Column #98 - September 10, 2000





by Glenn Tunney


          Hiram Horner was all of nine years old when the life-shattering news arrived from Searights.  His father Amos Horner, a wagon driver on the old national pike, had been tragically killed near the crossroads when his own wagon ran over him.
         Orphaned young Hiram was sent to live with relatives in Ohio.  When he became an adult, he returned to Pennsylvania as a merchant and was postmaster at Merrittstown.  Hiram married, had three sons and turned to farming along Ten Mile Creek near Clarksville.  When he died in 1909,  his two surviving sons, Joseph and Frank, developed the farm and began the Horner Coal Company.  Frank died in 1925, and on December 14, 1926, Joseph died at age 63.  Like his two deceased brothers, he was a bachelor.
         Jim Duvall of Blainesburg, who is a descendant of one of Joseph Horner's uncles, told me about Joseph Horner's life and death.  Then Jim provided the critical fact that links his ancestor to the topic of today's column.
         "Joseph Horner was the last surviving member of his immediate family," Jim said. "In his will, he bequeathed a large sum of money to Brownsville General Hospital."
         In that year, 1926, the Brownsville General Hospital had a School of Nursing that was in its seventh year of operation, having been established in 1920.  Joseph H. Horner's generous bequest paved the way for construction of a nurses home on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Church Street, directly across Fifth Avenue from the hospital.   A July 1, 1929 Brownsville Telegraph article described the new facility.
         "Within the next three weeks or month," reported the Telegraph, "another fine structure will be dedicated and added to the array of new buildings in the Brownsvilles -- the Horner Memorial Nurses Home.  The building is named after Joseph H. Horner, late of East Millsboro, who died several years ago and left more than $100,000 to the Brownsville General Hospital association directing that it be used in improvements at the hospital.
         "A large frame structure situated east of the hospital had been used as a home for the forty or more nurses at the hospital.  As it was entirely insufficient to handle the increasing number of nurses, it was decided to erect a new home.  It was necessary to move two homes in order to make a site where the new nurses home now stands."
         The late John Wardman, whom I interviewed in 1992, was nineteen years old when the new nurses home was built.  He remembered the houses that previously stood on the site.
         "Where the nurses home is now," John told me, "people named Walker lived in a large frame house, and right next to them were people named Phillips.  I believe that there was a very  famous citizen from Brownsville who lived there."
         John may possibly have been referring to Sir Percival Phillips, a Brownsville native who became a world-renowned newspaper correspondent.  His journalistic work in World War II earned him knighthood bestowed by King George V, and he later became a British citizen.
         "I also remember," continued John, "that a Miss Acklin was very active in raising money to build the nurses home.  They used to have street fairs to raise money to build it.  They worked hard to get it."
         The Horner bequest put the fund drive over the top, and construction began in September 1928.  By July 1929 the Telegraph reported that "work is being speeded up and should place the building ready for occupancy by the middle of this month.
         "It is a magnificent three-story building built of Indiana limestone and buff brick," the Telegraph explained.  "It contains more than 60 sleeping rooms, parlor, a gymnasium, libraries, kitchen and so forth.
         "There are 10 bedrooms, a spacious reception room, two libraries and several lavatories located on the first floor of the building.  Especial [sic] care was taken in building the parlor.  It extends across the entire front of the building, facing Church Street.  A beautiful Indiana limestone mantle was erected at the west end of the parlor, while the two libraries are connected to the reception room.  The parlor also has a hardwood floor.  Each room on the first floor is equipped with a private lavatory.
         "A fine gymnasium, a large demonstration room, a lecture room, sewing room, kitchen, trunk room and boiler room are located in the basement.
         "The second and third floors of the building are constructed practically alike.  On the second floor are 15 bedrooms, a large bath room with 5 showers, two private lavatories, a large wash room, janitors supply room, linen closet and equipment cabinet.  The third floor is an exact duplicate.
         "Each room in the building is equipped with hot and cold running water, steam heat, two roomy clothes presses, and fine lighting fixtures.
