Historic maternity hospital gets new life
The newly-restored home located right across from the Cloquet Middle School may look like any other house to passers-by, but it’s not. In fact, the home contains years worth of history, as it was Cloquet’s first maternity hospital, founded and operated by R.M. Eppard, M.D from 1942-1956, among other things.
Before the 1918 Fire, the property belonged to Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad, and then later to the C.N. Nelson Lumber Company. After the fire, the building served as a store before being sold to the Dr. Eppard and his wife, Helvi, in 1935.
The Eppard Hospital specialized in maternity and family practice care, all not-for-profit. This was especially important because, at the time, health insurance was not readily available, making it difficult for lower and middle class families to afford the care they needed. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of the hospital’s history was never recorded.
“There’s just not much information on hospitals following the Cloquet fire. They were all so busy,” said Rachael Martin, director of the Carlton County Historical Society.
The hospital closed shortly after the opening of Community Memorial Hospital, which is still located in Cloquet. The six-bedroom, three-bath home was later sold to Pete and Connie Mills, who lived in the home with their 14 children from 1969-1998.
More recently, the home was restored by Carla Warmington and Fleta Carol, who began the project during the summer of 2014. The business partners were interested in the home after seeing the original woodwork and plaster walls, all of which were unchanged by the Mills family. However, the highlight of the building is the annunciator system, a type of communication system that allowed the maternity hospital patients in the upstairs bedrooms to signal down to the kitchen by pressing a button. When a button is pressed in an upstairs bedroom, a silver bell in the downstairs hallway buzzes, and a number pops up to alert users which room needs assistance. The Mills parents unhooked the system the second day after they moved in, after the children got plenty of use out of it, and it remained unused until it was restored by Warmington and Carol.
“[Carla and I] felt a connection to the home in its former capacity as a hospital and clinic where many babies were born and people benefitted from healing procedures,” said Carol. “When we discovered the original doorbell and annunciator systems, we were thrilled to be able to make them functional again. We also restored the window locks to many of the original windows, and found a skeleton key that opened one of the home's 18 original interior bedroom and closet doors.”
Warmington and Carol also restored drawers from the kitchen, the bathroom medicine cabinet, a black brick fireplace, the original hardwood floors, and the upstairs nurses’ station.
During the restoration, visitors would stop by 518 Carlton Avenue to share what they remembered about the history of the home. Patrice Stevens, a Cloquet early childhood program teacher, remembers seeing the hardwood floors during visits to Dr. Eppard. Another visitor recalled that the home hosted worship services in the late 1990s.
“I really do believe its history is worth noting — as are the other historic homes on the block,” Carol said. “But we bought the 518 house because we fell in love with the historic features and the challenge of restoration that the home presented.”
Although the project was focused on restoration rather than renovation, much history has been lost from the time the building served as the Eppard Hospital.
The missing history extends to more than one former hospital in Cloquet. Others include the Butler Hospital, the DeRusha Rest Home, and the Tester Maternity Home.
“It’s just a good reminder that history can slip through the cracks if people don't record the everyday things that happen,” Martin said.
After being on the market for several months, the home recently was sold to new owners James Bottom and Nicole Neufeld — Bottom from New York City and Neufeld from Cloquet — and their three children. The couple said they were interested in the home for the woodwork, the history, and the space.
Three kids, six bedrooms.
“I would love to fill [the rooms] with more kids,” said Neufeld, gesturing to Bottom, “but we’ll see.”
“They’re used up!” laughs her husband, pointing out the office and exercise equipment in two of the former bedrooms.
Either way, the new family confirmed that the historical Eppard hospital will live on, and they plan to honor its lengthy history.