Tuesday, February 01, 2011

St. Barnabas and its legends

I was recently sent a note from a reader who as a child had played in and around some foundation ruins at the corner of Norwood and Woodford Streets in Portland. Among his friends, legend had it that the foundation was the remains of the old St Barnabas Hospital or possibly an animal infirmary, and the 3- to 4- foot steel chute that transected it was used to dump bodies to the morgue. There were plenty of rumors that there were "forgotten" basements and sub-basements in the area with all types of hospital oddities in them.

While there is not a whole lot of info about St. Barnabas available upon a cursory search, between the web and the Portland Public Library I did find a few things.
The hospital, known alternately as "Saint Barnabas" and "Dr. Cousins' Private Hospital," was founded by Dr. William Lewis Cousins in 1904, opening its doors at 231 Woodfords Street to patients on July 21, 1905. Photos of the reception rooms and grounds bespeak a gracious impression, though no photos of patient facilities are shown. The hospital boasted a terraced lawn, a broad, glass-enclosed sun parlor, an elevator, and refrigerator ice gleaned exclusively from Sebago Lake.

To give you an idea of what type of hospital it was, here is a description of St. Barnabas' from an ad in the Journal of the Maine Medical Association, Vol X, No. 1, Aug. 1919, pg ii. The facility's expertise focused on ailments that required surgery, attended to in their state-of-the-art operating rooms on the 3rd floor, but cases with purely medical treatment options were accepted as well. 30 student nurses resided in a dormitory adjacent to the hospital.

A private institution for the care and treatment of all Surgical Diseases

Thoroughly modern in every respect, steam heating, vacuum cleaning, electric lighting and electric elevator, most modern fire protection including private alarm box, extinguishers in each room, corridors fitted with hose and water mains, and fire escapes surrounding the building. Abundance of private baths, latest and most approved operating room and laboratory facilities.

Complete X-Ray Outfit. Special attention given to diseases of the gastro-intestinal tract.

ACCOMMODATIONS FOR FIFTY -- Rates given upon application.

EXTRAS—Patients' private laundry, drugs, laboratory fees, operating room and special nurse. This latter is $2.50 per day.


Course of training extends over a period of three years, embracing instruction in both medical and surgical nursing including special branches. A maternity department offers valuable training in this important line of work. Nursing in private cases which forms such a very large portion of the work will be found of especial value as representing the class of practice encountered after graduation. Applicants must present satisfactory evidence of good health, morals and a degree of education equivalent to a four years' high school course or certificates from normal schools, academies and institutions of like standing.


is run in connection with the Training School for the assistance of physicians employing graduate nurses.

For information, write or telephone

Supt. Saint Barnabas Hospital

231 Woodford St., - Portland, Me.

So far as the foundation remembered by the reader goes, "The heating plant and boiler room is in a separate building a short distance from the Hospital. The garage, laundry, and engineer's rooms are also in this building, in addition to accommodations for the help." This location matched with his recollections of the location of the foundation.

[Source: Report of Work Done at Saint Barnabas Hospital from July 21, 1905 to January 1, 1914 (George D. Loring, Printer, 1914)]

Based on that information, we are guessing that the chute was for coal or other heating fuel. The stories of forgotten basements with hospital oddities in them is entirely likely-- according to the same report, "In the basement, which can be entered from a side street [Norwood???], is a well-equipped laboratory, and the storerooms."

Since the hospital seems to have specialized in surgical procedures, who knows...?

Among the available St. Barnabas info, I found a listing of the hospital rules. Some of them (especially #3!) seem so common sense you'd hope they wouldn't need to be told to folks, but I guess then as now people don't think clearly about how their actions affect those around them!

1. Do not deface walls or furniture, sit on sides of beds, talk in loud tones in wards or halls.

2. Relatives are allowed to see patients daily when the patients are convalescent.

3. Refuse of any kind must not be thrown into bath tubs or water closets, nor out of the windows, but will be placed in a proper receptacle and removed by a nurse.

4. Patients are not allowed access to the wards or private rooms unless by special permission, nor are they allowed to leave the premises without permission of the physician in charge.

5. Patients are required to bring sufficient clothing in order to make frequent changes. All laundry work must be done outside of hospital at the expense of patient.

6. Patients should not question nurses regarding ailments of other patients. Nurses are cautioned against answering such questions.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

My brother and I were both born at St. Barnabas and did indeed slide down the laundry chute at the hospital remains site in the 1940's.
It was a clean metal chute so could not have been used for coal. As for bodies? Doubtful. It was barely big enough for us kids, and I did worry each time that we might get stuck.
CG from AZ

Anonymous said...

Well I live there now and the place is fucking haunted

Anonymous said...

I live in St. Barnabas apt. I've had no problems with it being haunted but every once in a while it sounds like someones moving around on a third floor when there isn't one. After my neighbor told me it use to b a hospital it freaked me out a little but I love it here at St. Barnabas apts.

johnleeke said...

>>Based on that information, we are guessing that the chute was for coal or other heating fuel. <<

The chute was more likely a fire escape, which people could slide down and be out of and away from the building in less than a minute. They were common on buildings of this era. I slide down one myself on an old high school building.

Thanks for posting this story, I've often wondered about the place.

John Leeke
Higgins St.
Deering Neighborhood

Eli said...

I live on the corner of woodford's and norwood. Now the building in the picture looks like the house next to the st.barnabas apartments. Were they attached what purpose did the three brick buildings serve to the hospital. I also have heard noises coming from the non eexisting 3rd floor