         "It is planned that each room will contain two single beds, a chiffonier, straight chair, easy chair, writing desk and small chair.
         "A sun porch has been erected on the roof of the building.  It will serve as a recreation center in summer and winter for the nurses.  It has six large windows, and allows a fine view to the west of the Brownsvilles.  A sun porch has also been added over the front porch of the building, accessed from the second floor corridor.
         "Cost of construction was approximately $135,000 while fixtures cost $15,000."
         Some of the women who moved into the new facility in 1929 were student nurses in the hospital's diploma school of nursing.  I asked Hannah Millward Fisher, whose tape recorded interviews of several diploma school graduates are to be featured in this series of articles, to explain what a "diploma school" is.
         "A diploma school is the way the hospital schools were recognized," Hannah explained to me.   "You didn't receive a degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. You received a diploma stating that you had completed a three year program. (In later years, that became two years at many schools).    "Victor Robinson's book, ‘White Caps in Nursing,' published in the mid-1940's, stated that in 1943 Pennsylvania had 356 hospitals and 131 state accredited schools of nursing.  Now the diploma or hospital schools are almost gone," said Hannah.  "Today, according to the American Hospital Association,  there are only fourteen hospital schools of nursing left in the state.  In southwestern Pennsylvania, there are four schools in Pittsburgh, namely Shadyside, St. Francis, St. Margaret and West Penn.  I believe the Washington Hospital School of Nursing is still in operation and has over 100 years of service.  It was a Nightingale School, based on the teachings of Florence Nightingale. "
         The 1929 completion of the Horner Memorial Nurses Home gave Brownsville's medical care complex added stature in the region.
         "With facilities for 100 patients and the finest of equipment and personnel, the Brownsville General Hospital serves an area of 100,000 persons in the tri-county district," observed the Telegraph.  "Upon completion of the new Horner Memorial nurses home soon, there will be invested in the Brownsville General Hospital Association's property nearly a half million dollars, while many other thousands of dollars will be expended within the next year or two for much needed improvements and additions to the hospital."
         The late Helen Shallenberger, with whom Hannah Millward Fisher recorded an interview in 1989, was among the first students to live in the new Horner Memorial Nurses Home.
         "It was very nice," Helen told Hannah.  "Two girls in each room.  We had two great big clothes closets with lights in them."  She laughed, "You could sit in there and read at night after the 10 o'clock lights went out!"
         "Did the director of nurses, Miss Martin, make rounds at night?" Hannah asked.
         "Oh, did she make rounds at night!" exclaimed Helen.  "I can still hear her voice at ten o'clock, ‘Lights Out!'"
         "Did she check to make sure you were complying?"
         "She checked!  And she also went through your rooms when you weren't there.  And went through your clothes closet to be sure you didn't have any contraband!"
         Helen laughed again and recalled a memorable incident.
         "I had been going to the dentist," she remembered, " and I got an infection in my mouth.  We had a big drawer over at the hospital that had a lot of empty bottles in it, so I got one out.  I poured some of that red mouthwash from the hospital and took it over to the nurses home for me.  When I finished it up, I forgot to throw the bottle out.  It happened to be a pint whiskey bottle.  Miss Martin found it, took it out and put it on the desk with a note, "How long has this been going on?"  And I couldn't get out of it, no matter what I said!  She believed I had been drinking the whiskey!"
         "What other things were considered contraband then?"
         "Really?  You weren't permitted . . .?"
         "Oh, no," said Helen, who was a smoker.  "Uh - uh.  And the only place we could go was the roof garden, because it was all open.  It had a roof over it, but it was open on the sides.  You either went there ‘on the fly,' or you went out Fifth Avenue to the end where it was only a field out there and sat out there and smoked.  That's what we did."
         Helen Shallenberger, Blanche Pursglove and several other nurses who graduated from Brownsville Hospital's School of Nursing have fascinating stories to tell about the nursing school and the hospital.   They will share more of them with us next week.

Readers may call me at 724-785-3201, e-mail me at [email protected], or write me at 6068 National Pike East, Grindstone, PA 15442.  For past articles on the Web, go to and click on "Communities."