Moments in History
HISTORY OF NAVAL MEDICAL CENTER
Submitted by the Portsmouth History
HISTORY OF NAVAL MEDICAL CENTER,
October 11, 2002, marks history in the making with the official
re-dedication of Building Number One, at the Naval Medical
Center, Portsmouth. That’s when it became administrative space
rather than treatment space for our nation’s military and their
The official re-dedication ceremonies included remarks by Rear
Admiral Clinton E. Adams and retired Master Chief Boatswain’s
Mate Carl Brashear, MDV. Reenactors were also present to
represent the various eras during which the hospital operated.
Building Number One, the nation’s oldest naval hospital, has
been a significant place for the treatment of the nation’s
military and their dependents since the early 1800’s. The
cornerstone of Building Number One at the Portsmouth Naval
Hospital was laid on April 2, 1827. It began treating patients
three years later in April of 1830 or just as soon as the north
wing was finished. John Haviland, an architect from
Philadelphia, designed the hospital and directly oversaw
construction, which was not finished until 1833. Half a million
bricks from the Revolutionary era Fort Nelson, which had been at
the location since the Revolution, were incorporated into the
During its first decade, the facility saw relatively few
patients. But in 1847 the hospital treated its first war
casualties during the Mexican American War. In 1855 the hospital
performed its first humanitarian mission when it opened its
halls to serve Portsmouth residents who had become ill during
the city’s worst outbreak of Yellow Fever. Approximately ten
percent of Portsmouth’s population died of the illness.
During the Civil War, the hospital was in Confederate hands from
the spring of 1861 to the spring of 1862. During the Battle of
Hampton Roads in March 1862, Confederate forces brought in for
treatment some of the survivors of the USS Congress and USS
Cumberland. Both ships had been sunk by the CSS Virginia
(Merrimac). Franklin Buchanan, the commanding officer of the CSS
Virginia (Merrimac), was also wounded and was brought in for
In 1898 during the Spanish American War when American forces
destroyed the Spanish fleet at Santiago, several Spanish
prisoners were sent to the Naval Hospital for medical attention.
Captain Concas, the Commander of the Infanta Maria Theresa,
wrote a letter praising the hospital staff for the care and
attentions they provided him and his men.
In 1906 during his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt, visited the
hospital’s historic cemetery where he unveiled a monument for
the members of the Army Navy Union who were veterans of the
Spanish American War. Other significant visitors over the years
have included Jimmy Carter during World War II (approximately
thirty years before his election), and Lenah Higbee, the second
superintendent of navy nurses in the early 1900s.
The building’s interior was thoroughly gutted and renovated
between the years 1907 to 1910. The historic parts now remaining
include outer walls, some mantels, some trim work and some
fireplaces as well as the alcove inside the front door. During
that renovation, two wings of the building and the dome for
operating under skylight were added.
The hospital was significant also in subsequent wars. But the
need for new facilities was soon recognized. In 1960 Building
Number 215 was added to the grounds and then in 1999 the
Charette Health Care Center, the navy’s most modern facility for
medical treatment of the military and their dependents.
The hospital hosts a National Cemetery. Its oldest grave dates
from 1838 but there are also stones for the dead of numerous
nations and a monument to 337 crewmembers of the USS Cumberland
and the USS Congress.