Throwback Thursday: 'Casper gets her… - Wyoming Medical Center

Throwback Thursday: 'Casper gets her hospital' - 1910

By Kristy Bleizeffer Oct 22, 2020

Construction on Casper's first public hospital began in March 1910 and the State of Wyoming accepted the completed work on Aug. 31, 1910. Casper Branch of the Wyoming State Hospital opened on Nov. 1 that same year.

More than 100 years ago, Casper's first and only community hospital opened its doors at same corner of Conwell and Second streets that Wyoming Medical Center occupies today. On Oct. 1, we marked another important milestone in our long history by partnering with Banner Health.

To put this milestone in perspective, we're throwing way back this week to before a hospital was even a twinkle in Casper's eye.

A parade passes by the hospital as it marches up Conwell Street to the cemetery on Decoration Day in 1912.

In the late 1800s, Casper health care consisted of a handful of pioneer doctors who visited patients in their homes and sometimes performed simple surgeries in the kitchen, according to "Wyoming Medical Center: A Centennial History" by Rebecca A. Hunt, Ph.D. Many doctors came to Casper, stayed a couple of years and moved on. Others, like Dr. John Leeper, planted roots and became involved in town affairs. Leeper served as mayor from 1918 to 1919.

As for hospitals, Natrona County had a handful of options:

  • Dr. Leeper and druggist Wilson Kimball opened Casper's first private hospital in 1893 on Center Street. The Casper Derrick newspaper reported it had nine rooms (including Dr. Leeper's office and an operating room) and could care for 10 to 12 patients at a time. "Everything is scrupulously neat, the mattresses are as soft as wool can be made and every facility for rapid recovery seems to be given the patients," said the paper reporter. "Strangers and others who are taken sick in this section of the country with no proper place to be cared for will greatly appreciate the opportunity offered them by the opening of the Casper hospital."
  • Dr. L. G. Powell also apparently opened another private hospital in 1893, but few details were reported by Wyoming papers.
  • Grandma Harrison's house was apparently a convalescent home or a private hospital. Like Powell's hospital, few details were reported.
  • In 1885, Central Wyoming ranchers banded together to run the abandoned hospital at the Fort Fetterman army post west of Douglas. Cowboys had $1 a month deducted from their wages, and large companies - such as Carey Cattle Company of Natrona County, - paid $100 per month for the right to seek medical care.

By the turn of the century, Casper was growing. Not only had it become a rail and agricultural center, its oil industry was attracting national attention. Businessmen started talking about the need for a public hospital, not tied to any one doctor. On March 16, 1906, a railroad crash cemented the idea. Ten people died and 16 were injured when a train hit a washed-out culvert west of town. They were treated in a makeshift hospital at the Episcopal Church.

Construction began on the Wyoming State Hospital, Casper Branch in March 1910 on what was then the east edge of town near Highland Park Cemetery. Construction took just six months, completed by Aug. 31, 1910. The Casper Branch of the Wyoming State Hospital didn't accept its first patient, however, until Nov. 1, 1911.

Our doors have been open to patients and families ever since. While the names above the doors may have changed – Wyoming State Hospital, Memorial Hospital of Natrona County, Wyoming Medical Center – our mission never has: To advance the health of our communities by providing excellent healthcare services and an exceptional experience.

Throwback Thursday looks back on Wyoming Medical Center’s long, rich history in Natrona County. Special thanks to the Casper College Western History Center, which archives our vast collection of newspaper articles, photographs and other memorabilia; and to "Wyoming Medical Center: A Centennial History," by Rebecca A. Hunt, Ph.D.