Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Special Collections & Archives

The rare or unique holdings of Nimitz Library.

History of Hospitals at the U.S. Naval Academy

by Samuel Limneos on 2020-06-19T09:49:14-04:00 in History | Comments

The history of hospitals that served midshipmen is another relatively unknown, but interesting, part of Naval Academy lore. Throughout their history, the buildings outfitted as sick quarters and hospitals on the yard have changed in capacity with the increasing size of the brigade of midshipmen.


The first building used as a sick quarters on the yard was a simple wooden structure built on the old parade grounds (now covered by Bancroft Hall) in 1846. 

The first hospital on the yard was a wooden structure near the mulberry tree on the old parade grounds behind the superintendent's residence. Construction work began in 1846, and after a considerable delay, the small hospital building was completed, sporting three rooms on the ground level and five rooms on the first floor. This structure was flimsy, architecturally dangerous, and also proved quite inadequate to serve the large body of officers and students at the school. In the spring of 1859, it was moved to a position adjacent to the old quartermaster's office under the original wall of Fort Severn, and used primarily as officer quarters.

The Academy's second building used exclusively as a quarters for the sick and infirm, built by Superintendent Goldsborough in 1853. 

The second medical building to be built at the academy, seen above, underwent construction in 1852 during the administration of Commander Louis Goldsborough as superintendent. Construction was completed in September of 1853 at a cost of $13,000. The building was located roughly adjacent to the northeastern wing of the present day Officer's Club. Primarily of soft gray brick and typical of architecture of the period, the building’s three stories and basement provided ample room at the time. The ground floor contained a vestibule, the medical inspector’s office, an examination room, apothecary office, laboratory, kitchen, and dispensary. The upper two floors were utilized as wards. The second floor also contained linen, bedding, and general store rooms.  An eight-foot deep veranda adorned the exterior of the first and second floors. The amount of plumbing in the building was remarkable for a building of this period, and the dispensary was completely tiled. The building was ready for occupancy by the academy’s sick and infirm by 1857. 


                                An interior wing of the Academy's second Sick Quarters building. 

During the Civil War, the Naval Academy relocated to Newport, Rhode Island and the former school grounds in Annapolis were turned over to the Union Army. In addition to serving as a supply store post and the port of embarkation for the expedition against the coast of North Carolina in October 1861, the yard housed an army hospital for the major duration of the war. Clusters of assembled hospital tents lined the former academy parade grounds in front of Fort Severn and the midshipman quarters. A detailed description of the buildings and grounds during the Civil War was recorded by an academy alumnus in the Army and Navy Journal of October 22, 1864: "My eyes were struck by the view of a number of hospital tents occupying the grounds once held sacred...the fine buildings I found occupied in various ways. Most of them are used as hospitals."


During the Civil War the Naval Academy grounds were turned over to the Union Army and predominantly used as a hospital.  

When the Naval Academy returned to Annapolis in October 1865 and classes resumed under direction of the new superintendent, Rear Admiral David D. Porter, the escalation of business on the yard caused by increasing numbers of midshipmen, professors, and officers attached to the academy inconvenienced the rehabilitation of the sick and injured quartered in the Sick Quarters. In addition to the increased number of sick and the resultant overcrowding of the Sick Quarters, noise also presented a problem. Porter wrote in 1866, “a trumpet sounds every hour, commencing at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., in the intervals between the trumpet, drums beat, and the band plays twice a day, and there are two gun-fires - one at morning and the other at night...a very sick person would be exceedingly annoyed, not to say distressed, by the noises about the present grounds." A great cause of the commotion was the construction of a new dormitory to house the midshipmen, that also contained their mess hall and recitation rooms in the fall of 1869. Referred to as the "New Quarters," this 300-foot long building's western wing was only 50 feet from the main entrance of the Sick Quarters.


This photograph shows the close proximity of the second Sick Quarters (at left) to the New Quarters, which was erected in 1869 over present-day Decatur Road and Leahy Hall between Sampson Hall and the Officers' Club to the west. The Sick Quarters was positioned near the present-day northeastern corner of the Officers' Club. Note also the Macedonian and Tripoli monuments in this late 1870s photograph. 

