Dr. David Paulson had little more than his faith in God and medicine when he moved to Hinsdale to start a sanitarium deep in the woods in 1904.
His friends thought him “a lunatic when he left Chicago without many of his possessions because he couldn’t afford to ship them. “They said, `There is Dr. Paulson moving out to a rich residence town to start a sanitarium without money enough to take his bed along,” Paulson wrote in notes published posthumously.
“I took her restoration as an omen for good,” Paulson wrote. “A sort of first-fruits of a great army of invalids that was to follow.”
For nearly a century, the army has grown and pushed the hospital to expand its capabilities to treat sickness, all the while remaining loyal to Paulson’s vision of providing physical–and spiritual–respite.
The Hinsdale Sanitarium and Hospital, which became Hinsdale Hospital in 1983, today has 426 beds; state-of-the-art neurology, cardiac, rehab and cancer centers; and a sophisticated maternity wing with a nursery for even the tiniest premature babies. The county’s first hospital remains one of its largest, said Lynn Larson, hospital spokeswoman.
But like Paulson and his wife, Dr. Mary Paulson, the hospital’s founders, the current administration continues to prize peace and quiet. “The idea for a sanitarium was that people would appreciate the fresh air,” Larson said. “If you stand out here today, it’s still tranquil.”
The hospital’s serenity was born of an act of war. It was built at the urging of Charles B. Kimbell, an Army private with the Chicago light artillery who was wounded in the Civil War battle at Shiloh, Tenn., in 1862. Needing lifelong treatment, the wealthy stone-quarry operator recruited the Paulsons to establish a sanitarium on land Kimbell bought for the amount of back taxes owed, according to local writer Timothy H. Bakken’s book “Hinsdale” (Hinsdale Doings, 1976; out of print).
The Hinsdale Sanitarium and Benevolent Association was incorporated Nov. 1, 1904. Within three weeks of opening, every room was full.
While many sanitariums catered to those with tuberculosis, who were believed to most need bed rest and fresh air, Hinsdale treated a wide range of problems, including those requiring surgery, said Kathryn Sieberman, 78, a 44-year employee who retired this year.
“The San,” as it still is known to some longtime residents, was “a place of lifestyle change,” where patients could rest emotionally, physically and mentally, and learn how to live well, said Sieberman, who has researched its history. The commitment to treating the whole person, not just the illness, has remained strong through the decades, she said.
In the 1950s, the hospital’s original frame building was torn down and a new brick building was built in each of the next three decades. Today, the hospital is hoping to expand and modernize its emergency room, largely to give patients more comfort and privacy, Larson said.
Nearly a century ago, the hospital was the first in the county to deliver a baby. Last year, 3,075 infants were delivered.
“It’s the whole being that we’re hoping to address,” Sieberman said.