The Origin of St. Luke's Hospital, Denver, Colorado

Honoring the People Who Created What We've Inherited

On June 24, 1881, Episcopal Bishop John Franklin Spalding and his wife Lavina Spencer Spalding opened Denver's St. Luke's Hospital in what had been the Grand View Hotel — a two-story wooden building on "the Boulevard" (which was given the name "Federal Boulevard" in 1912) near West 17th Avenue. Bishop Spalding had bought the building, which had once been an insane asylum, for $7,000, and there was a small lake on the property.

The first St. Luke's Hospital, with 50 beds, was located about a block west of today's Sports Authority Field at Mile High. George H. Cornell — who was ordained by Bishop Spalding not long after the hospital opened — was the superintendent, and Edmund C. Rivers, MD, was the first resident physician.

The Cathedral Ladies Hospital Aid Society — headed for fifty years by Lavina Spencer Spalding, the bishop's wife herself — raised funds and helped manage St. Luke's Hospital. The women not only asked some of Denver's most prominent citizens for financial help, they were also hands-on helpers and care-givers at the hospital.

St. Luke's Hospital was founded for three reasons:

"First, to provide medical and surgical care and nursing, and other care for sick, infirm, aged, injured or destitute persons. Second — to instruct and train suitable persons in the duties of nursing and attending upon the sick. Also to provide suitable lecture rooms, clinical material for medical school or college under the auspices of the hospital. Third — to provide the instructions and consolations of religion for those who are under the care of the institution."

The Cathedral Ladies Hospital Aid Society — which fifty years was chaired by Lavina Spencer Spalding, the bishop's wife — raised funds and helped manage St. Luke's Hospital. The women not only asked some of Denver's most prominent citizens for financial help — they had charity balls to benefit St. Luke's at the beginning of Denver's social season each October — they were also hands-on helpers and care-givers at the hospital.

St. Luke's Hospital for the most part served Denver's social and economic elite, and some of Denver's most prominent physicians practiced there. Its printed announcement noted that "The Hospital is not intended for that class of patients who would be received at the County Hospital" — and there were complaints at the time that St. Luke's didn't take care of enough charity patients.

But the fact is that of the first two thousand patients, five hundred paid nothing. The Episcopal Church in Colorado at this time was notably progressive in some ways, and cared about the "destitute persons" mentioned in its mission statement.

The New St. Luke's Hospital on Capitol Hill

On October 18, 1891, St. Luke's Hospital — which since 1881 had been on Federal Boulevard near West 17th Avenue, about a block west of today's Sports Authority Field at Mile High — opened its new facilities at East 19th Avenue and Pearl Street in Denver's northeast Capitol Hill neighborhood.

In 1892 St. Luke's Hospital opened a school of nursing and ran this ad in Denver Medical Times for June 1892:

St. Luke Hospital Denver in 1892

In May 1979, St. Luke's Hospital, Presbyterian Denver Hospital, and Presbyterian Aurora Hospital merged their business and financial operations into a new nonprofit organization called Presbyterian Denver/St. Luke's Healthcare Corporation.

In 1992, Columbia HealthONE acquired Presbyterian/St. Luke's Hospital (P/SL) and closed St. Luke's Hospital. Patients at St. Luke's Hospital — a few blocks west of the current Presbyterian/St. Luke's Hospital — were transferred to the newly renovated P/SL facility at 1719 East 19th Avenue in Denver.

Contact book [at] coloradohealthcarehistory [dot] com or @ColoradoHealth on Twitter with additions, corrections, suggestions, or for more information. Thank you!

Acknowledgements

Beckett Stokes, director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, has been generous with her time and has given helpful guidance.

The standard history of the Episcopal Church in Colorado is Allen duPont Breck: The Episcopal Church in Colorado 1860-1963. Denver: Big Mountain Press, 1963. There's not much on St. Luke's Hospital, but what he has is interesting.

Crowdsourcing

So far, we haven't been able to find much detailed information about the history of St. Luke's Hospital in Denver.

Please contact tom [at] coloradohealthcareheritage [dot] org or @ColoradoHealth on Twitter if you are familiar with — or can point us to resources for — the history of St. Luke's Hospital from its founding in 1881 until it was closed in 1992. Thanks!

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