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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Watts Hill, January 30, 1986. Interview C-0047. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Building hospitals in Durham at the turn of the twentieth century

Hill discusses his family's background in healthcare and community involvement. In 1895, his grandfather had built a hospital in Durham (since torn down and replaced) and, in 1907, his father built Watts Hospital. These kinds of activities helped to establish the Watts-Hill family as pillars of the community—a tradition Hill actively pursued in later years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Watts Hill, January 30, 1986. Interview C-0047. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JAMES LEUTZE:
Did you know that you wanted to go in business and you referred to the fact that you had been in the hospital and so on.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
I developed an interest in medicine. My grandfather had built a hospital back in '95 and rebuilt it in 1907. My father was president.
JAMES LEUTZE:
This is a philosophical question in a sense having to do with philanthropic activity, why did he build a hospital?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
His wife had all kinds of troubles, kidney troubles, nephritis, cystitis, God knows what all else. And she went to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. He was born and raised in Baltimore. She was from Hagerstown. And his father was the first wholesaler of Bull Durham tobacco. He came down here in '75 and became the secretary-treasurer to W. Duke, Sons, and they added "and Company" for him. Old man Wash Duke, Ben, and Buck Duke. He owned a fourth of the old American Tobacco Trust and got out in 1913 so he wouldn't have to go to jail under the Sherman Antitrust Law.
JAMES LEUTZE:
It was broken up at that point.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
That's right. When it was broken back into its component parts. He built it because there was no hospital in Durham, for one thing. He built it where McPherson Hospital is today, and the central building is now on Buchanan Boulevard, been moved back down there. And there was a central building and two wings and a little surgery. It was a pest house in the minds of people in Durham and it took a long time, some years, before people would use it.
JAMES LEUTZE:
You said a pest house; how do you mean? You mean a place they didn't want to go in a sense?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
People didn't want to go to the hospital. And I say advisedly a pest house. It was a place where, if you had a bad disease or something, you went to die. Period. And old Dr. Carr, A. G. Carr, was their doctor and he was very instrumental in bringing the hospital into being. My grandfather built it, ran it, endowed it, and, you go back and look in the records as I did: thousand dollar debts, ten thousand dollar debts. Hell, that's all there was to it. Eventually it became the public hospital and he built another one in 1907. He built the Watts Hospital which is now the School of Science and Math. My father built it, my grandfather paid for it: the administration building, the surgery and one ward building. Men on one floor, women on the other; eventually another ward building was built. When he died, (was it '21 or something like that?) he left money for the Private Patient Pavilion which I built. I'd gotten into the hospital business by that time.