Written by B. B. McClellan for the Abbeville Woman's Club, 1974.
AND SO IT WAS IN THE DAY OF THE PALMS
(Photo courtesy Mrs. Lorraine Hebert)
I have selected the Palms Hospital, or the Fenwick as it was named when first built. Buildings often tell us about history of a people. Buildings are not only brick and mortar, wood, and nails. They store information about the people who lived and worked in them. We visit old mansions today and much of the early habits of a people are hidden within the walls. And so with Fenwick or Palms—which was an important part of Abbeville. It tells the story of a certain era. Before we go into the history of the Palms, it is well to recall that it was preceded by the Fenwick #1. That hospital stood on the very grounds of the second Fenwick #2 or the Palms. There are only faint memories of Fenwick #1 and only one picture found in the files of the old Meridional. Much of that old hospital's memories seem to have gone in the flames that destroyed it in the year 1906. It was built in l8981 and was in operation for eight years. Many of the ones who recall the first Fenwick remember the very cold night when she burned to the ground. My mother (Mrs. J. G. Broussard) was teaching in Henry, Louisiana, and the whole sky was red from the fire. The one telephone in Henry was used to learn of the dreadful fire. Henriette Terrier was living at the old Veranda Hotel. Abbeville was so lighted from that fire that night that they could see to pick up a pin on the hotel floor.
The old Fenwick was a hospital for drug addicts and alcoholics. Patients came from far distant states. The New Orleans Item carried an article about this hospital in which Dr. Frank Fenwick Young was praised very highly. He was compared to Pasteur and Lorenz. (The latter man I frankly had to look up. He was an Australian surgeon of note.) Dr. Young was lauded as a Humanitarian. The Fenwick was described in detail in this paper.
In the yard were tennis courts, a croquet field and the building was described as colonial with fluted columns. The Item went on to add to the attraction of the Fenwick #1 by calling it warm and homelike. It cited also that in the preceding four years that 1400 persons had been cured at Fenwick and only 336 failures were recorded. The cure was described as taking only 36 hours and a five to six day stay. (Note: I only quote the paper ... this seems to be miracle cures ... but it is the Item of 1903.) It is in this paper that Dr. Frank Young states that, "My remedies are no secret to anyone ... the formula of which is open to the inspection of all reputable physicians." And in the same article, he, as though to warn anyone that they had better not use his formula, states and we quote, "Look out for imposters, for I understand there are one or two persons who claim to know my treatment which is known to no one but myself."
But 1906 and the big fire did happen and after that there was need to find homes for the patients until a new hospital could be built. Henriette Terrier tells me that her father had a large house across from the Fenwick. Dr. Young rented it for some of the patients. Other patients who were not as ill were put up at the Veranda Hotel. People about town took in the nurses. Some lived in the country with families. Sybil McPherson tells me that one lived with her family and as Sybil was born about that time, it was the nurse who gave her the name Sybil.
The Youngs were not to be outdone, they promised to build a bigger and better hospital.
NEW FENWICK (PALMS)
The Youngs were as good as their word because from the ashes of the old Fenwick rose the new. In 1907, the new hospital was ready to be dedicated. From complete destruction by fire in 1906 to a building ready for use in 1907 was an accomplishment because we must recall that the materials used had to be shipped from great distances. It is said the tile roof was made to order for the hospital. I have a rather remarkable picture here. I shall pass it around now because it shows the huge skeleton of the Palms. The building was under construction. Lined up in front are 30 carpenters. Maybe this explains how they could speed the construction for nowhere do I read of strikes.
(Photo courtesy Robert H. Smith)
DEDICATION OF THE FENWICK
Dedication Day was in January 1907—and such a day for Abbeville. Governor Blanchard who was Louisiana's governor was in town for the occasion. He was a silver tongued orator and his words were eloquent as he praised the doctor, founder of the hospital and told of the wonderful facilities now offered in Abbeville. The Mayor of New Orleans was another eloquent speech maker. Archbishop Blank and Father Smith of Jesuit College had come for the occasion. The trip from New Orleans was not a little one. The guests would stay overnight at the Palms Hospital. They had come down in special trains and we must remember that to come from New Orleans, there are two rivers. Today the same rivers are there but there are now two bridges. In 1907, there were two ferries. The trains had to be taken apart and ferried across. It made the distance longer.
Not only were notables from New Orleans, but Abbeville had her own list of outstanding citizens. Mayor Leguenec of Abbeville spoke. On this committee was such a list that sounds like a Who's Who in Vermilion Parish or maybe Where is My Grand Pa's Name? Here is a list I found in the paper and I will identify them: Dr. C. J. Edwards (Ann Edwards Boynton's uncle); Mr. L. O. Broussard (Cecile Broussard's uncle); Eli Wise; Simonet LeBlanc (Muffett's grandfather); A. J. Golden (Mrs. Golden was a member of our club); Rom P. LeBlanc (Carmen's brother); Mr. George Honold (the architect).
