History center exhibit features health care

BUCKHANNON — Planning for the Upshur County Historical Society’s summer exhibits begins a couple years prior with research and deciding if there are enough visual elements to complete the museum exhibit.
This year’s exhibit is no exception with a closer look at Upshur County Doctors, Nurses, Hospitals and Undertakers.
For those who picked up a copy of the spring journal published by the Upshur County Historical Society, they were treated to stories and profiles on each of the subjects along with a variety of photographs culled from different sources.
“We did the research itself for the journal and we decided it was an interesting story to talk about the history of the hospitals, the undertakers, the doctors, patent medicine and nursing programs,” special projects director Noel Tenney said. “All the early hospitals had their own nursing programs.”
The topic is varied but Tenney said as the research progressed, they all fit together one way or another.
“We had questions about the hospitals and doctors and so we decided to build the exhibit from that,” Tenney said. “We acquired some interesting pieces.”
An exhibit needs to have more elements than just text, according to Tenney.
“Just writing about a part of history is one thing but trying to build an exhibit that illustrates that is a little more complicated,” he said. “We have to decide if we have enough visual material to do an exhibit. You can’t do an exhibit with just text.”
And it turns out there were plenty of artifacts to provide visual interest for the exhibit.
One of those is the newly acquired Navy nurse uniform of Irma St. Clair who met her husband Conard St. Clair in Norfolk, Va. during World War II while she was serving in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.
Conard St. Clair began working for the Poling Funeral Home in 1938 and earned his undertaking license before leaving to serve in the U.S. Navy. Irma St. Clair was from New York but returned to Buckhannon with her husband where he became a full partner of Poling-St. Clair Funeral Home in 1947.
The St. Clair family recently donated Conard and Irma’s uniforms and Irma’s nursing uniform tied in with the exhibit.  Irma even served as the Upshur County health nurse for a period of time in the county.
Upshur County hospitals can be traced back to a makeshift wartime hospital during the Civil War. Others came in the early 20th century such as Barlow’s Surgical Institute and the Upshur County Hospital.
“We have some intriguing ones like Foreman’s surgical hospital and Dr. Beer’s Sanitarium well before we get to St. Joseph’s Hospital,” he said.
“St. Joseph’s Hospital is the most encapsulated history we have because it started in 1921 and still exists,” he said. “It’s story has recently changed with the purchase by WVU Medicine.”
Another hospital covered in the exhibit is the Leonard Memorial Hospital, formerly known as Buckhannon City Hospital. There are panels on the flu epidemic, the polio epidemic and  company doctors also included in the exhibit.
To learn more, stop by the History Center Museum on Sundays afternoons through Sept. 24 from
1 to 4 p.m. The museum is located at 81 W. Main St., across from CVS.

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