PERU — In 1911, construction finished on the building that would become Dukes Memorial Hospital. But although the structure was complete, it sat idle, unused and ignored. The building was there, but there wasn’t enough money to hire doctors and nurses, or buy medicine and beds to get the hospital up and running.It would take one of the worst natural disasters in Peru’s history two years later to motivate the community to raise the funds to get the county’s first hospital started.Since then, Dukes Memorial Hospital has continually grown, and this year it celebrates its 100th anniversary as the largest healthcare facility in the county.It was Capt. Aaron Dukes who first saw the need for a hospital in Peru.Dukes was born in 1834 in Randolph County, and moved to Miami County with his parents when he was 12. He worked on his father’s farm and attended public schools until he was 17. After that, he took a job as a salesman in the general mercantile house of E. H. Shirk in Peru.Several years later, Dukes moved to Mankato, Minn., where he worked in merchandising, milling and real estate. He ended up becoming the captain and commander of the Mankato military post during the Sioux Indian War.Dukes returned to Peru in 1862. By 1881, he was the manager of the Indiana Manufacturing Company, which made a variety of wooden items that sold all over the U.S. and oversees. He married Mary Thomson, the daughter of Rev. James Thomson, who founded Wabash College in Crawfordsville.After accumulating a large fortune, Dukes donated $35,000 in 1908 to build a hospital in Peru. The building was to be constructed on a high hill at the corner of 12th and Grant streets.“He was a visionary,” said Dukes Hospital CEO Debra Close. “It was a really futuristic way of thinking at that time.”Dukes imagined the place as a haven for the sick and injured, but he died in 1911 before he saw that dream come true.The building was complete that year, and there it sat empty and ignored. And it remained that way until 1913.But then it started raining. And raining. And raining.It was a cold, gloomy and wet Easter on March 23, 1913, when the city’s worst flood began. After a night of torrential rain, the Wabash River was rising 12 inches an hour.On Monday night, fire sirens began to wail. The signal indicated the water works station was submerged, and water would be turned off throughout the city.By Tuesday morning, the entire downtown was flooded. Canal and Second streets in places were filled with 10 feet of water. The swelling river flooded the Indiana Manufacturing Company, where Dukes had worked as manager, and carried away 1.5 million feet of lumber sitting outside the plant. The wood created a massive dam behind the steel-framed Broadway bridge, clogging up the river’s normal flow and forcing floodwaters into the city.By noon, the Broadway and Indiana Traction Company bridges crumbled and washed away.As people looked for shelter from the floodwaters, they looked towards higher ground. And there on the highest spot in Peru sat the empty hospital building.One person kicked in a window and unlocked the front door for others to enter.Refugees crowed in even though the building didn’t have heat, electricity or food. A man was brought in with a crushed foot, and Peru’s best surgeon was called on to perform an amputation.That was the building’s christening as a hospital.On March 27, a relief committee was formed by the lieutenant governor to help victims. A hospital committee comprised of local health officials was also formed at that time. Through aid from the state, basic hospital equipment was brought in to help the sick and suffering after the flood, turning the empty building into a legitimate hospital. Volunteer nurses also came to Peru to treat patients.“In times of disaster, that’s when the good comes out in people,” Close said. “To me, there’s nothing more inspiring than family helping family.”For around three weeks, hordes of people received treatment free of charge, but then the volunteer services were cut off.It was up to Peru to keep the hospital up and running.After the flood crisis passed, the hospital remained open, and businesses, professional organizations, schools and private citizens pitched in to raise the money needed to create a modern hospital.By the end of 1913, Dukes Miami County Memorial Hospital, as it was called, boasted 35 beds and equipment valued at $5,000.It was a beginning. And it ended up being a rocky one.The next year, 21 members of the medial staff resigned over a disagreement with the hospital association, leaving Dukes short staffed and hurting for doctors and nurses.Despite that, it continued to grow, and by 1923, officials were begging for more funding to expand the facility.In 1928, Dukes Hospital and its grounds were deeded to the county with the understanding that the county would financially maintain the institution. In turn, the county commissioners appointed a non-partisan board of trustees to oversee the operation of the hospital.That same year, a $225,000 expansion project was begun. The expansion included the creation of a three-story brick building. The third floor of the addition was used entirely for surgery, and the second floor was reserved patient rooms, including a children’s room and nursery. By the end of construction, the hospital was able to accommodate 50 patient beds.With this first edition, the county was provided with one of the most modern and best equipped hospital in the state, and met the needs of the community for the next 36 years.The next big expansion came in 1964, when a $1.5 million building and remodeling project got underway. This added 56 beds to what is now the west side of the hospital.In April 1969, the Miami County Hospital Association was formed as a holding corporation to plan and construct a new addition the hospital’s east side. The next year, the first phase of construction was finished.That same year, the hospital initiated an emergency measure to combat a critical bed shortage, adding 24 patient beds as well as more space for mechanical and surgical equipment on the second floor.By 1974, after six years of planning and construction, the most extensive and expansive construction project in the hospital’s history was finished. The price tag? $5 million. The project added a new main entrance looking south toward Boulevard. A new three-level patient tower was built on the east side of the hospital, adding more than 50 beds and a coronary intensive care unit.The addition also housed new administrative offices, the emergency department and laboratory, and radiology and physical therapy areas. Central supplies, warehouse, laundry and dock areas were also added, along with extensive remodeling of the existing sturcutures.In 1982, the original hospital building built buy Dukes was demolished to make way for the Dukes Professional Building, which offered the medical staff office space near the hospital. The two-story building brought 23,000 square feet of office space and cost $1.5 million.Today, Dukes Memorial Hospital is owned by Lutheran Health Network, which runs facilities in northeast Indiana and Ohio, and has over 200 employees.
In 2010, a comprehensive renovation was completed of the intensive care unit and the medical/surgical floor. Most recently, a renovation of the Suite Beginnings Obstetrics Unit was completed, in addition to a renovation of the 3 West Specialty Clinic Unit. The facility received Chest Pain Center Accreditation in 2011, and Close said the hospital has some of the fastest response times in the state for chest pain and treatment.“When you look at all the resources we have as a community hospital, it’s impressive how we are able to provide a high level of service to the area,” she said.Looking back at the last 100 years, Close said she’s amazed how much the hospital has grown and expanded, and said she anticipates the facility isn’t done growing yet.“It’s a really fascinating story, and it’s one we continue to tell,” she said, noting all new employees learn about the hospital’s unique origins during orientation. “I hope we can keep that legacy alive. The future generations have an obligation to keep it alive, because in the end, we all want to make the world a little better and impact the community.”“I hope 100 years from now people will look back and see that we elevated the level and quality of care here at Dukes,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what the next 100 years will bring.”
The dates and facts for this story came from old newspaper and magazine clips and Dukes Memorial Hospital press releases.