The poor location and inadequate facilities of the Sick Quarters, along with the increasing size of the brigade of midshipmen, influenced Porter to petition for funds to build a new, more modern hospital. Between July 1868 and June 1869, the Naval Academy purchased Prospect and Strawberry hills, comprising 113 acres of the land on the northern side of Dorsey Creek. This purchase included lands that would eventually become both the Government Farm and the Naval Academy Cemetery. Construction work on a new hospital began during Porter's superintendency on Prospect Hill, the site presently occupied by the Perry Circle Apartments.


A view, in 1869, from the cupola of the New Quarters building, looking northeast at Strawberry and Prospect hills across Dorsey Creek. The shoreline stretching to the northwest is roughly the position of present day Decatur Road. Visitors and those attached to the Naval Academy will recognize the familiar wooded outline of Cemetery Point in the photograph's right. Faintly visible in the photograph's mid-left, across the creek on Prospect Hill is the Academy's first major hospital.

Completed in the fall of 1871 at the cost of about $200,000, the new hospital was designed to provide relief for the greater number of admitted midshipmen and officers attached to the Academy’s academic department’s and training ships. According to the Board of Visitors’ Report for 1870:

 “[The] system of drainage is excellent and could not well be improved; the soil and waste pipes of all kinds being made to empty outside of the building in a capacious sewer, which discharges itself several hundred yards off into tidal water. Thorough ventilation is effected by columns of fresh air driven through tubes by means of fans to all parts of the building. The usual appliances for warming the wards and halls with hot air have been supplied so abundantly that without doubt a sufficiently warm temperature may be maintained in them during the coldest weather. Water in abundance will be supplied by the works of the City of Annapolis. The wards, as far as we could judge in its present unfinished state, are airy and well lighted, and spacious enough to accommodate the sick and disabled of the Academy and practice ships for years to come."


The Naval Academy's first major hospital, designed by then Rear Admiral David D. Porter, completed in 1871. 

Constructed in a shape resembling an anchor, this hospital building was 305 feet long, 63 feet high, and 65 feet from front to back door. The building’s outer hall was of fine pressed brick, neatly ornamented, and contained stairways made of heavily braced and bolted iron. The building was covered with a mansard roof, adorned with a 20-foot high cupola, with hip roofs over the two wings. Each of the wings, or “flukes” of the building’s anchor design, contained 12-foot octagonal observatories that, together with the cupola, commanded an excellent view of the surrounding lands. In front of the hospital sat a large fountain and a network of gravel paths. 

Under the rear part of the building was a 300-ton capacity coal cellar, as well as other cellar and supply closets. The entire building was heated by steam. The first floor contained a basement, ice-box and refrigerator, and the branches of the culinary departments, as well as a laundry room furnished with the latest washing, wringing, and dryer steam-powered machines.  The second floor included the main front entrance, officers’ rooms, the surgeon’s office, reception rooms, a dispensary, and a library. Both the second and third floors contained east and west wings for midshipman and officer use respectively, that contained midshipman smoking and sitting rooms, and eight wardrooms. The third floor also contained public parlors and an elevator landing. The fourth floor was reserved for those with malignant and contagious diseases.  Each floor contained wash and bath rooms. In all, the building contained more than 170 apartments and could furnish accommodation for as many as to 300 patients. 


One of the many uses of the second Sick Quarters after 1871 included the physical examination of candidates for admission to the Naval Academy. This 1892 photograph shows the chief medical inspector and the academy surgeons performing a physical examination on a hopeful candidate in the Sick Quarters. 

Unfortunately, the building’s expensive upkeep costs, poor drainage in swampy land around it, and the high rate of malaria among the hospital's physicians and staff due to the prevalence of mosquitos necessitated the closing of the structure in the summer of 1876, only five years after its completion. The structure was used mainly for storage for the next 30 years. For this reason, the hospital was given the nickname “Porter’s Folly.” From 1870 to 1876, the apartments on the upper floors of the old Sick Quarters were used to house midshipmen with ailments and injuries rendering them too infirm to remain in their own quarters but whose condition was deemed to improve quickly. Other uses of the Sick Quarters after 1871 included spaces for the quarters of the assistant surgeons, the apothecary, dispensary, and storerooms. Physical examination of midshipmen, as well as officers, by the academy surgeon continued in the Sick Quarters.  Following the abandonment of the new hospital, all gravely ill patients who could not be treated in the Sick Quarters were transferred to the Navy Hospital in Washington D.C.


