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Demolition begins on historic Kuhn Memorial Hospital

A small crowd of city officials and residents gathered at the Kuhn Memorial Hospital property Wednesday morning to watch the end of an era.

For more than 100 years the property at 1422 Martin Luther King Blvd. served as the site of a hospital, surviving the Siege of Vicksburg and serving as a state-funded and operated hospital from 1871 until its closure in 1989, which led to its slow deterioration over the next 30 years.

After a brief ceremony Wednesday, the bucket of a track hoe for M&M Services ate into a wall of the site’s main building, tearing apart brick, mortar and glass.

“Today is a bittersweet day for me,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said before the building’s demolition officially began. “I can remember so many great things about this hospital.”

He recalled how his father and other residents fought to keep the hospital open.

“They were there trying to fight a system that did not understand what charity hospitals mean,” he said, adding many local people had nowhere else to go but Kuhn for health care.

“There are so many good memories about this hospital,” he said. “When you look at this community and that day … they didn’t turn you away.”

Eva Ford, one of the residents attending the ceremony was a patient at Kuhn and later served at the hospital, first as a licensed practical nurse and then as the state’s first family nurse practitioner, recalled her time at the hospital.

“We had people who needed someone who cared, and the people (at Kuhn) were caring about people. They worked because they loved people and they wanted to do something for them that they weren’t getting at home. It was a joy to me.

“I had five children of my own, and I have nieces and nephews, and they were all born here at this hospital, so this hospital means a lot to me. I know there is a need for this building in Vicksburg and I hate to see it go down; it really bothers me. I love this hospital,” she said.

“The hospital was good. People cared about it and would clean it up and do things in the building to make it look good. We would do everything we could to make it look good. It wasn’t looking like it looks now. It looked like a hospital with people who cared.”

Amy Mooney, who trained for her LPN license at Kuhn from 1979-1980 and had her first son at the hospital, was another visitor to the ceremony.

“It was a great learning experience,” she said. “If you could nurse here, you could nurse anywhere. It was very interesting. We had great instructors and we had a wide variety of different experiences with different types of patients. It was a great experience; I’m really sad to see it go down. I wish it had been put to better use.”

Ford said she wished the building could have been converted for another use.

“This hospital goes down, it’s an empty space, but there is someone out there who needs it,” she said. “It’s gone but not forgotten.”

Mayfield and Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said they don’t expect the property to remain vacant after the buildings are gone.

“We’re not going to take this hospital to the ground and walk off,” Mayfield said.

“We’re looking at different things we can do to make this a part of the community as far as housing.”

Flaggs, who as a state representative worked to keep the hospital open, said the building’s demolition “is a new beginning.”

He said the 12.8 acres will “serve as a beginning of the best Vicksburg can be,” outlining a proposed mixed use development of affordable homes, retail stores and recreational facilities.

“I commit to this city that we’re going to make this a new beginning, a new hope; a new but fitting place in Vicksburg, Mississippi so that we can all honor the tradition (of Dr. Martin Luther King).

“When the first brick comes down, look at it as a brick of hope, because I’m telling you, we’re going to rebuild right on this site. Today is a new beginning and a great beginning.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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