The Origin of St. Nicholas Hospital, Cripple Creek

Honoring the People Who Created What We've Inherited

In 1831, Catherine McAuley, 53, founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland. Beginning in 1882, Sisters of Mercy from St. Louis led by Mother Mary John Baptist Meyers built hospitals in Durango, Ouray, Cripple Creek, Manitou, and Denver.

In 1891, gold was discovered in Cripple Creek, and the discovery was significant enough to start Colorado's last gold rush.

Cripple Creek — elevation 9,494 feet, on the southwest slope near the base of Pike's Peak — is 44 miles southwest of Colorado Springs and is the county seat of Teller County.

St. Nicholas Hospital

In 1894, Mother Mary John Baptist Meyers sent Sisters of Mercy from Durango, Colorado, to Cripple Creek, Colorado, under the leadership of Sister Claver Coleman.

On January 4, 1894, the Sisters opened St. Nicholas Hospital in Cripple Creek, which by 1900 was the third largest town in Colorado, with at least 500 mines, 75 saloons, numerous brothels, and a population of more than 35,000. St. Nicholas Hospital served about 55,000 people in Cripple Creek and the surrounding region.

Basil B. Creighton, MD, 30, helped the Sisters of Mercy found St. Nicholas Hospital. Dr. Creighton — who had received his MD from the Medical College of Ohio in 1892 and then interned at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati — had come to Manitou for the 1893 summer season and then moved to Cripple Creek that fall. He became city physician and worked as a physician and surgeon for the railroads in the Cripple Creek area.

The New St. Nicholas Hospital

On April 25, 1896, a fire broke out in Cripple Creek; it had apparently started in a brothel in the Myers Avenue red light district during a dispute regarding customer service. That fire was extinguished, but another, more devastating fire broke out four days later and burned most of Cripple Creek.

A member of the American Protective Association took advantage of that second fire by attempting to dynamite St. Nicholas Hospital and rid Cripple Creek of its Roman Catholic institution. He did some damage to the hospital kitchen, but he also blew off his own leg.

Sister Mary Veronica Sinnott and the other Sisters of Mercy moved him and their other patients to Dr. Whiting's hospital, where they nursed the bomber back to health, for which he was reported to have been grateful.

In 1898, the Sisters of Mercy in Cripple Creek opened their new St. Nicholas Hospital, an elegant three-story brick building designed by noted Denver architect John J. Huddart. The Sisters lived on the third floor.

The new St. Nicholas Hospital — "thoroughly modern, with electric lights, steam heat, hot and cold running water, and a surgery department" — replaced the original 1887 building that had sustained damage from a fire and an anti-Catholic terrorist attack in 1896.

In 1924, because of the decline of mining, the Sisters of Mercy sold St. Nicholas Hospital and left Cripple Creek, after which the hospital was owned and operated privately by a series of local physicians until it closed for good in 1972. The Sisters had been in Cripple Creek for nearly thirty years.

In 1995, the St. Nicholas Hospital building was restored and re-opened as the Hotel St. Nicholas.

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

Bibliography

Sister Kathleen O'Brien, RSM: Journeys: A Pre-Amalgamation History of the Sisters of Mercy Omaha Province. Omaha, Nebraska: The Sisters of Mercy, 1987. A scholarly account by a fascinating writer who makes the stories of the Sisters in Colorado beginning in the 1880s come alive.

Acknowledgements

Colorado's own Monte G. Kniffen — senior archivist for the Sisters of Mercy, West Midwest Community in Omaha — has always been ready with guidance, documents, and information. Sister Pat McDermott, RSM, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, has given advice and encouragement on a couple of occasions. Sister Mary Regis Leahy, RSM, is my guide to everything about the Sisters of Mercy in Colorado.

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