“The Nurses Home was on one side of our house. The nurses who were in training stayed there, and a little lady named Mrs. Gleason was in charge of the home. She would come over and visit with Mama and Bama, and on rare occasions we would get to go into the Nurses Home. I was always impressed with the large picture hanging in the big living room which was a picture of a little girl in a nightgown with her hair in long curls. Her name was Lois Aron, and she had died, and her parents built the Nurses Home in her memory.
“Sometimes Nancy and Thomas Trigg would come from Greenville to visit their aunt, Miss Mary Trigg, who was administrator of the hospital, which was right behind the Nurses Home on River Road. Then we would get to play around the hospital grounds and get chinaberries off a tree on the grounds. We would string the berries and make necklaces out of them. Miss Trigg was very stern, and we didn’t dare go over there except when her niece and nephew were visiting.
“Automobiles were really just beginning to come into their own in the ’20s, and we went from a Model T Ford to the Hupmobile to a Nash.
Roadsters had become popular, and I wished we had one of those because they had rumble seats in the back where two people could ride and it was like riding in a convertible. You stepped up on the running board and up little steps to get in them. I don’t think I ever rode in one but once and that was when a man who worked for Daddy, Floyd Kemp, came by and took us for a ride.
Most cars then cost less than $1000. They didn’t go very fast and were certainly not comfortable.”
The Lois Aron Memorial Nurses’ Home is still standing, a testament to those who built it almost 100 years ago. It’s one of those unique Greenwood structures that we all take for granted because we grew up with them and they seemed the norm. You don’t realize until you venture out into the larger world that other towns simply don’t have, and never had, Nurses’ Homes and Confederate Memorial Buildings and an Elks Club that looks like an embassy. Somehow we wound up with architectural delights that other towns didn’t get and we have been remiss in valuing them. The Nurses’ Home is owned by the Greenwood Leflore Hospital, as are the sad remnants of the 1918 hospital. Should both buildings be raptured up into brick-and-mortar paradise tonight, there would be rejoicing in the halls of GLH. This is sad beyond words. In 1921, the Aron family of Greenwood memorialized their lost child with a gift to the community, a place where young women lived and pursued their own dreams, generation after generation, going on to provide us with quality health care. The old building outlived its purpose, but not its integrity or value, until it was written off as redundant.
During the filming last year of “The Help,” a scene was shot in one of the nurses’ rooms and there was a brief buzz of life and activity on that end of Strong Avenue. Mary Rose Carter and I happened to be photographing sites for Greenwood: In a Different Light when we saw folks going in and out of the Nurses’ Homes. Curiosity (or nosiness, call it what you will) pulled us in for a look. As in so many of the places we’ve explored over the years, there was a palpable feeling that someone (or someones) made the decision to simply walk away, probably forty or fifty years ago, turning the key in the heavy front door for the last time and leaving a treasured place to its fate. In the quiet and dust, it was quite easy to imagine the flurry of morning activity as dozens of young ladies adjusted their uniforms, polished their white shoes, shared the morning gossip over breakfast and headed down the alley to the old hospital for a day of training and challenge. There are still yellowed notices stuck up on the hallway bulletin boards advising the residents that they are not to enter the parlor in bathrobes. How many students from all over Mississippi found their lives’ purpose and lifelong friends in that old building? And why are we, as a community, letting it continue to deteriorate? I wonder if the Arons had other children and perhaps they’re still out there somewhere, willing to collaborate with us to bring back this fine structure. Doesn’t hurt to dream.
Ed. note: The 1918 King’s Daughter’s Hospital opened on River Road in April of that year, where Jessie Evans (“Tiny”) was the first baby born in the new facility just a few days later. When it closed in 1951, one of the last babies born there was Jessie’s niece, my sister Cathy. From the times that the Evans girls crept over to pick chinaberries for necklaces to the days that Sara spent in the Civil Defense offices during the Courthouse’s temporary relocation to the hospital plant, that old hulk of a building has been a part of our family lore. It’s such a moldy, musty mess now that our office staff will go into archival record storage there only under the severest duress. It’s tenacious, though. Its last patients were wheeled off down River Road sixty years ago, and the front portion is long gone, but the back wing and the basement just won’t go away. I hope they never do.