This colored postcard, dated 1911, showcases the front facade of the new hospital, which was completed and opened in 1907. 

In 1903 Congress authorized $10 million for the rebuilding of the Naval Academy by architect Ernest Flagg. Out of that appropriation, $200,000 was allotted for construction of a new naval hospital. During planning, an effort was made to use the funds to remodel the abandoned hospital or, at the very least, to construct the new one at the site of the old. This effort ultimately failed, and construction work on the new hospital began on a site overlooking the Severn River and College Creek in 1905. In March 1907, the first patients were admitted. In 1908, the Sick Quarters, then quietly retired, was torn down. The abandoned hospital designed by Porter was finally torn down by the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in 1912.


This aerial photograph shows the extensive ward additions to the hospital's during the 1960s. 

The new hospital was originally under the command of Surgeon George Pickerell, USN, and could accommodate 100 patients. In 1910 and 1911, four permanent wards were added on both the east and west sides of the main building. To accommodate the enlarged brigade of midshipmen and the reserve training officers, faculty, and staff attached to the academy during World War I, temporary wooden facilities were erected for use as additional wards. More additions were completed on the hospital in 1917, and the hospital staff included 11 officers, 10 nurses, and 60 hospital corpsmen. In 1939, a new three-story permanent ward was constructed on the west wing of the hospital to replace the aging, World War I wooden structures. Two years later, a similar three-story ward was added to the building's east wing, in addition to a subsistence building. These additions provided room for greater numbers of medical services and departments including surgery, x-rays, dental care, physical therapy, dependent care, delivery rooms, nursery, medical storerooms, finance offices, an auditorium, medical library, and a morgue. There were also eye, ear, nose, and throat clinics.


Aerial photograph of the hospital in 1979. 

In 1965 the Severn River Naval Command was disestablished, and the hospital came under control of the Naval District of Washington. In 1983 the facility was renamed the Naval Medical Clinic, Annapolis, Maryland. Bancroft Hall also contained a small sick quarters department for the treatment of midshipmen with minor ailments and injuries from 1907 until May 1995 when all medical services were consolidated in the hospital. The name was changed to the Naval Health Clinic, Annapolis, Maryland in 2004. In the spring of 2017, after 110 years of service, the Naval Health Clinic on the site that had become known as Hospital Point was relocated to its present position on the Naval Support Activity, Annapolis, north of the Severn River.



“Board of Visitors Report, 1866.” Folder 1: Reports 1851-1889. Box 1: Reports 1851-1935. Entry 209A: Reports of the Board of Visitors. Records of Boards and Committees. RG 405: Records of the U.S. Naval Academy. Special Collections and Archives, Nimitz Library. 

Coffman, Karen. (1997). "History of Navy Medicine in Annapolis." Navy Medicine, May-June, 1997, pp. 21-26. USNA Archives, Reference Files - Buildings and Grounds: Hospitals.

Ford, Thomas G. (1908).  “History of the U.S. Naval Academy: Chapter 15:Superintendence of CDR Blake, First Period 1857-1861.” Thomas G. Ford Manuscript on the History of the United States Naval Academy, 1858-1908. MS 448. Special Collections and Archives, Nimitz Library.

Sweetman, Jack. The U.S. Naval Academy: An Illustrated History. Annapolis, Maryland: The Naval Institute Press, 1979.

USNA Archives, Reference Files - Buildings and Grounds: Hospitals: The history of Annapolis, the capital of Maryland : the state house, its various public buildings ... together with a full history and description of the United States Naval Academy from its origin to the present time. Its buildings, grounds ... with an appendix, containing a variety of historical and interesting reminiscences / compiled and edited by Owen M. Taylor, Annapolis, Md, 1871. 

USNA Archives, Reference Files - Buildings and Grounds: Hospitals: Report of the Board of Visitors, 1870. 

USNA Archives, Reference Files - Buildings and Grounds: Hospitals: Medical History of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland 1845-1880: Floor Plans of the Sick Quarters Reported by Albert L. Gihon, Medical Inspector, U.S. Navy, January 1, 1887.


 Add a Comment



Enter your e-mail address to receive notifications of new posts by e-mail.


  Follow Us

  Return to Blog
This post is closed for further discussion.