|Ocala, FL -
January 15, 2012|
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.
A vehicle accident on Broadway, in front of Rheinauer's store, second from left in this 1907 photo,
started a movement that resulted in the formation of Ocala's first hospital. (File photo)
The undeniable need for a hospital to care for the sick and injured was being discussed by Ocala's leaders once again in 1895, when Benjamin Rheinauer and others witnessed a serious accident on East Broadway in front of the Rheinauer brothers' store.
The victim needed medical care, but there was no place to take him except to a doctor's office where his injuries would be treated. Then this victim would be left to his own devices because there was no place else where he could receive assistance.
Rheinauer and Dr. E.C. Hood, who treated the victim, were greatly concerned by the situation and immediately began an attempt to encourage sentiment to provide a community hospital — something that was extremely rare in the state of Florida.
In addition to illnesses, local citizens were being seriously hurt in myriad accidents caused by runaway horses, crashing carriages, fires and other incidents. Almost every issue of the Ocala Banner carried a story about someone receiving terrible injuries in an accident caused by a runaway horse or a careless crash of two buggies.
Out of the discussions started by Rheinauer and Hood came a community hospital that was the forerunner of today's Munroe Regional Medical Center. But it would take nearly three years for those discussions to lead to that first step of actually organizing a hospital.
Hospital to serve railroad workers
Perhaps the first proposition to build a hospital in Ocala came from an official of the Henry Plant railroad company, which recently had bought the Florida Southern line that passed through Ocala on its way south. That was in August 1895, according to the Ocala Banner.
A Dr. Caldwell, identified as chief surgeon for the Plant system, proposed to the Ocala City Council the construction of a hospital that would serve railroad employees. The presumption was the facility also would serve others in the community who needed hospital care.
Caldwell wanted to know if the Ocala councilmen would be interested in participating in the endeavor. The idea was so new that councilmen didn't know what to make of it. So, they did what all politicians do when confronted by a controversial idea requiring an outlay of money — they formed a special committee to study the matter.
The Plant system's exploratory proposal came at a time when the entire community was buzzing about the economic benefits that might accrue to Ocala as a result of the Plant buyout.
Plant also had acquired the Silver Springs, Ocala and Gulf Railroad, among numerous other rail lines.
The buzz became even more expressive when the Ocala House Hotel on the east side of the downtown square was bought by Henry Plant at a court-ordered auction in October 1895. An infusion of Plant money was seen as a way to lift Ocala out of its economic depression.
In the same issue of the Banner in which a Plant hospital was proposed, there was a story about Samuel Howell, who was driving a “road cart” to his home on the Sam Pyles plantation south of Ocala, on what is known today as County Road 475. For some reason, Howell's horse started kicking and struck him in the face. His nose was broken, his skull fractured. He was found unconscious on the ground, and Dr. A.L. Izlar was summoned.
After being treated, Howell was taken home. And three years later, Izlar was one of the founding supporters of Ocala's first hospital, taking note of the Howell accident as a prime demonstration of the need for such a facility for the care of victims.
An odd sidelight: A few days after the Howell incident, Izlar's wife died of blood poisoning. The cause was not given by the Banner, nor was there any comment whether she might have survived if hospital care had been available.
Site suggested for new hospital
In December 1895, Robert McConnell, the new president of Merchants National Bank, and E.P. Allen appeared before the city council to discuss a possible site for a hospital. All of Ocala's fire companies had been consolidated into one new building on Osceola Avenue, and at least one vacated building offered possibilities for a health facility.
McConnell said the building previously occupied by Hose Company No. 3 would be ideal if it could be moved to another location identified by the newspaper as “the rear end of Dr. Frederick's lot.” Once again, the city council took no action.
The matter of a hospital would await further developments. Ben Rheinauer and Dr. Hood would continue their efforts and enlist the support of other influential men in the community.
Ocala Surgical Hospital opens
Ben Rheinauer, who arrived in Ocala in 1885, was associated with his brothers Charles and Maurice in the operation of a dry goods store on the south side of the square. He was about 18 years old when he left Germany and joined his brothers, who had gone into business in Ocala in 1880.
He was instrumental in organizing the Ocala Surgical Hospital, which opened its doors in 1898, and would serve on the board of directors for Ocala Surgical and its successor, Munroe, for the next 25 years.
“Uncle Ben,” as he was affectionately called, sold his interest in the Rheinauer store in 1944. He died at Munroe Memorial Hospital at age 84 in July 1948. The Star-Banner commented that “nothing brought him greater pleasure than to recall the early history of Ocala.”
An avid Marion County historian, David Cook is a retired editor of the Star-Banner. He may be contacted at 237-2535.