St. Joseph’s Hospital served Fairbanks’ medical needs for more than 50 years
The Catholic Church sent Father Francis Monroe (Society of Jesus) to Alaska in 1894. He spent several years at missions along the Lower Yukon River before moving to the Upper Yukon after the Klondike Gold Rush began.
According to Stella Muckenthaler’s 1967 master’s thesis, in 1899 he was sent to the nascent community of Eagle where he established a church and St. Francis Xavier Hospital. (Fort Egbert’s hospital did not accept civilian patients at that time.) As the Klondike Gold Rush died down and miners began leaving Eagle for more lucrative gold diggings, Eagle’s Catholic population plummeted. That, along with the military hospital’s decision to accept civilian patients, prompted Father Monroe to cast around for a new ministry location.
At the direction of his superiors, he closed St. Xavier’s in 1903 and in 1904 moved to Fairbanks, intending to open a church and hospital on Garden Island, across the Chena River from Fairbanks proper. However, land prices there were high.
For a time he turned his attention to church building, but at the urging of local residents he again began planning for a hospital. With financial backing from Fairbanks residents and businesses, he purchased Garden Island property on May 19, 1906.
Three days later a fire razed much of the Fairbanks downtown, and many business owners were forced to withdraw their pledges. Only a loan from Father Joseph Crimont, Apostolic Prefect for Alaska, allowed work on the hospital to proceed.
The 1906 hospital was a 42-foot by 76-foot wood-frame three-story structure with a flat roof. Patient’s rooms and medical facilities were located on the second and third floors, while a chapel, kitchen and quarters for the sisters occupied the first floor. A full basement contained the heating plant and laundry.
Work on the building was completed by late autumn, and St. Joseph’s Hospital opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1906. For several years it was operated by the Sisters of St. Anne and then by Benedictine Sisters. In 1910 the Sisters of Providence assumed responsibility for St. Joseph’s, which they continued until the hospital closed in 1968.
By the 1930s the hospital needed to expand. An Oct. 28, 1935, Daily News-Miner article relates that a 43-foot by 61-foot wood-frame three story addition was constructed on the hospital’s west end that year. The addition provided a new front entrance, more rooms for patients, up-to-date operating facilities, office space, elevator and coal-fired heating plant.
By the 1950s the hospital was forced to expand again. In 1951 a 43-foot by 120-foot three-story poured-concrete addition was built on the north end of the 1935 addition, almost doubling the hospital’s footprint. The drawing shows this iteration of St. Joseph’s.
According to a 1956 Sisters of Providence brochure, the 1951 addition, which paralleled what was then North Cushman Street, housed new diagnostic and testing facilities, store rooms, a dietary department, additional patient rooms and a new power plant.
In the years following the new addition’s completion, the second and third floors of the original hospital were torn down. The first floor, housing the chapel and sister’s residential quarters remained in use.
The August 1967 Fairbanks flood forced the evacuation of St. Joseph’s and damaged the facility. The Sisters of Providence announced that the order did not have the resources to repair or expand, and the hospital closed in June 1968. The Fairbanks community immediately began planning for a new community hospital, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital opened in 1972.
St. Joseph’s was sold to the city and the wood-frame sections were torn down. The 1952 poured-concrete addition stood derelict for many years, until it was renovated and expanded to become Denali State Bank.
- Alaska mission collection, 1887-1955. Society of Jesuits, Oregon Province. At UAF Rasmussen Library
- “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner” articles. October 28, 1935, November 13, 1952
- Interpretive display in lobby of Denali State Bank
- Sisters of Providence photo archives. Providence Archives website. Seattle, WA.
- “The inception and early developmental years of St. Joseph Hospital, Fairbanks, Alaska.” Stella Muckenthaler. Catholic University of America – Master’s thesis. 1967
- William Stegemeyer Photo Collection. University of Alaska Archives