EARLY YEARS: 1902-1922
The Charleston Navy Yard was established June 7, 1900. On Nov. 2, 1902, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery bought 96.5 acres of land from the city of Charleston, South Carolina adjoining the northwest side of the of the Navy Yard. Later transfers to the Navy Yard reduced the acreage to 43.14 acres - the number of acres recorded in hospital records as of Nov. 1, 1949.
After establishment of the Navy Yard in 1902, the Medical Department activities occupied "hospital" tents near the site of the Marine Corps Post Exchange. In 1905, a Marine Sick Quarters was erected in the same place. During this period of time, the Medical Officer of the Yard had an office in the Post Office building in Charleston, making a daily trip to the Yard by street car. In 1905, a room in one of the then existing buildings at the Yard was allotted for use as a Medical Dispensary.On June 26, 1906, Congress appropriated $12,000 for the building of a Yard Dispensary, but no bids from outside contractors were received on the plans and specifications for the building. It was not until December 1908 that a Yard Dispensary was completed by Yard labor. This wooden building was erected on brick piers near the center of the Navy Yard. Later, a basement was constructed under this building which functioned as a dispensary and as a small hospital, with many of its patients in tents. In 1917 the west wing was added.
During World War I, this 28 bed dispensary, even with the addition of new buildings, was taxed beyond its capacity, and was entirely inadequate to meet the hospital needs for the Charleston area. The establishment of a training camp increased the need for a capacity of 5,000 men. Emergency facilities in the shape of tents, and temporary beds were established in connection with the Naval Dispensary until a total capacity was reached for 120 patients. This was a temporary expedient to meet the circumstances incident to a sudden influx of men without accommodations for the sick.
In view of the necessity for a Naval Hospital in this area, a hospital was authorized to be constructed by the Naval Emergency Fund Act. The Charleston Engineering and Constructing Company was contracted to build the hospital. Work commenced on June 1, 1917. The hospital was commissioned on July 31, 1917, in spite of many difficulties encountered in obtaining an adequate supply of labor during a strike among the carpenters. The hospital consisted of 19 one-story, wooden buildings with a bed capacity of 250. These buildings included one administration building, one office building, one building for women nurses, nine ward buildings, one galley, a mess hall, garage, laundry, power house, stores house, and recreation hall. Due to an urgent need for additional beds, by September 1918, fourteen new buildings were contructed, increasing the bed capacity to 1,000 beds. These additional buildings were of wooden construction finished in stucco and were located south of the hospital reservation. The hospital staff drove ambulances to transport the sick from outlying stations of the Sixth Naval District and from vessels in the harbor to the hospital.
Commander W. M. Garton, MC, U.S.N. was the commanding officer during the hospital's construction until July 1919.
In 1922, due to the increasing cost of maintenance and the decreasing number of patients, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery decided to close the World War I emergency hospital and the Yard Dispensary was reoccupied as a combined Naval Hospital and Dispensary. On Dec. 21, 1922, the emergency hospital was officially closed and the medical personnel transferred to the dispensary building. Some of the buildings that made up the emergency hospital were moved adjacent to the Yard Dispensary as other buildings were demolished. The materials were used to build additional facilities at the Navy Yard Hospital.
This hospital/dispensary consisted of several frame buildings occupying about four acres of land near the center of the Navy Yard, and had a bed capacity of 57. As indicated before, the main hospital building was completed in 1908 as a Yard Dispensary building, and between 1908 and 1938 new additions were built from time to time to the original structure as the need for expansion became necessary. A new wing was added to the main hospital building and the first floor of that wing was used for office space, the second floor was used for sick officers quarters, and the basement provided additional office and storage space. The building previously used for sick officers quarters, dental and a family clinic, was converted for dependents' hospitalization. A covered ramp connected this building with the main building. In 1937, a new hospital corpsman quarters was built west of the hospital building. The hospital corps quarters had previously been located on the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery property. Upon completion of the new quarters, the old quarters were converted to a contagious and genitourinary ward. The building previously used for contagious and genitourinary cases was then used as a Yard Dispensary. On May 1, 1941, the Yard Dispensary and the Naval Hospital, which had been combined, were separated into independent medical departments units. Because the dispensary's frame structure was entirely inadequate, in July 1942, the dispensary was transferred to building number 58 of the Naval Shipyard at the entrance of the Third Street gate.
On June 17, 1940, work commenced on the construction of two additional wards with a capacity of 60 patients. On Oct. 4, 1940, these wards were completed, giving the hospital a total capacity 117 beds, which was still considered inadequate for the patient load at that time. In September 1940, funds amounting to about one million dollars were obtained from the Works Progress Administration for the construction of a 200-bed hospital.
The emergency hospital buildings built in 1917 were moved or torn down during the 1930's, with the exception of the Commanding Officer's and Executive Officer's quarters, and the old medical storeroom (Building 21) and the old mess hall. These four buildings were still standing and being used in 1975. Quarters 5, 6, and 7, located at the West Gate entrance and used as medical officers' quarters, had been used as a sick bay for the recruit camp during World War I.
In the Spring of 1941, work commenced on the construction of a new naval hospital, which would be located on the same site as the old World War I emergency hospital. On April 13, 1942, the new naval hospital was completed and commissioned. Originally designed as a 200-bed hospital, permanent wards in reality had a total capacity of 380 beds. All permanent wards were completed and occupied, with the exception of the psychopathic ward, which was completed within the next ten days. All the 30-bed temporary wards were finished and four of the 40-bed temporary wards were about 90 percent finished. Construction of the fifth temporary ward was soon begun and upon completion of this ward, the hospital had a bed capacity of 600. During 1942, ten single-story, wooden ward buildings were added as a continuation of two rows of permanent ward buildings. On June 2, 1944, five acres of land was transferred back to the hospital from the Marine Corps. On this ground, the Sick Officers' quarters annex was constructed and occupied in 1945.
