A Brief History of Mortan Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Florida

Just off of Fort Harrison Ave, right before you get to downtown Clearwater, there’s a large hospital. The locals rely on the hospital and remember it with fond memories. The hospital is called Morton Plant. Many just see this as a name for a hospital much like a “General Hospital” or something of that nature. If you’ve lived in Pinellas County for any length of time, you’ve had to come to Morton Plant Hospital at least once. Morton Plant is not only just a hospital it is a legend in Northern Pinellas County, and it has brought happiness in many ways and to many people. The instant you name a structure, the meaning of that name will be lost forever. However, what or who is this “Morton Plant”? Often times we drive by buildings and roads named after people and their significance are lost in the annals of time.

So how did Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, FL come to be?

In the early 1900’s, there was a very successful millionaire named Morton Freeman Plant who lived in Chicago and would winter down in Clearwater, FL. He and his family would come down and stay at the Bellevue Hotel and take part in all of the fun in the sun that the turn of the century Clearwater had to offer. On one of these winter trips in 1912 he got into a car wreck. This wreck was so severe that it threatened to take his son’s life. He tried to rushed the boy to the nearest hospital, but quickly found out that North Pinellas County did not have a hospital. It would take Morton about 2-3 hours to get to the hospital in St. Petersburg. He thought this was ridiculous and sent a wire to Chicago. He told his business associates to find a full staff of doctors and nurses and all of the equipment they needed to help his son. Then he had them all put in a train car and brought to Clearwater, FL as soon as it could get there.

By the time the railway car got there, the Plants’ son was in dire condition. He was treated for his wounds and lived in the rail car next to the hotel the entire time. Morton thought this was a ridiculous way to handle a person’s sickness. What if the people of Clearwater got sick? Clearwater had brought joy to his family for many years, and he felt that they deserved to have a facility to help them out. Always being a business savvy person, he made the city of Clearwater a proposal: If they could raise $20,000, he would put up a $100,000 endowment. The $20,000 would be the price for Morton to have the hospital built.

Let’s stop right here and talk about money. This is 1912 money, not current money. Taking into account the price of inflation the numbers change. So to truly understand the sums of money we’re talking about; we have to convert these figures to modern prices. The amount of $20,000 is about $2,000,000 in today’s day and age. This is a staggering amount of money for the city and people of Clearwater to come up with. However, what is more staggering is the fact that Mr. Plant was going to endow $10,000,000 to ensure the future upkeep and advancement of this hospital.

Now most hospitals have stories that are amazing. These stories usually start with a little house, expand to a little building, and then become the place they are today with the hard work of the people who built the hospital. The story of the grand hospital in Clearwater, FL that was named after its benefactor is not like that, but is indeed an amazing story. The city and people of Clearwater, FL raised the $20,000 to build this hospital in 2 months. By March 23, 1914 the hospital was raised and the endowment fund was solidified.

The brand new hospital had 20 beds, 5 bassinets, and 1 operating room. It was the first hospital built in northern Pinellas County which is why Morton Plant hospitals have popped up all over the north Pinellas County community. In order for a person to stay at this great new hospital in Clearwater, Fl in 1914 it would cost $12/wk for a regular ward room, $30-40/wk for a private room, and if you were a charity case that someone wanted to take on, you could be in a bed for $7/wk. The local people and community of Clearwater, Fl were ecstatic about their own state of the art hospital and the ability to grow and advance in medicine. Morton Plant hospital became a normal signature in Clearwater, FL but was not as widely known throughout the state as it is today.

That all changed 20 years later when a woman came in with twins that were 3 months early. Remember, during this time period babies were often born at home with the help of a midwife. You only went into the hospital if you needed to, you could afford to, or if there was a problem. These two little babies were definitely in peril and so was the mother. Their birth and the great hospital they were born in made front-page news across the state. Two baby girls were born 3 months early, weighted 5 pounds combined, and lived! This was unheard of in 1939! In true Floridian style, the nurses who delivered the girls made an incubator out of an orange crate and a light bulb. They lived for the next 70 years and helped put Morton Plant hospital on the map. This also might have given someone the idea for the easy bake oven.

This great story helped the tourist industry immensely. Not only were there awesome white sandy beaches in Clearwater, but there was also a place to go if there was an accident or an emergency. This hospital wasn’t just any hospital; it was the nationally recognized hospital that saved two little girls life. If they could do that for two little girls born 3 months early, they could definitely deal with a broken arm or some indigestion. Clearwater, thanks to Morton Plant and his hospital, was now a thriving community.

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