The Fort Lauderdale Herald on November 2, 1923, told of a special visitor: “With Wealth to Command World-Famous Experts, James A. Allison, instead, ordered a special car to take him to Fort Lauderdale.”
In other words, from civilization to Podunk (more below on that).
Allison’s story is also the story of one of our first medical institutions, the Edwards-Maxwell Hospital.
It had been open less than a year when Allison, a millionaire as the result of co-founding a corporation that manufactured automobile headlights, became seriously ill. And in the days before interstates, it was treacherous for a man in critical condition to travel 1,172 miles from Indianapolis to South Florida by car.
Flash back to a year earlier. Dr. Scott Edwards, a highly respected young physician also from Indianapolis, was told that “his close application to his work was wrecking his own health.” He was advised that only a change of climate would save him. He was told to go to California or some other location in the Southwest.
But before his departure for Los Angeles, where he had plans for a new practice, Dr. Edwards decided to first visit a friend living in Fort Lauderdale.
When he got here, he couldn’t help but notice that Florida sunshine felt really good. He did some research and found that our city’s average temperatures in winter were 15 degrees warmer than those in L.A. Then he found that precipitation on average in winter was also much lower.
With such a climate, he thought, Fort Lauderdale should have some institution providing facilities to care for the chronically ill of the North, those who would benefit from a warmer climate. Like him.
Needless to say, there was not a lot of that kind of thing going on. The 1920 census said we had a population of 2,250. In that same year, Indianapolis had 315,000 citizens, and was capital since 1811 of a populous state thriving in industry, education and the arts. We’d barely just started a garbage service, with a mule and a cart, laughingly called “The Sanitary Mule.” The New River settlement got its official name only in 1911.
So, no, there was no sanitarium of the kind Dr. Edwards sought. He rolled up his sleeves and started his own. Right in the apartment he rented.
In short order, others, admiring of the doctor’s noble effort, joined in the enterprise.
From that 1923 Fort Lauderdale Herald article: “Among those who became interested was Frank Stranahan of Fort Lauderdale, whose reputation as a public-spirited citizen is well known in the Broward County seat, because he has a hobby, and that is the development of Fort Lauderdale.
“Mr. Stranahan had in his possession, in a subdivision, a very favorable site for a sanitarium or hospital. He set aside four and one-third acres of ground, and made Dr. Edwards a present of the land.”
Dr. Edwards found another partner in his effort, another young physician named Dr. Leslie Maxwell, a graduate of Indiana University. Edwards also found important local aid from W. C. Kyle of Fort Lauderdale.
A building went up, two stories, with rooms for 16 patients, with a modern surgical unit equipped with an X-ray machine and other vital tools. It was christened the Edwards-Maxwell Hospital just two months before the arrival of James Allison, the millionaire.
By now, you’ve probably guessed that Dr. Edwards was Allison’s physician back in Indiana. Indeed, in 1920 Allison suffered an attack of bronchial pneumonia and was treated successfully by Dr. Edwards. Three years later, weeks before Allison’s drive here in 1923, Allison underwent an operation in the nasal canal that caused a general physical breakdown. His system was assailed by a continuous high temperature.
At the height of his suffering, Allison found out about Dr. Edwards’ new sanitarium. Although the hospital “was without a reputation, or anything of the kind” according to the Herald, Allison insisted that he be brought to the care of Dr. Edwards.
It was a good decision. “I kind of beat the devil again,” Mr. Allison told the paper afterwards. “I came here a very sick man…but I knew Dr. Edwards would fix me up all right, and he has.”
As for the hospital, it soon became apparent that it needed to expand. A garden was created out back, and 25 small bungalows for patients were added.
Unfortunately, with the crash of 1929, patients no longer had the ability to pay for treatment, and the hospital was forced to shut down. Still, in its six years, the hospital had treated hundreds of patients, and became a model for institutions to come.
The two doctors, young in years, but rich in experience elsewhere, had become true pioneers in our city.
The adage “necessity is the mother of invention” was never more appropriate.