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Naval Medical Center Portsmouth

Naval Medical Center Portsmouth
NMCP Logo.png
Command Seal
CountryUnited States
BranchUnited States Navy
Part ofNavy Medicine East, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
Motto(s)First and Finest[1]
DecorationsMeritorious Unit Commendation[1]
Commanding OfficerCaptain Christopher Culp
Executive OfficerCaptain Carolyn Rice
Portsmouth Naval Hospital
U.S. Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, VA (1827), John Haviland, architect.
Naval Medical Center Portsmouth is located in Virginia
Naval Medical Center Portsmouth
Naval Medical Center Portsmouth is located in the United States
Naval Medical Center Portsmouth
LocationOn Hospital Point at Washington and Crawford Sts., Portsmouth, Virginia
Coordinates36°50′51″N 76°18′17″W / 36.84750°N 76.30472°W / 36.84750; -76.30472
Area20 acres (8.1 ha)
Built1832 (1832)
ArchitectHaviland, John; Wood, Don & Deming
NRHP reference #72001516[2]
VLR #124-0036
Significant dates
Added to NRHPApril 13, 1972
Designated VLRNovember 16, 1971[3]

The Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP), formerly Naval Hospital Portsmouth,[4] and originally Norfolk Naval Hospital,[5] is a United States Navy medical center in Portsmouth, Virginia, United States. It is the oldest continuously running hospital in the Navy medical system.[6]


The historic Portsmouth Naval Hospital building was designed by architect John Haviland (1792–1852) and built in 1827. It is a three-story granite and Freestone building on a 12-foot (3.7 m) basement. Its form is that of a hollow rectangle, measuring 172 feet (52 m) wide by 192 feet (59 m) deep. The front facade features a 92 feet (28 m) wide Doric order portico with ten columns. The building's interior was reconstructed in 1907, and a shallow dome was added to the roof. Located on the property are a contributing marker erected by Haviland over the grave of Major Saunders, one time commander of Forts Nelson and Norfolk, who died March 15, 1810; and a memorial cannon commemorating Fort Nelson. Fort Nelson, now demolished, was near the hospital's site.[7]

The hospital staff has a long tradition of providing service to the fleet. In the summer of 1832 during a massive cholera outbreak, naval doctors, nurses, and attendants remained on duty caring for patients throughout the epidemic, working heroically to check the ravages of the disease and to allay patients' fears.[8]

Register of Patients Gosport Naval Hospital August 1832 cholera cases

Early Navy Medicine

In 1798, Congress established the “Hospital Fund” to provide medical treatment that formerly had been administered to officers, sailors and marines ashore in sail lofts, storerooms or other work spaces at Gosport Shipyard. By 1821, enough money had been collected to build naval hospitals in key ports. In 1830, the Navy’s first hospital opened in Portsmouth.Before then, what is now Hospital Point was the site of Fort Nelson. That fort had protected the area from the British during the Revolutionary War. Several decades later, Fort Nelson fell into disrepair from neglect when Fort Monroe became the protector of the harbor. Construction of the hospital began in 1827. Workers removed more than 500,000 bricks from Fort Nelson and re-used them in the hospital’s foundation and inner walls. In 1830, Surgeon Thomas Williamson was ordered to make the hospital ready to receive patients. Dr. Williamson became Medical Director of the nation’s first naval hospital. It is on the National Register of Historical Places.

Early Civilian Workers

Through the early nineteenth century, both Gosport Navy Yard and Naval Hospital extensively utilized enslaved labor (see thumbnail 1832 hospital muster). On 2 January 1832 in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Commodore Lewis Warrington confirmed enslaved labor at the hospital. Warrington stated " I knew that for ten years, that mode has been pursued without complaint or representation against it. In that time several Surgeons attached to the Hospital and several captains in command of the Yard all of whom acquiesced in it."[9] In a 5 January 1832 followup Warrington clarified that the hospital's female enslaved workers and their children had separate sleeping quarters."[In] assigning reasons for the employment of Washers [laundresses] at the Hospital, I omitted to state that they were fixed in an outhouse at a considerable distance from the establishment and had no intercourse with it, but such as was allowed by the medical officer, consequently neither they nor their children could occasion any inconvenience or produce any irregularity."[10]Most of the staff took their meals (victualed) at the hospital. The enslaved workers and probably the steward Samuel McFall (white) and doorkeeper William Fell (white) lived on the grounds.[11] At the hospital enslaved African Americans worked in wide variety of occupations as nurses, attendants, hospital cooks, washers/laundresses, boatmen and gravediggers. In 1832 Madeline Flanders (see thumbnail)was the first women listed as a hospital nurse.[12]

1832 muster of Madeline Flanders nurse and other early Gosport Naval Hospital employees

Yellow Fever

In June 1855, the steamer Franklin put into Norfolk after sailing from the West Indies. Mosquitoes carrying Yellow Fever escaped when the vessel docked. As the mosquitoes spread, the local population quickly succumbed to the disease. Two months later, with 20 to 70 citizens a day being stricken, representatives of Portsmouth appealed to the Navy to help treat townspeople. The hospital was then opened to the local population and 587 citizens were treated. In appreciation, the Common Council of Portsmouth presented gold medals to six naval surgeons.

