by LCDR Tom Burden, MSC, USN (Ret.)
Surgeon General, Naval Order of the United States
In 1864, three years into the Civil War, President Lincoln signed an Act of Congress “for erecting a naval hospital at Washington City” that would serve the Navy’s needs beyond the war’s end. Under architect Ammi B. Young, construction of this fifty-bed facility was completed in 1866 at a final cost of $115,000.
Located in the Capitol Hill area at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue, Southeast, the hospital would go on to serve first as an inpatient care facility, then a school of instruction for Navy corpsmen, and lastly as headquarters for the Naval Reserve. In 1922, the Navy leased the building to the Grand Army of the Republic for use as a hotel for visiting Civil War veterans, until, in 1963, ownership was transferred to the District of Columbia government to house various social services. During this period, the building fell into serious disrepair and was subsequently left vacant until a group of concerned Capitol Hill citizens formed a foundation to restore the facility and preserve it for community use. Under a multimillion dollar restoration project, the building was painstakingly returned to its former glory. It now operates under a long-term lease agreement as the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, a vibrant community services center.
On 1 October 2016, the Naval Order as principal sponsor, together with the Hill Center, the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and the Society for the History of Navy Medicine, commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Hospital’s opening, and dedicated a historical marker recognizing the facility’s significance. Conceived by NOUS Surgeon General, LCDR Tom Burden, the dedication was the culmination of a two-year project to gather and validate the historical research required. Data were gathered from records at the National Archives, the Hill Center Foundation, and the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery with valuable input contributed by BUMED Historian André Sobocinski. Graphic artwork for the marker was designed and prepared by Ms. Karen Wright, who has designed previous NOUS projects.
Funding for the project was provided by the Foundation of the Naval Order of the United States, the National Capitol Commandery, the Society for the History of Navy Medicine, and Potomac Healthcare Solutions, LLC.
Due to inclement weather, the ceremony was held indoors. With Companion CDR Bill Joseph, MSC, USN (Ret.) serving as emcee, the program included welcoming remarks by D.C. Council Member Charles Allen; Hill Center Chairman Guy Martin; Commander-General Elect, CAPT Paul Crissy; and LCDR Burden. RADM Paul Pearigen, MC, Director of the Navy Medical Corps and himself a Capitol Hill resident, appeared as Keynote Speaker and offered a fascinating overview of the Hospital and its historical significance.
The Navy Ceremonial Brass Ensemble performed prior to the ceremony and the colors were presented by the Sea Cadet Corps, H. E. Mooberry Division Honor Guard.
The ceremony was well attended by representatives from the Government of the District of Columbia, the National Capitol Commandery, the Hill Center, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, the Society for the History of Navy Medicine, and the general public.