Also, on the committee were a group of ladies. I do want you to listen to this list for it sounds like our club's roll call. They were: Mrs. Eli Wise; Mrs. L. O. Broussard (this was the first Mrs. L. O.); Mrs. Sokoloski (Mrs. Gertrude Weill's mother); Mrs. J. N. Greene; Mrs. M. T. Gordy; Mrs. Frank Godchaux; Mrs. E. B. Sere (they built the Nugier home).
To describe that special day fully, one must read from the account of someone who was there.. I quote from the Daily Picayune of 1907. "When the train reached Abbeville, hundreds of people ... big, little and both sexes were at the station" (I must stop my quote here to wonder aloud with you ... why both sexes? Was it that women just did not participate in things at that date or was it some not too excellent journalism?)
It doesn't matter what it was, I quote again from that paper, "A committee was on hand to receive the party and they were escorted to carriages and driven at once to the Palms Sanatorium, passing through the business center of Abbeville and seeing the many new brick buildings as their carriages made its way through the heart of the town. The two large rice mills were viewed first, next they drove by the new brick High School building, which was near the tracks ... then about a block or two later was the Abbeville Bank Building, a brick edifice which proudly faced the magnificent Catholic Church, Mary Magdalene. The hosts were proud to show their city which then boasted 5,000 inhabitants and had its own electric plant and an almost completed new sewer system.
The guests arrived at the Fenwick (Palms) and were assigned rooms. The second floor was equipped for guests. George Honold, the architect, gave a tour of the building to the guests.
(Side note here ... I knew Mr. Honold when he was resting on his laurels. He was the brother of my music teacher and a carefree, happy, retired sportsman, an early playboy. He had no obligations, he was an old bachelor and lived with his old maid sister. I recall that she was a vegetarian ... (and a real one) ... all his game and fish went elsewhere not on her table.)
Back to Mr. Honold giving his tour at the Palms. He showed the visitors the sterilizing room in the hospital, the X-ray room. They were ushered to the annex ... a building, at the side of the main building and equipped as a gymnasium. All the latest equipment was found here. Billiard tables and a smoking den comprised part of the space. It was pointed out that patients could smoke but not in the main building.
(Aside: You all remember the annex building. It is now the Moss Funeral home. It was moved off the lot and remodeled as a funeral home.)
The guests were then ushered to the doctor's office and viewed portraits on the walls of the Young family doctors. There was Dr. Frank Young Sr. and Dr. Robert Young Sr. (father of Dr. Robert Young Jr. of Abbeville), Dr. Lawrence Young, Dr. Marion Young (father of the Dr. Marion Young we all knew), Dr. W. G. Young, and Dr. C. J. Edwards (married to a Young).
The Palms tour was over, the guests had more in store for them. Back to the heart of the town and the Courthouse. The bank, the flags, and the speeches were all ready for them. We've told you about some of the people who were on the committees. After the governor spoke, General Jastremski talked. He was the best received for he said that he had come home. Abbevillians liked that. The General had worked as a devil's apprentice at the Meridional. After he left Abbeville he ran twice unsuccessfully for Governor of Louisiana. But it wasn't Abbeville's fault. He was the welcome adopted son.
Dr. Young, the founder of the Palms, made a speech and thanked everybody, but I believe the most remarkable thing that he did on this day was to award diplomas to three nurses. This was the year 1907 and nurses were trained here at the Palms in Abbeville. I have a picture of the three. There is no denying, the white uniforms covered the young ladies very well. One was a Miss Ada Stakes from Crowley. Is she or are any of her descendants in Crowley now? It would be interesting to know.
The big Hurrah at the Courthouse came to an end. The guests returned to the Palms to dress for the banquet to be held in the main dining room that night.
It was a banquet to end all banquets. But I can find no one living who was in the dining room that night. I called Mathilde Edwards, her father and mother attended the banquet, but Mathilde says that she was only 14 years old and not invited. Kate Young was a very young girl and that night as her father (Dr. Robert Young) started to leave, he turned around and asked if she wanted to go along. Kate's young brother (Dr. Robert Young) was sick. She thought she ought to stay home but curiosity got the best of her. She tagged along. She didn't get into the dining room. She sat on the big winding steps in the salon. She said it was fun. She saw everybody come in so dressed up and most of then were her relatives. Then when the large dining room doors were closed, she had time to feast her eyes on the lovely salon. The big pier mirrors and lovely French furniture held her attention.
All this was in 1907. It was also later in the year 1907 that Fenwick Limited, a corporation, was formed with a capital stock of $125,000.00 and 1250 shares at $l25 per share. Bad times fell on this enterprise . There is a record of Peoples Bank vs. Fenwick Sanitarium, Inc., in June, 1910. Another record shows Interstate Bank & Trust Co. of New Orleans vs. the hospital in August, 1912. It is not the purpose of this article to make a financial review of the Hospital. It is sufficient to say that lean days came to the Palms and she changed owners and uses and even stood vacant for some time.
