A history of healing
It was the first private hospital in Nevada County when it was dedicated in 1907. The W. C. Jones Memorial Hospital on Church Street in Grass Valley served the community some 60 years before it shut down in 1968. Jones is the surname of a father and three of his four sons who practiced medicine in Nevada County. Son Dr. John Taylor Jones was instrumental in founding the hospital as a memorial to his father. Son Dr. Carl P. Jones was a founding member of the group that eventually built Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, which opened its doors in December 1958.
an. 30, 1907, saw a gathering estimated by the local press at 2,500 persons tour the brand new W. C. Jones Memorial Hospital on South Church Street.
Newspaper reports of the day glowed. “There have been receptions … but never in the history of the county was anything of the kind witnessed. (The event) spoke of the interest … and good feeling toward … the ambitious young surgeon who made his dream come true … to Dr. J(ohn) T(aylor) Jones is due the credit of this magnificent institution …”
Dedication ceremonies included the obligatory address by Mayor C. E. Clinch and a selection by the Nevada City Orchestra. Additionally, there were songs by the Grass Valley Carol Choir, a vocal solo by Verniece Glasson, and a reading by Kathleen Murphy.
Mayor Clinch told the audience: “Realizing … what this hospital will mean to the city in its future growth … as an adjunct … will … direct here those who are seeking medical treatment in a climate noted for its healthfulness and life-giving properties; its establishment is an indication of the faith the doctor has in the permanency of (Grass Valley).”
Dr. J. T. Jones was in overall charge of the facility, while Kate Hansen was head nurse. The rules seemed simple by today’s standards: A patient could have his own physician, and doctors must wear sterilized gowns during an operation or while attending a patient with a contagious disease. Steam sterilizing ovens provided a ready supply of gowns.
The founding father of the Jones medical dynasty, after whom the hospital was named, was born in Athens, Tenn., in 1833. As was the custom in those days, W. C. studied (or “read”) medicine in the offices of Drs. Collins and Parker near his home. The young man, however, was soon infected with gold fever, and in 1857 struck out for California and fortune.
After a disappointing two years with little to show for his efforts, he left the Gold Country and headed to San Francisco, where he enrolled in Cooper Medical College. In 1869, he attended Bellvue College in New York, graduating the following year.
The new Dr. Jones again headed west and was employed as a surgeon with the Central Pacific Railroad on the line from Colfax to Reno during construction. In 1873, he moved his family from Truckee to Grass Valley, where he began practicing.
Jones and his wife had six children: two daughters and four sons. Three sons followed their father into medicine, while son George went into law and was elected Nevada County district attorney in 1902 and Superior Court judge in 1908. The daughters never married.
All of the sons who became doctors attended Cooper Medical College in San Francisco. C. W. “Will” Jones was joined by brother John Taylor, and together they practiced with their father until his death in 1900. Will died in 1907 and John Taylor, while only in his forties, died in 1917. The surviving Dr. Jones, the youngest son, Carl Power Jones, continued the family tradition of practicing in Grass Valley.
In 1934, Dr. Carl, along with Idaho-Maryland Mine owner Errol MacBoyle and Judge Edgar Zook, formed the Grass Valley Memorial Hospital Corp., which became the nucleus of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. World War II and the closing of the mine intervened, and the SNMH project became a reality when the hospital opened its doors on Dec. 28, 1958. Dr. Carl lived to see it.
Today, the old hospital at 328 S. Church St., now called the Swan-Levine House, continues to serve the community as a bed-and-breakfast. Co-owners Peggy and Howard Levine have saved the old surgery scrub-sinks, and many medical artifacts are being returned. “I found out from City Hall that the original house was built on this lot in 1867,” Peggy said.
The house was remodeled after a fire in 1895. The owner at that time was Charles Campbell, a merchant with a store at Boston Ravine, or “South Grass Valley,” as some references called the area.
Dr. J. T. Jones purchased Campbell’s home in 1900 and adapted it to be a hospital, which it remained until closed and purchased by the Levines in 1975.
Bob Wyckoff is a retired newspaper editor, an author of local history, a lifetime student of California history and a longtime resident of Nevada County. He writes history stories twice a month. You can write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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