Navy’s First Corps School

In 1898, President William McKinley established the Navy Hospital Corps. The first Navy Corps School graduation took place at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in 1902 when 28 students completed the course. The outstanding lifesaving record of the corps while caring for the sick and wounded during battle and peacetime has made it one of the most decorated among the military services.

Navy Nurse Corps

Congress created the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908, allowing women to perform duties that previously had been done by men. They held no rank and were titled, “Nurse.” The first 20 to graduate were known as the “Sacred Twenty,” and of them, three reported for duty at Portsmouth in 1909. Among them was Lenah Higbee, who became Chief Nurse at Portsmouth, and later was the second Superintendent of Nurses for the U.S. Navy. In 1964, male nurses were allowed in the corps.


Civil War

Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861. On April 20, the Governor ordered the 3rd Virginia regiment to occupy and fortify the Naval Hospital grounds. A battery of earthen works was hastily erected on the point and renamed Fort Nelson, after the old Revolutionary War fort. During the Confederate occupation, the hospital served as a medical facility and a fort. The Union retook the area on May 10, 1862, and until the end of the war, the hospital cared for Union soldiers and Sailors. In 1865, the hospital treated nearly 1,300 patients.

Spanish-American War

After the Spanish defeat at the battle of Santiago, Cuba, in 1898, the sick and injured needed treatment. The hospital ship U.S.S. Solace transported fifty five sick U.S. Navy and forty eight wounded Spanish sailors to the hospital. The hospital staff treated the Spanish patients not as enemies, but as fellow seamen in distress. After the war, the Spanish Navy praised Portsmouth Naval Hospital for the compassion and humanitarian acts of kindness extended to them and their countrymen.

Hospital Renovation

By 1900, seventy years of time and use had taken its toll on the hospital. In 1907, hospital personnel moved patients to tent-covered wooden platforms constructed several hundred yards from the building. Patient care took place in the tents for nearly a year and a half while the hospital was renovated. During this period, two new wings and the Jeffersonian dome were added. The hospital reopened in February 1909. From 1910 to 1940, surgeries were performed under the dome by skylight.

When the United States entered World War I, the hospital was immediately expanded. Several temporary wood-framed buildings were constructed to accommodate the growing number of patients. These buildings included 34 patient pavilions and four Hospital Corps barracks. During a one-month period in 1917, patients increased from 200 to 1,405. The largest monthly admissions were in October 1918 when patients numbered 2,257. Treatment of measles and mumps accounted for half of the patients. The hospital also treated large numbers of patients during the great influenza epidemic of 1918.

World War II created the need to rapidly expand the hospital in 1941. The $1.5 million program increased the number of hospital beds to 3,441. A dental clinic, ships service, library and a bank were added. The staff — medical officers, nurses, corpsmen, Marines and civilians — swelled to 3,055. On a single day in August 1944, there were 2,997 patients. Between 1937 and 1948, residency and intern programs were established through the Graduate Medical Education system. The sprawling facility escaped post-war downsizing and went on to serve during the Korean War.


Bldg. 215 (now Bldg. 3) was constructed to provide a modern 500-bed hospital and to centralize the medical departments scattered around the base. Towering seventeen stories, it was the tallest all-welded steel-framed building from New York to Miami. Along with the latest medical equipment, it had a cobbler shop, tailor shop, entertainment auditorium, Navy Exchange and modern galley. In 1973, twelve American prisoners of war from Vietnam were received on the 12th floor, where they were reunited with family and given time to recuperate. It served as the main hospital from 1959 to 1999.

Charette Health Care Center

The Charette Center was dedicated in April 1999 and is the third naval hospital built in Portsmouth. The 1 million square foot, five-story hospital contains 17 operating rooms, 300 exam rooms, 296 beds and 140 special treatment rooms. The center is named for Master Chief Corpsman William R. Charette, who served with the 1st Marine Division during the Korean Conflict. Charette came under hostile fire while helping the wounded. In spite of his own wounds, he continued to treat the injured Marines. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry.



  1. ^ a b "Naval Medical Center Portsmouth". Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. ^ "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  4. ^ "History Page" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  5. ^ "Stories march through doors of 1827 Naval Medical Center". 26 October 2008. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  6. ^ Yarsinske, Amy Waters (2007). The Elizabeth River. Charleston, SC: History Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-59629-207-9.
  7. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (June 1973). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Portsmouth Naval Hospital" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources. and Accompanying photo
  8. ^ Sharp, John G. Cholera at Gosport Navy Yard 1832 [] accessed 7 March 2019
  9. ^ NARA M125 "Captains Letters" Lewis Warrington to the Secretary of the Navy, Volume 166 1 January 1832 - 31 January 1832 letter number 6 dated 2 January 1832
  10. ^ "Captains Letters" Lewis Warrington to the Secretary of the Navy, dated 5 January1832 NARA M125 RG260 Volume 166, letter number 6
  11. ^ John G. Sharp Gosport Naval Hospital Staff in 1834 accessed 21 September 2019 []
  12. ^ NARA RG260 Miscellaneous Records of the Secretary of the Navy 1832 muster for Gosport Naval Hospital

External links

HABS surveys