floors were rented out and used as doctors’ offices. 

The 1946 expansion and medical center led the way for many more exciting additions at Bronson. In 1952 the hospital began planning for a heart catheterization clinic. The clinic opened in the summer of 1956 and was used to diagnose heart ailments in patients. By November 1956 thirteen patients had been successfully diagnosed by the clinic, which led Bronson to be approved as a cardiac surgery center in January 1957. That May, plans were made to remodel an old nursing dormitory into a 50-bed unit for the care of the chronically ill. The hospital also planned on expanding the physical and occupational therapy units, the laboratories, and the cardiac clinic. The rehabilitation center opened in May 1958, and the chronically ill unit opened that September. 

Harding School Expansion

In 1959 Bronson purchased the Harding School properties, planning to use them in an expansion program. In March 1960 the hospital announced they would demolish the school administration building and build a 177-space parking lot. Plans to build a tunnel connecting the first floor of the hospital to that of the school building were also revealed. The school building’s first floor would then be developed into a large outpatient department and a new medical library for the School of Nursing and the medical staff. 

The Harding School 

The Harding School, located on Pine and Lovell Street, c1940.
Kalamazoo Public Library Photograph P-1028

More Additions

In January 1965 Bronson began receiving money from the 1964 joint hospital fund drive. The fund drive had raised almost $4,000,000 which was split evenly between Bronson and Borgess Hospital. In June of 1965 Bronson released plans for expanding the laboratories, adding new floors to the main building, developing a new pediatric-adolescent unit, and a four level wing. The new wing would include psychiatric and medical clinics, a medical library, and additional physical and occupational therapy space. Additional funds for the expansion came from federal aid. The laboratory expansion was completed in 1966, and two new floors on the main building opened in 1968 with two more planned to begin construction later that year. 

In May of 1966 Bronson received permission from the city of Kalamazoo to move one block of Cedar Street 150 feet south so that they could build their new pediatric-adolescent unit on that property. Crews began clearing the site in December 1967 and plans for the building were approved the following May. The plans called for a $3,100,000 unit with a basement, two floors, and room for future expansions. The unit would provide beds and bassinets for 87 patients aged newborn to 18 years. Outpatient facilities would also be provided in the unit which opened in February 1970. 

Many expansions and additions took place throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s at Bronson. The hospital began a Kidney Care Unit in 1968 and began making plans for a future kidney transplant program. A new Trauma and Emergency Center opened in 1972 with the Burn Center following in 1973. The two remaining floors of the main building were completed and opened in 1978. Bronson began receiving more and more patients as time went on and their trauma center was consistently running at or over its capacity. In October 1987 the hospital began planning for a brand new 15,000 square foot trauma center. The new center had rooms separating severe trauma cases from minor injuries and space accommodating family members of patients as well as the patients themselves. The trauma center opened on February 14, 1990. 

Bronson-598

Bronson Hospital photographed from the Skyrise Apartments, 1984.
Kalamazoo Valley Museum Photograph, 84.416

New Location

Bronson announced its largest and most expensive construction project in August 1995. The hospital planned to spend $175 million over ten years on a project that would shift the bulk of the hospital’s campus several blocks south between Walnut and Vine Streets. The plans called for a larger outpatient facility to handle the growing amount of out-patient services and rebuilding the inpatient facility to a smaller size, housing only 248 beds instead of the 442 beds that were currently in the hospital. The project took place in three phases. Phase I called for $96.3 million to be spent on the new outpatient center, medical office building, and parking ramp. Work would also be done on the power plant during this phase, and a tunnel would be constructed connecting the current campus to the new site. Construction began in October 1996 and Phase I was completed in 1999. Phase II of the building project called for reconstructing the inpatient facilities, making private rooms with accommodations for family members and visitors. Work on the new 248 bed facility began in the spring of 1997 and ended in 2000. Lastly, Phase III renovated some of the north campus buildings into administrative and educational spaces and either sold or demolished the remaining buildings. The entire project cost less than renovating the existing facilities, and was estimated to save the hospital $1.5 million per year in energy and patient transportation costs. The new hospital was completed and opened in 2005.

Over the years Bronson has expanded its facility from a small house that only fit 12 patients into a multi-million dollar facility. Though no one knows what the future may hold for the hospital it is safe to say that Bronson will continue to serve the Kalamazoo community for many years to come. 

 

Sources

Books

The History of Bronson Methodist Hospital 1896-1921

  • Highfield, Terry
  • Papers from The History Seminar of Kalamazoo College 1952
  • H 362 H63

Medical Memoirs of 50 Years in Kalamazoo

  • McNair, Rush
  • 1938
  • H 920 M16

Local History Files

Subject File: Bronson Methodist Hospital

Websites

www.bronsonhealth.com