Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 7, 2013

Pleasant Hill Ramblings: Remembering the 'founding mothers'

By Jean Clark
Chronicle correspondent

CROSSVILLE — The three “founding mothers” of the original hospital in Pleasant Hill (Alice Adshead, RN; Dr. May Cravath Wharton and Elizabeth Fletcher) looked on from the wall as some members of the Historical Society Board met in the conference room named in honor of Dr. Wharton at the Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville. A corner case filled with the medical tools of Dr. May’s 1920s practice adorns a corner. Other photos depict Dr. Wharton looking at the site of the Cumberland Medical Center and at the groundbreaking of the new health center in Crossville in 1949.

There were no doctors in Cumberland County when Dr. May Wharton moved to Pleasant Hill in 1917. The closest hospital was 85 miles from Pleasant Hill. In her autobiography, Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands, she recounts her many travels by mule or horseback through rugged terrain to meet the profuse medical needs of the mountain community. 

In August of 1921, Fletcher and Dr. Wharton rented a small six-room, two-story building from Frank Frey, which they called Sanex (Sannex in some accounts). They furnished it with two army beds they bought in North Carolina. It soon grew to a six-bed clinic and in November, they were joined by Alice Adshead, RN. A year later the Uplands Cumberland Mountain Sanatorium opened as an eight-bed hospital with room for more. A farm, farmhouse, cannery, laundry, storage building and water treatment facility soon covered the 200 acres around the sanatorium. A second floor, porches, and an annex were added to the building.

Five out clinics were held in various places in White and Cumberland counties. In 1937, the 30-bed Van Dyck Tuberculosis Sanatorium was built, and thereafter the original hospital was referred to as Cumberland General or “Old General.” Uplands referred to the growing medical campus, which included houses built for workers in Pleasant Hill.

The Uplands board of directors increasingly became aware of the need for a wider reaching hospital and health center with adequate facilities to serve the whole Cumberland Plateau. Raising of funds for this project began in 1942. After World War II, Dr. Wharton was instrumental in gaining federal, state and private funding for the modern Cumberland Medical Center, located in Crossville. It opened with 50 beds in March 1950.

For awhile the three hospitals and clinics were overseen by the Uplands board of directors with one coordinating administrator. Tuberculosis patients were treated at Van Dyck, persons suffering from arthritis, cardiac diseases and the chronically ill were treated at Cumberland General in Pleasant Hill.

The new Cumberland Medical Center (CMC) contained the essential diagnostic and therapeutic facilities organized to qualify for recognition and approval of the American Hospital Association and by the American College of Surgeons. In 1960 CMC added a 32-bed C-Wing and, with its continued growth, an administrator at each hospital was needed. By the late 1960s, each was governed by its own board of directors.

Eventually, the hospitals in Pleasant Hill were no longer needed and closed. CMC in Crossville has grown in leaps and bounds, adding personnel, equipment and departments. There are now 95 active practicing physicians on staff. They have recently purchased the surgery center in Crossville and will soon open another facility next to the Wellness Center in Fairfield Glade.

The Pleasant Hill Historical Society of the Cumberlands was formed in 1976 and took over responsibility for Pioneer Hall, the only remaining Pleasant Hill Academy building, developing it into a museum. The hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The well-known story of Dr. Wharton, “Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands,” and her two cohorts, Adshead and Fletcher, is featured in the rear of the museum on the first floor. The museum is closed for the season now, but group tours can be arranged at any time. Call 277-3111 or 277-5226.