McCready marks date of tragedy that reaped benefits
Donation that led to McCready Memorial's creation came after horrible accident
By Brice Stump
Daily Times Staff Writer
CRISFIELD -- (Sept. 13, 2009) -- Today marks the 90th anniversary of a tragedy, a horrific accident that instantly changed this bayside town.
It was almost 11 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 13, 1919, when the Pathfinder luxury car driven by Edward McCready neared the last crossing of railroad tracks in Westover. He followed a route that crossed the rails four times between the village and Crisfield. McCready, 59, a Crisfield native who shared a family fortune in what is now Crown Cork and Seal Co., was summering here, and was driving his 8-year-old daughter, Suzanne, and her nurse, to meet his wife, Caroline, who was vacationing in Atlantic City. From there the party would return home to Oak Park, Ill., a fashionable suburb of Chicago.
Rounding the turn, behind the site of the present-day tomato packing business and heading south toward the tracks and down Sam Barnes Road where the Somerset County Sheriff's Office is now located, two in the car had but seconds to live.
Why McCready, who was familiar with the lay of the land, failed to see the Crisfield-bound steam locomotive bearing down on him at the crossing is unknown. The train struck the touring car with such force that the child and nurse, seated in the rear seat, were thrown 50 feet from the site of impact. The nurse was dead. As for McCready, he, too, was killed and those rushing to the scene worked to free his body from the mangled iron cow catcher, according to reports of the day.
Suzanne was put into a Model T, driven by Lambert Cox, who pressed the auto hard to get up to 20 miles per hour to make the 13-mile trip to the General and Marine Hospital in Crisfield. The racing auto had passed through Marion Station, once home to the Somerset Hospital. Here the child may have been saved -- but it had closed just two years earlier. There was six miles to go to reach Crisfield. At some point during the almost hour-long drive, the child died.
Within days, McCready's widow announced that she would donate, according to one account, up to $300,000 to build what is now McCready Memorial Hospital in honor of her husband and daughter. Construction was to be centered on 22 acres on "Cork Point," overlooking Tangier Sound. She broke ground for the project on Valentine's Day 1922, and the hospital opened May 6, 1923, which would have been her husband's 63rd birthday. Coincidentally, the hospital at Cork Point also featured floors made of cork, probably provided by the McCready company.
WITHIN MONTHS, the General and Marine hospital, located in a former downtown brick store, closed. It had been opened in 1910 with 26 beds. McCready, built in the Colonial-revival style with four stately columns, was not only impressive, but the largest hospital on the lower Eastern Shore at the time. There were beds for three dozen patients. Expansion seemed imminent even as the hospital neared completion. In 1923 the McCready Nursing School opened, but closed by 1929.
At the time of its construction, Crisfield was still relatively distant from Salisbury, where Peninsula General Hospital also provided modern care. This was at a time when folks still relied on sailboats for transportation and horse and buggy. Patients came from Smith and Tangier islands, as well as numerous rural villages, to McCready. In many instances, the gift given by Caroline Pitkin McCready saved lives over the decades.
Yet, as the decades passed, what is now Peninsula Regional Medical Center -- at the crossroads of two major highways -- in Salisbury grew larger; more technically advanced and offered far more services than McCready. Financial woes soon hit Somerset's premier medical care facility hard. When the town's claim to being the Seafood Capital of the World waned in pre-World War II years, so did prospects for an increasingly larger community that could support a hospital.
In 1968, the Alice Byrd Tawes Nursing home, now with 69 beds, opened on hospital grounds. That a hospital was just yards away from nursing home patient care made for a unique situation in the health care field. Patients have access to prompt, on-the-spot hospital care, a huge appeal for patients and their families, said city businessman Robert Tawes.
IN 1980, the "New Hospital," a separate building that's accessible through the original hospital, opened with 45 beds. The obstetrics unit closed in 1987.
"Most people here in Crisfield, if they are 25 years or older, were probably born in this hospital," said Bill Robinson, McCready Foundation marketing specialist. An ambitious campaign soon followed to introduce advanced services at the hospital and to establish several satellite medical centers under McCready's supervision. All are now closed.
Yet McCready remains important to the community. It still provides front-line emergency care. For the fiscal year which ended June 30, the hospital -- which has 20 beds --had more than 8,000 patients come through its doors. The facility still gets patients by air, land and water. Doctors at the hospital see about 1,000 patients a month through outpatient clinics. The hospital and nursing home is a private, not-for-profit entity governed by the McCready Foundation's board of 10 directors and has 290 employees.
Despite considerable financial and development objective setbacks over the years, the McCready legacy lives on through a creative health care approach.
"The current chief executive officer, Charles Pinkerman, has looked for ways to streamline spending. The board made the bold decision to build a new nursing home here, when they determined the old one could not provide the kind of care our competitors were providing their patients," Robinson said. "It will be four stories and the top level will offer assisted living. It's really unusual for a community hospital to have a hospital, nursing home and assisted living facility on one property."
THAT ODDITY makes for a big plus. "Our nursing home patients, for example, do not have to rely on ambulance service to a hospital for emergency treatment. For folks with mobility problems, it means comfort and convenience," Robinson said.
Therein lies an element of the success potential in the next phase of McCready's history. "It will be as modern as it can be made for the first decade of the 21st century. We are hoping to have it opened by mid-March 2010."
The new facility will be named the Alice B. Tawes Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
"It's a squeeze to get the new structure in place while the old nursing home remains. Just 44 inches separate the two structures," Robinson said. "The new nursing home will have 76 beds and 30 assisted living quarters on the top floor. Once complete, the old brick nursing home will be torn down. The original McCready Memorial Hospital is used solely for administrative purposes and outpatient clinic through four doctor's offices here."
AS FOR THE IMPOSING 1923 main structure that has long been the face of the hospital, its fate remains unknown. "Because of its age, it needs attention. It may be salvageable or could be torn town and replaced with a mirror image of the facade. That's down the road. We want to keep it functional for the time being," Robinson said.
"Mrs. McCready gave the community the impetus for a health-care facility that has endured 86 years, through thick and thin. There has been a lot of 'thin' lately, but we are trying to move in the right direction now. By building this nursing home, we will fill a nursing and rehab niche in health care for the elderly care in Somerset County. People here are excited as they watch construction. The directors have long term faith in our hospital and institutional care. The assisted living concept brings a new phase of service to McCready Hospital," Robinson said. "Also, the hospital is bringing Dr. Jon Beacher, a full-time pulmonologist, to our staff in October. This represents a significant important investment in our future."
Medical services to Smith Island, suspended for the past several months, will be revived, he said, because of a recent partnership agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard to provide monthly routine transportation to the island for medical staff. As the financial health of the hospital improves, plans call for the Princess Anne satellite office to reopen.
"Now, 90 years after that tragic accident, the hospital is still serving the community as Mrs. McCready hoped it would. We've already made history and hope to make a lot more," Robinson said.