In September 1944, construction began on a concrete-tile-walled, 260 ft by 42 ft, recreation building with mural-adorned walls and a paneled foyer that housed a frieze of 68 campaign ribbons in full color against a slate background. At the soda fountain on the north wall of the ship's service was a gigantic mural of members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and American Red Cross figures and a Gray Lady surrounding the seal of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. The mural was created by Quartermaster 1st Class Wilko H. Anderson, a civilian portrait painter prior to his Navy service. In this recreation lounge, on the wide expanse of the south wall, a painted map of the world, approx. 14 ft by 35 ft, looks down upon many recreational activities. In addition to the murals in the ships service lounge, the walls of the American Red Cross Service Room are adorned with the favorite characters of several famous cartoonists, drawn by the artists themselves when they visited the hospital. Other venues located in the Recreation Building were a post office, barber shop, beauty shop, lounge rooms, telephone booths, library, American Red Cross offices, Recreation office, and a movie theater with a seating capacity of 542 that had two movie showings each night.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Feb. 14, 1970, officially marking the construction of the new Charleston Naval Hospital, a modern 500-bed structure that replaced the hospital facilities contained in the outmoded quarters on the Charleston Naval Base.
The old Naval Hospital at the Navy Shipyard remained in use until the dedication of the Naval Regional Medical Center located at the intersection of Rivers and McMillan Avenues, North Charleston, on March 2, 1973. The new, 10-story hospital had 375,000 square feet of floor space and cost about $18.5 million to construct. The building had central heat and air conditioning, a central dictating and transcribing system, a central oxygen abd vacuum system, televisions in patients' rooms, and vertical transport systems. It had two Intensive Care Units, seven operating rooms, three delivery rooms, and a cardiac care unit, all equipped with life support systems, to provide healthcare for about 73,000 eligible beneficiaries.
The Naval Regional Medical Center, Charleston was established July 1, 1972 to provide improved patient care through improved utilization of resources, including medical personnel. The Naval Regional Medical Center commanded and coordinated the various Naval medical facilities and programs available to the Charleston and Beaufort communities. In addition to the core hospital, the command included branch clinics at the Naval Station, the Naval Shipyard, the Naval Weapons Station, Naval Hospital Beaufort, the Marine Corps Air Station and Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. The Commanding Officer, Naval Regional Medical Center also served as the District Medical Officer, Sixth Naval District, which was later disestablished on Sept. 30, 1980.
The early '90s ushered in the zenith of Naval Hospital Charleston’s status as a tertiary military treatment facility. By the time of the 75th anniversary ceremony, in 1992, the Hospital had employed more than 1,200 personnel, delivered more than 1,300 babies, performed more than 3,000 surgeries, admitted 9,000 patients into wards, and treated more than 365,000 beneficiaries.
In 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) began in Charleston, resulting in a significant reduction in Navy presence in the area. The number of active duty personnel and their family members in Charleston dropped from 77,000 in 1993 to fewer than 38,000 at the end of fiscal year 1995. During that same period, the total beneficiary population declined from 106,000 to 71,000. Though bed capacity had steadily declined prior to the BRAC actions, the loss of beneficiaries between 1993 and 1994 resulted in the downsizing of Naval Hospital Charleston to 40 beds to support the population that remained in the catchment area.
In 1996, Charleston witnessed the final closure of its Naval Base and Shipyard and the City bid farewell to most of the mighty vessels of war -- destroyers, frigates, cruisers, sumbarines, tenders and other support ships -- that had long home-ported at its piers.
The Naval Hospital’s Emergency Room and Intensive Care Unit were both disestablished in February 1998 to further optimize resources. On Nov. 1, 1998, the Hospital implemented an External Resource Sharing Agreement with Trident Health System that provided Naval Hospital physicians and their patients with a full array of quality inpatient and surgical services to include General Surgery; Obstetrics and Gynecological Surgery; Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery; and Orthopedic Surgery. This agreement is still in place today and the partnership is indeed a superb success.
On April 14, 1999, the Medical/ Surgical Unit, the last inpatient ward at this facility, closed its doors to inpatient admissions after 26 years of service.
In October of 2006, the Operating Room and Post Anesthesia Recovery and Ambulatory Procedures Units located on the Hospital’s 10th deck were disestablished during a poignant ceremony that celebrated the numerous safe and successful procedures performed by the dedicated surgeons and support staff during the 33 years that the units were in operation.
2007 and beyond:
In alignment with the Chief of Naval Operation’s vision of future force shaping, the Naval Weapons Station Dental Clinic was integrated into the Naval Hospital during a Change of Charge ceremony on October 22, 2004.
On January 12, 2007, the Naval Hospital Charleston publicly announced the official change of name from Naval Hospital Charleston to Naval Health Clinic Charleston.
The groundbreaking of a new, two-story ambulatory care clinic took place March 23, 2007. Naval Health Clinic Charleston would share the 18,000 square foot, state of the art building with Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which operates its Community Based Outpatient Clinic from the facility, which officially opened in November 2010.
The Naval Health Clinic Charleston currently renders quality health services for more than 17,000 enrollees from this building.