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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
Threatened: The Missouri Trachoma Hospital
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By Rolla Preservation Alliance
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By Ryan Reed

According to the 2009 Campus Master Plan for the Missouri University of Science and  Technology, the former Missouri Trachoma Hospital (currently Rock Mechanics) is to be razed and replaced with a parking lot for the campus recreational facilities. Missouri S&T is committed to creating a sustainable campus to minimize the university's impact.  The retention and continued use of property could be another feather in the cap towards Missouri S&T's sustainability efforts.


The Former Missouri Trachoma Hospital
Trachoma, a disease afflicting the eyes, was the leading cause of blindness in the United States during the turn of the twentieth century.  The disease was particularly prevalent in a belt stretching from eastern Kentucky to eastern Oklahoma.  Known as “The Trachoma Belt,” 75% of all cases of the infection in the 1920’s occurred within this area.  To combat trachoma, President Woodrow Wilson allocated federal funds to the United States Public Health Service.  The Health Service used the funds to construct the first trachoma hospital, in Richmond, Kentucky, in September of 1913.  Ten years later, a trachoma clinic opened within an existing hospital in Rolla, MO.  The Federal Health Department decided to withdraw their management of the clinic in Rolla on March 12, 1936.  General operations of the clinic were transferred to the Missouri State Health Department.


The Missouri State Health Department deemed the facilities of the trachoma clinic in Rolla insufficient.  During the 1930’s, Missouri was paying over $280,000 a year in blind pensions to victims of trachoma.  Determined to build a facility exclusively for the treatment of trachoma, the Missouri State Legislature allotted $75,000 of state funds for the construction of a new hospital.  The federal government supplemented the state funds with $61,363 of federal funds through the Public Works Administration.  The Rolla Chamber of Commerce selected a site at the northwest corner of the intersection of highways 66 and 63.  The site, situated on a high knoll, was purchased from the Missouri School of Mines for $2,000.  A construction contract was awarded to J.E. Williams of University City, MO for $104,573.  A ceremonial ground breaking took place on January 3, 1939.  Due to the funding of a state hospital by the state of Missouri in an attempt to diminish the cost incurred to victims of trachoma, the former hospital has state wide significance.


On July 29, 1939, a cornerstone ceremony was held at the nearly completed hospital building.  The ceremony was presided over by Malvern B. Clopton, President of the Missouri State Board of Health.  In attendance were Governor Lloyd Stark and the director of the Kentucky Trachoma Hospital, Dr. Arthur McCormick.  The cornerstone was laid by Karl Vetsburg, the Grand Master of the Missouri Masonic Lodge.  During his address, Stark stated “this building is a symbol of the humanitarianism which is traditional of the people of Missouri.”  At the time, the Missouri Trachoma Hospital was the second such hospital in the nation.  Two more trachoma hospitals were constructed in Oklahoma and Arkansas.  Only four trachoma hospitals were ever in operation in the United States, thus giving the Missouri Trachoma Hospital national significance.


Laying of the cornerstone in 1939
The site also has great local significance.  Immediately south of the hospital near highway 66 is a capped well surrounded by a small wrought iron fence.  The well was once part of the first homestead located in what would become the city of Rolla.  Philadelphia native, John Webber left his home in Gallatin County, Illinois with his wife and two young children and headed west.  Webber, for unknown reasons, chose to settle on the high knoll in 1844 where the hospital now stands.  He immediately constructed a home and purchased the forty acres where his residence stood.


Thirteen years later, in 1857, Phelps County was created.   Fifty largely undeveloped acres were donated by railroad contractor, Edmund Ward Bishop to become the seat of Phelps County.  Bishop’s donation became the city of Rolla.  In the same year, the city’s boundaries were determined by Webber, Bishop and George Coppedge, another early settler, at Webber’s home.  Even the name of the new city, supposedly a phonetic spelling of the North Carolina capitol Raleigh, was agreed upon at the Webber residence.  Webber and his family remained at the home until 1876 when they moved to Edgar Springs in southern Phelps County.  Webber died in 1889 and is buried in the Rolla Cemetery.


John Webber
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the MS&T became the first university in the nation to voluntarily commit to an Environmental Management System (EMS).  An EMS provides a structured approach to the planning and implementation of environmental protection procedures using the guidelines set forth under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).  These guidelines encourage creative and relevant solutions from within the organization itself to reduce its impact on the environment and our natural resources.  To further their commitment, MS&T implemented a sustainability policy to minimize the university’s pollutants and advocate environmental stewardship. Stated within the purpose of their policy is the continual improvement of environmental stewardship with respect to materials, water and energy use.


The university further advocates sustainability through the Student Design and Experimental Learning Center (SDELC).  The center allows experimental learning through projects supporting multi-disciplinary student research.  These projects include initiatives in solar technology to limit our dependence on finite resources.  The projects include the solar decathlon and solar housing which have given the university international recognition concerning solar technology.


In contrast, the demolition of the Trachoma would counteract Missouri S&T's goals of sustainability.  The amount of waste created by the Trachoma would be astounding.  According to Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, "Demolishing a 50,000 square foot building creates 4,000 tons of waste, enough to fill 26 box cars - a train one-quarter mile long." Additionally, "Constructing a new 50,000 square foot building releases as much carbon as driving a car 2.8 million miles."


Recently, an eligibility assessment of the Trachoma for the National Register of Historic Place was conducted by the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in Jefferson City.  SHPO deemed the former hospital eligible for listing on the National Register for its local and state wide significance due to its association with events that had a large impact on our culture.


If you would like to voice your opinion against the proposed demolition of the former Trachoma, contact the following individuals.  Let's work together and keep this historic building, which is a viable and necessary element of Rolla's built environment.


Bill Jenks - Mayor of Rolla
Cheryl B. Schrader - Missouri S&T Chancellor
5th Ward City Council Members (where Trachoma is located)
     Jim Williams


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