The Palms Hospital
Fenwick Sanitarium was built in 1898 and the idea of Abbeville native, Dr. Francis Fenwick Young. But, the building was not constructed in Abbeville. It was actually first located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Dr. Young had moved to Arkansas and had Dr. H. Bascom White in charge of the sanitarium. But, in 1900, Dr. Young and his family had moved back to Abbeville. Dr. Young already had an office located near the site where the Abbeville location of Fenwick Sanitarium was to be built. After relocating to Abbeville, Mike Gordy, a local builder, designed the plans for the Abbeville location of Fenwick Sanitarium. By September 20, 1902, the foundation was laid and the building was completed in January of 1903.
Fenwick Sanitarium was a hospital for drug addicts and alcoholics. An article about the hospital was featured in the New Orleans Item. The article praised the work of Dr. Young and called him a humanitarian. It also described the building as warm and homelike, and colonial with fluted columns, along with a tennis court and a croquet field; the building contained ninety-five rooms. The article cited that Dr. Young had cured 1400 patients within the four years the sanitarium had been running, and only 336 patients had not been cured. This “cure” was described as taking only thirty-six hours and a five to six day stay at the sanitarium. Though, the happy days did not last long. On February 6, 1906, a fire attacked the sanitarium around 8 p.m. during a sleet storm. According to Henriette Terrier, who was living at the old Veranda Hotel, “Abbeville was so lighted from that fire that night that they could see to pick up a pin on the hotel floor.” The patients were rushed to the Hotel Vermilion. The estimated damage of the fire was about $100,000.
The Youngs had promised a new hospital would be built, and construction began in May 1906. The new Fenwick Sanitarium, or Palms Hospital as people began calling it at this time, was dedicated in January 1907. Multitudes of people attended the dedication ceremony, including such notables as Louisiana’s governor, the Mayor of New Orleans, the Mayor of Abbeville, and George Honold, the architect of the new sanitarium. Honold gave the guests a tour of the newly completed hospital, including the sterilizing room, the X-ray room, and the annex. The annex was equipped as a gymnasium, and patients could smoke in this building, but not in the main building. A glamorous banquet followed that night at the hospital. The Palms Hospital also contained a parlor, a reading room, a writing room, a large reception room, and the third floor housed the nurses’ quarters.
The Palms Hospital ran into financial problems and, over the years, the Palms Hospital had different owners and different uses, and even stood vacant for some time. Dr. P. J. Miller purchased the Palms Hospital in 1920. Dr. Miller used the west wing as a hospital, and other parts of the hospital were used as nurses’ quarters and living quarters for the Miller family. Dr. Miller even housed alligators in the basement below the dining room, though the head nurse at the time eventually convinced him to rid the hospital of the reptiles. In 1945, Dr. Miller sold the Palms Hospital to a group of local doctors, Dr. Robert Young Sr., Dr. Marion Young, and Dr. J. E. McClellan, who felt the hospital should be used as a hospital. The time period from 1945 to 1965 was known as the “golden age” for the Palms Hospital, for this is the time most of Abbeville’s citizens remember the hospital and the humanitarian effort brought forth by the three doctors and their staff. In 1965, the doctors had a new hospital and the Palms Hospital was sold for $10,000 to V. J. Comeaux. Comeaux’s brother, Hune Comeaux, deconstructed the building. Some pieces of the building were salvaged, but most of it was discarded. V. J. Comeaux used some of the bricks to build his home in Godchaux Addition and equipment was given to Abbeville General Hospital. Today, the Abbeville branch of the Vermilion Parish Library stands where this priceless landmark once stood. The Palms Hospital was an important part in many of Abbeville’s citizen’s lives. Many of our parents and other family members were born in the Palms Hospital. Though, this staple of Abbeville’s history will never be forgotten, as the pictures and memories will live on for future generations.