Marker #2569 in Louisville commemorates the U.S. Marine Hospital constructed between 1845 and 1852. Located in the Portland area adjacent to downtown Louisville, the hospital stands facing both Interstate 64 and, beyond that, the Ohio River.
Realizing the importance of commerce and the use of inland waterways such as the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and the Great Lakes, in 1837 Congress authorized the construction of seven inland U.S. Marine hospitals, for the “benefit of sick seamen, boatmen, and other navigators on the western rivers and lakes.” The site along the Ohio River was strategically chosen based on several criteria, including a location to benefit the largest number of boaters/seamen, appropriate distances between sites and the resources of the surrounding area. It is the only surviving example of the seven inland hospitals.
The hospital was designed by renowned architect Robert Mills (1781-1855), who, to his credit, also designed several prominent structures in Washington D.C., including the Old Post Office, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Treasury Building. This Greek Revival style building’s exterior underwent a major restoration from 2005-2007 to bring it back to its 1899 appearance. An architectural feature of note is the cupola, an original feature of the building reconstructed during restoration. During the hospital’s heyday, the cupola was a vital feature of the structure because it allowed patients to view river traffic. The proximity to water was thought to help the mental well-being of the patients and was an essential criterion in the site selection process.
The 1840s brought increased traffic on inland waterways, which at that time were dominated by steamboats. The careers associated with steamboats were dangerous-- dangers included engine and boiler explosions, collisions, exposure (extreme heat in the South, extreme cold in the North), and disease, including smallpox, cholera, yellow fever and malaria. Patients included those tied to the river industry, such as captains, pursers, cooks, and deckhands-– all classifications of river workers were eligible for care. An estimated one-third of the patients served were African-American.
During the Civil War, the hospital treated Union soldiers wounded at Shiloh and Perryville. During the 1920s, the hospital treated many World War I veterans, Coast Guard lifesavers, and, as always, served merchant boatmen. In the 1930s, a more modern facility was built adjacent to the original Marine Hospital, which then became housing for nurses and other medical personnel. In 1997, the original U.S. Marine hospital was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and, in 2003, was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Eleven Most Endangered Places and was awarded Save America’s Treasures status by the National Park Service.
Today, fundraising continues to complete interior renovations of the building, with the goal of utilizing the space for health education and training.
The marker reads:
U.S. Marine Hospital
Built between 1845 and 1852,
during the zenith of steamboat
and river commerce, the U.S.
Marine Hospital in Louisville
served boatmen on the Western
waterways. Designed by Robert
Mills, one of the first American-
born professionally trained
architects, it was the prototype
for 7 other marine hospitals
funded by the U.S. Congress.
Marker Number #2569 (cont)
U.S. Marine Hospital
Major Stephen Harriman Long of
The U.S. Topographic Engineers,
an explorer, railroad engineer,
and inventor, supervised its
construction. The hospital is the
only surviving example of inland
U.S. Marine hospitals. It was
Designated as a National Historic
Landmark in 1997 for its place
in maritime and public health
This marker was dedicated on November 19, 2018.