Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Great War: June 18, 1918

The systematic review of old newspapers regularly yields unexpected finds, and so it was today. Pursuing the Gossips series documenting life in Hudson a hundred years ago, during the war we now call World War I, I checked out the local weekly newspaper of the time, the Columbia Republican, for June 18, 1918, and discovered on the front page, with a headline that spanned five of the paper's seven columns and a photograph I couldn't remember ever seeing before, the account of a significant moment in the life of one of Hudson's important historic buildings--the building now known as Cavell House, the location of New York Oncology and Hematology.

Hudson is again the beneficiary of the generosity of two of its prominent citizens, Dr. and Mrs. John C. Smock, who have decided to make their future home in California and have presented to the Hudson Hospital their beautiful home on Prospect avenue which is surrounded by grounds equally beautiful adorned with trees and flowers. The removal from Hudson of these two generous people who have always been so open handed in the support of every good cause, giving so that no one knew but giving and giving is indeed a matter of general regret. [sic]
To lose not only their generous support but even more to lose their personal presence is a distinct loss to this community. In going however, they have lived up to the standard which has always governed them by presenting their home and grounds to the Hospital. The purpose of the gift is that the place should be used for a home, Liberty House it is to be called, for convalescent soldiers and sailors until the conclusion of the war after which the Hospital will use it as the trustees see fit.
At a meeting of the trustees held Saturday afternoon the following statement was issued:
At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Hudson City Hospital on June 15th, 1918, announcement was made that Dr. and Mrs. John C. Smock had given their place on Prospect Avenue to the hospital for the use of the hospital authorities in caring for convalescing men from the United States service, the place to be known as Liberty House, and after the war to be devoted to other hospital uses.
The last annual report of the hospital had a note referring to the part which the hospital might take in caring for invalid and wounded men in the government service, and it was this note which arrested the attention of the donors and suggested the gift. The large and well-built house is in perfect order and capacious enough to afford room for a goodly number of convalescing and the environment of flowers, shrubbery and trees is well adapted to help in making a cheerful home for those who may be placed here for the restoration of health and strength, and reinvigoration of soul and body for further service in the cause of Liberty, or for useful activities in the homeland.
The Surgeon General of the Army has been notified of the Hospital's willingness to devote this property to the uses of wounded and convalescing soldiers and sailors, and the offer has been placed on file with expressions of thanks for the same, and there is no doubt that when the hospitals near the New York port of debarkation are filled, the property will be called upon. When that time comes the necessary war nursing aids will be called for and trained and the property placed in readiness for service.
The house was used for its designated purpose, and after the war, it was renovated for use by the Hudson Hospital School of Nursing. Its name ceased to be Liberty House, and it was renamed Cavell House, in honor of Edith Louisa Cavell, the English nurse who was executed on October 12, 1915, for helping some two hundred British and French soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. The north wing was added to the building in 1927 and called the Fritts Memorial Wing in honor of local physician Crawford E. Fritts. The south wing was added in 1932. In 1995, Columbia Memorial Hospital intended to demolish the house to create more parking space. That might have happened were it not for community efforts to save the building and an oncology group's interest in locating its services in the historic building.


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