MERIDIAN — As the planned demolition of the Matty Hersee Hospital/School of Nursing building became publicly known, one group of individuals not only expressed shock and disappoint, but also some confusion.
“They announced at our reunion they were going to do something with the building. They even had an architect there with a (architectural) drawing,” said Pamela Stockman McPhearson, who was among the last class to graduate from the prestigious nursing school.
In 2011, McPhearson, who now resides in Alabama, and fellow graduate Darlene Dearman Winham, who now resides in Tennessee, organized a 25-year-reunion of the closing of the historical nursing school.
“There’s so much history there,” Winham said. “The building’s architect is unique. And there’s the sentimental value — not only to those of us who went to school there but also those who worked there when it was a hospital.”
Having been given the go-ahead by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Meridian Community College plans to demolish the building to provide for the future expansion of what MCC President Dr. Scott Elliott called “a landlocked campus.”
Matty Hersee Hospital was organized in 1892 by a group of civic minded ladies led by Matty Hersee Wright.
A new building was constructed in 1923, after the hospital was commissioned as one of a group of state-owned charity hospitals. At that time, Matty Hersee was placed under the jurisdiction of the Board of Trustees of State Eleemosynary institutions and, upon its closing in 1986, it was one of three such hospitals. Others were in Laurel and Vicksburg.
The first record of students is a diploma issued to Ada Boone on June 8, 1913, as a graduate of the Matty Hersee Hospital Training School for Nurses. This original diploma, on loan from Boone’s grandchildren, was displayed in the entrance hall of the Matty Hersee School of Nursing until its closing.
No records are available between 1913-1919. It is uncertain at what time the name change to Matty Hersee Hospital School of Nursing. Some transcripts and records are available from 1920-53. The school closed in 1953, however, Carolyn Evans McMinn was instrumental in reopening it and served as director from 1956 to 1957.
From 1957-1965, the nursing program was 36 months.
Under the direction of Myrtle M. Estes from 1965-1979, the nursing school was changed to a 33-month program and a modern, two-story dormitory — named after Estes — was constructed adjacent to the hospital. The dormitory began housing students in 1975. Estes retired in 1979 as director emeritus.
In 1977, Matty Hersee School of Nursing became a separate entity from the hospital.
From July 1979 until the school’s closing in July 1986, Jerry Pittman served as director.
Under Pittman’s leadership, the school enlarged its physical plant to include a fully equipped skills laboratory, added classrooms, recreational areas, a library with a full-time librarian and purchased modern teaching equipment. The school upgraded its organizational structure and curriculum to meet standards for state and national accreditation. Each faculty member held a master’s degree.
Matty Hersee School of Nursing continually provided an educationally sound program for the preparation of registered nurses to function in acute, intermediate and long-term care facilities. From 1959 to February 1986, the school had 475 graduates, with 454 of those passing the state board licensure examination for registered nurses — a 95.6 percent passing rate. In May 1986, 32 students graduated from the nursing school.
In 1984, the Matty Hersee School of Nursing received notification from the state of Mississippi that the school would be placed in a two-year phase-out. The school closed its doors on June 30, 1986.
MCC acquired the Matty Hersee property, which consists of the hospital building and an adjacent 120-bed dormitory on five acres of land, from the state in 2006 for $1.6 million.
“In acquiring Matty Hersee, the college was dealing with two issues.
“First, MCC had been leasing the dormitory from the State Board of Mental Health. Had another entity purchased the property at the time it was put up for sale, MCC was looking at losing about one-fourth of its residential capacity, which would have been a real blow to the college in several respects, including the loss of room-and-board revenues and overall enrollment.
“Second, MCC virtually had no land on the campus proper for future development. Therefore, our board determined that it was in the best interest of the college for both short- and long-term considerations to buy the property,” Elliott said.
Soon after the acquisition, the hospital was designated a state historic landmark. In essence, that precluded MCC from developing the property.
Elliott said the college was never consulted about landmark designation and doubted MCC would have acquired the property “had we an inkling that such a designation was under consideration.”
Elliott began writing MDAH several years ago, asking that it reconsider its position on Matty Hersee. Finally, on Oct. 25 of this year, MDAH granted MCC’s request to demolish the building.
“Once the demolition is completed, our first goal is to make certain that an appropriate historic marker or some kind of monument is established on the property to commemorate it being the site of the state’s first school of nursing and charity hospital. Second, our long-term goal would be to develop the property with a new building to house an educational program or programs,” Elliott said.
The demolition probably won’t happen any time soon. Elliott said that such a project requires an engineering plan to include the asbestos abatement. The actual demolition could take months and perhaps involve salvaging certain materials, such as old bricks and wood for sale to interested parties. Such a sale, he noted, could offset some of the cost of the demolition.
Eventually, the college will likely also demolish the dormitory building next to Matty Hersee. A new, 150-bed dormitory on land donated by local businessman Bob Malone is in the planning stages now and will hopefully be opened within two years.
“MCC’s long-range plan calls for all campus housing to be on the campus proper,” Elliott said. “That way, students will no longer have to cross Highway 19 afoot to get to classes. That’s never been an ideal situation. Whatever the college ultimately constructs on the Matty Hersee property would likely be a self-contained occupational program not requiring students to regularly cross the street.”