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Steam Boiler Explosion Led To Push For Medical Facility

February 28, 2007
By Courant

How did Hartford Hospital get its start? S.L., Madison.

At 2:10 p.m. on March 2, 1854, an explosion destroyed most of the Fales & Gray Car Works on Potter Street near Dutch Point. The company made railroad cars and had recently installed a new steam boiler. Stationary engineer John McCune may have underestimated the new boiler's efficiency - water evaporated quickly and the boiler produced more steam than he had anticipated. When he finally pumped water into the boiler, the boiler exploded. McCune was among nine employees killed instantly in the explosion. A total of 21 workers were killed and 40 were injured. A weeklong inquest resulted in a coroner's jury blaming the accident on McCune's carelessness and inattention. The accident and investigation led to the formation of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. and Hartford Hospital.

For nearly a decade, the Hartford Medical Society, formed in 1846, had been trying to garner public support for a hospital. A volunteer group created the Society for Providing a Home for the Sick and rented a house at the junction of Maple and Retreat avenues for patient care, but the explosion brought the issue to the fore: the city was ill-equipped to care for a large number of injured people.

On May 2, 1854, the medical society called a public meeting, and residents voted in favor of a public hospital. Hartford Hospital was incorporated by the end of the month, and Francis Parsons was elected first president.

In 1855, the volunteer group turned over its property to the newly chartered hospital. The hospital board began raising money for a new hospital. It received $31,000 in subscriptions and $10,000 from the state legislature. In addition, arts patron Daniel Wadsworth had bequeathed $40,000 for a hospital.

In August 1855, the board purchased the 9-acre Coggswell property west of the existing property, near the South Green (Barnard Park), for $16,000. The new hospital admitted its first patient Aug. 1, 1860.

Several appeals provided money to expand the original 44-bed hospital, including an offer by the state of Connecticut in 1869 for a $20,000 matching grant; subscriptions totaled $86,200. The hospital accepted its first intern in 1866 and introduced a two-year school of nursing in 1877.

In 1889, the Hartford Board of Trade reported that the cost of land and construction for the 164-bed hospital totaled a quarter of a million dollars. Of this, the state of Connecticut supplied $50,000. Today, the hospital campus comprises about 65 acres. It has 867 beds. Expenses total $664.5 million.

Information is available in "The Healing Triangle, Hartford Hospital's First 150 Years," by Clouette and Lever; "Hartford, an Illustrated History of Connecticut's Capital," by Glenn Weaver; and "History of Hartford County Connecticut, 1633-1928," by Charles Burpee.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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