Here I present briefly the days of decline of the Palms until she returned to some of her glory by being used by local doctors for the service of the community. During the intervening years, a brief resume is as follows:
Dr. Eldredge and Dr. Boudreaux ran the Palms as a hospital for awhile. I am told they worked it out as an early form of group work. One doctor was totally responsible for the hospital during a set period of time, then the other would take over the responsibilities. During this time and later, part of the building was used as rooming house. Mrs. Watts, the mother-in-law of Dr . Eldredge, had a rooming house. It was considered an excellent place to live and was run very efficiently by the able Mrs. Watts. She, however, must have found the task too big for we know she discontinued that work and ran a boarding house in a house across the street from the Palms which was smaller.
Dr. P. J. Miller bought the hospital about 1920. He used the west wing as a hospital. Other parts of the hospital were used as nurses' quarters and as living quarters for the Miller family.
It was during the Miller ownership that Mr. Frank deGraauw came to Abbeville and opened up part of the Palms as rooming house which he gave the high sounding name of Le Grand Hôpital. Sybil McPherson says she recalls the sign outside the Palms but that people just ignored it. The sign fell over, and everyone continued to call it the Palms.
Sybil tells of the life of the Palms in the thirties before it was bought by the group of doctors. Dr. Miller was the owner; Sybil, the chief nurse. The hospital was run very frugally. Sybil had in addition to her other duties the obligation to see that money was stretched for all needs. She said there was much mending of sheets in order to keep it running. Sybil also said she had another concern and that was the alligators that were being raised by P. J. Miller Jr. in a place that was a basement for Fenwick #1. This was now just under the present dining room. She insisted that the alligators go. They did. Later, I asked P. J. Jr. if he recalled his pets. He said he had a vivid recollection of them and that when he got rid of them, that it was about time.
FINALLY, it was 1945 when Dr. Miller sold the Palms to a group of local doctors with the understanding that it should be used as a hospital. It was sold to Dr. Robert Young Sr., Dr. Marion Young, and Dr. J. E. McClellan. They sold interest to young doctors as they came to Abbeville and the Palms continued to work for twenty years until the year 1965.
This report will not go into those years for it is a period which we all know. It spanned a period in the lives of many of us. For many of us, the Palms was where our children were born, where we brought our sick. We know this period, we will leave for another to write in twenty years or so from now—maybe as Early Medicine in Vermilion.
PALMS SOLD IN 1965
And so the building had to go, the doctors had a new hospital. The Palms was for sale. A proud old building in its declining years does not bring much on the market. The building sold for $10, 000. It had to be dismantled and the lot cleared for the owners. V. J. Comeaux was the buyer and his brother Hune Comeaux was the carpenter who tore the building down and salvaged the good material.
I couldn't resist an interview with Mr. Hune Comeaux. He was surely the last with the Palms. He told me that as he worked at tearing down the building that people would stop and talk to him to tell him that he was tearing down a landmark, but as Comeaux stated, he was only doing his job. He said that he very carefully took down the tile roof in order to reuse it but that he learned that was not practical because it so developed that it could not be reused. It was too heavy. Mr. Comeaux said that houses are not constructed now to carry the weight of such a heavy roof. There were other parts however that were usable. Mr. V. J. Comeaux's house in Godchaux Addition is entirely constructed of the old bricks that were used in the foundation. The front door of his house has some of the lovely stained glass windows. The Abbeville general hospital's operating rooms had as the nucleus of their equipment the equipment from the Palms. So much of the old Palms seems scattered with the wind.
I conclude my report with what I consider the most remarkable collection of pictures that I have ever viewed showing the life and death of a building. These are the property of Dr. Ray Nunez who as you know was one of the owners of the Palms. He followed through the year that it took Hune Comeaux to tear down the hospital. Ray Nunez has here a pictorial history of the Palms. I have them in order. I shall pass them about and ask that you pass the pictures in their order. For it shows a building in use, and as a vain old lady would like her best side shown, so Ray has the front view, the front and the pretty pillars. On the side the doctors' cars are parked. Then Hune Comeaux comes in. Gradually the Palms is stripped of her dignity but in her decline Ray captures some of her pride. Don't miss the misty foggy pictures showing the old columns with part of the building gone. It looks like some of the ruins after the Civil War. I remarked to Ray how this was a remarkable bit of luck to capture just that. He said, it was no luck, he felt that it should so appear and he worked on the right exposure and right angle to achieve just this. Notice the one I call "The Naked Lady." All the weatherboard is off. She stands as though bare. Don't miss the cupola. This top remains after much of the rest of the building is gone. It appears in one as a crown then in the next it falls. After that you will see that then there is no crown, there is not much left. It is chaos. Lumber is stacked high ... soon there is only debris. Hune Comeaux has done his job well and so has Dr. Ray Nunez. The Palms is preserved in memory and printed pictures.
1According to Ken Dupuy, the first Fenwick Sanitarium in Abbeville was actually "built in 1902. Until then, Dr. Young had used the homes of others, including Gus Godchaux's home on the river, to house his patients. In fact the first 'Fenwick Sanitarium' was opened in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1899, and he had Dr. H. Bascom White, son of Dr. W. D. White, operating it. It didn't last long and Dr. White returned to our area."
See the related article on Dr. F. F. Young by Kenneth A. Dupuy.