Aerial view of Army General Hospital No. 21 about 1920
Not long after the United States entered World War I, the Denver Civic and Commercial Association (later the Denver Chamber of Commerce) began a campaign to land a military base in their city. The U.S. War Department, however, considered such an inland location to be inconvenient.
As soldiers began returning from the trenches of Europe with respiratory and pulmonary conditions, city leaders promoted Denver as a perfect site for a recuperation camp. The cool, dry air and high number of days with sunshine were regarded as beneficial to patients with tuberculosis. The Jewish Consumptives Relief Society, Agnes Memorial Sanatorium, plus National Swedish, Craig, and Bethesda hospitals, all located in the mile high city, were already treating victims of the “white plague.”
Colonel George E. Bushnell, a medical officer with the Surgeon General’s Office, had recovered from tuberculosis during a two year stay in Denver. He visited the city in November 1917 to inspect possible locations for a military hospital.
Bushnell chose a 594 acre site eight miles east of Denver where A. H. Gutheil operated a landscape nursery. The location was accessed by two major roads: Colfax Avenue and Montview Boulevard. Water was available and a railroad connection could be made with the Union Pacific’s Sable Junction tracks located just a mile away.
Construction of Army General Hospital No. 21 began in May 1918.
Plans called for 48 buildings, including: general administration, two-story officers’ tuberculosis wards, officers’ quarters, nurses’ infirmary, operating pavilion, garages, officers’ recreation building, post exchange, central infirmary for 300 patients, two-story tuberculosis ward, isolation ward, a surgical ward, two-story hospital corps barracks, laboratory, storehouses, guardhouse, shop buildings, general mess and kitchen, officer patients’ mess and kitchen, officers’ mess and kitchen, nurses’ mess and kitchen, attendants’ dormitory, hospital corps mess, pump house, power house, Red Cross headquarters, officers’ recreation quarters, chapel, incinerator, and fire station. In addition, the Gutheil family residence was remodeled for the Commanding Officer’s Quarters.
By October of 1918, 25 more buildings were added to the plan. These included 16 open air wards plus additional quarters for officers and nurses. Later additions included a school building and two “curative shops for physical reconstruction work.”
Information and quoted material from the Historic American Building Survey, by Emily Thompson Payne, Intermountain Regional Office, National Park Service, Denver, Colorado, August 2009
Photograph courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection