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  • Writer's pictureTJ Blakeman

Julia F. Burnham Hospital

Updated: May 7, 2020

Julia F. Burnham Hospital


Note: This article is a retelling of the "History of the Burnham City Hospital and Julia F. Burnham School of Nursing 1895-1977" compiled by Hazel M. O'Neil (Class of 1927). Her wonderful book provides most of the narrative for this article. The author has merely reinterpreted and condensed the story along with providing more recent developments along with a few new facts and images.

The Woman's Social and Political Science Club

The story of Champaign's largest hospital begins in Washington D.C. in March 1888 at perhaps the most incredible gathering of women ever assembled. The inaugural meeting of the National Council of Women was held March 25 - April 1 of that year. At the event, Francis Willard was elected President of the new organization while Susan B. Anthony was elected Vice-President. This new organization welcomed women's groups across the country that were interested in the advancement of women's work in education, philanthropy, reform, and social culture. In attendance at that conference Mrs. Melissa Harris and Mrs. Elgin Ray, both notable women of high society in Champaign.

Home of Henry H. and Melissa Harris at 203 N. Elm Street.

Mrs. Melissa Harris

Upon their return, they gathered a group of women at the home of Mrs. Harris on May 16, 1888, to create the "Woman's Social and Political Science Club." This group, limited to 35 women, spent the next several years studying the U.S. Constitution, Illinois government, dowers, wills, crimes against women and children, money, and banking.

In September 1893, the club (by this time renamed The Social Science Club of Champaign, Illinois) began to direct their interest in a tangible service project for the betterment of the community.

At that meeting, Mrs. Julia Burnham proposed that the organization explore the possibility of establishing a hospital in the City of Champaign. A committee was formed to explore the idea. One month later, in October, the committee returned its recommendation that the Club establish a hospital. On October 30, 1893, Julia's husband and prominent local attorney and banker Albert C. Burnham wrote the president of the Club and offered $10,000 to aid the hospital effort. However, three conditions were placed on the funding.

Julia Finley Burnham

1) The hospital must be located within the corporate limits of the City of Champaign and controlled by a board of trustees or directors with a majority of those members residing in Champaign. Also, Julia Burnham shall be a life member of said board.

2) The privileges of the hospital shall be available to all the people of Champaign County.

3) The $10,000 sum must be used to erect a suitable hospital building.

A deed of gift was included in the letter legally incorporating the Julia F. Burnham Hospital. The Club accepted the deed of gift and voted on Articles of Incorporation on November 13, 1893. The charter was issued to the Club on December 19, 1893.

The first Board of Directors were:

  • Mrs. A.C. (Julia) Burnham

  • Mrs. I.O. (Alice) Baker

  • Mrs. S.T. Busey

  • Mrs. Jerome Davidson

  • Mrs. H.H. (Melissa) Harris

  • Mrs. J.T. Pearman

  • Mrs. J.L. Ray

  • Mrs. Frank Wilcox

  • Miss Mary Willis

It is not lost on the author of this article that even with such a strong women's organization, the names recorded are those of their husbands.

The Perfect Site

Over the next month, the group grappled with the decision on where to locate this new hospital. Unfortunately, it seems that the decision caused rifts among the members that were impossible to overcome. On December 5, 1893, Club members were escorted by B.F. Harris Jr. to a site proposed by the Harris Family. Just 14 days later at the December 19, 1893, meeting the group made it known that the site was unsuitable due to a lack of paving and transportation facilities. The decision was met with the resignation of three of the Board's founding members, including Mrs. Elgin Ray, Mrs. Jessie Davidson, and Mrs. Melissa Harris. Mrs. Harris' letter of resignation reads:

Mrs. Burnham, President of the Board of Directors, of the J.F. B. Hosp.

As a member of the Board of Directors, of the J.F.B. Hosp., I am not willing to accept Mr. Burnham's gift that along with its benefits has conditions that I believe would be burdensome to the women of the Social Science Club, and to the general public, who would be solicited for the Hospital Fund, nor yet willing to stand in the way, if the women of the Club may wish to accept the gift thus encumbered. I hereby tender my resignation to take effect, at once.

Melissa F. Harris

First Vice President

Jan. 19, 1894

The search continued for a suitable hospital location, and the next focus was on a piece of land owned by Abel Harwood at 503 S. State Street (the location of the Solon House and Edison Middle School). The property was for sale for $10,000, and A.C. Burnham offered to amend his offer to allow the land to be purchased with his donation. However, the club decided to consult the Champaign County Board of Supervisors since the mission of the hospital was to be countywide. In March 1894, the Board voted to make members of the Board of Supervisors Ex-officio members. The Supervisors were W.L. Pillsbury, Ross Mattis, and University Professor Nathan C. Ricker. These members suggested that the hospital site should be located on a line between the two cities.

1884 Birdseye of Champaign showing the vacant land owned by J.C. Kirkpatrick.

On March 10, 1894, the recommendation was formally made to the board to purchase vacant land owned by J.C. Kirkpatrick. The block was bounded by Springfield Avenue, Third Street, Stoughton Street, and Fourth Street. The property was valued at $2,500. Mr. Kirkpatrick donated $1,000, and Mr. Burnham increased his gift to $15,000 to help with the purchase. The land hospital finally had a home.

The hospital board adopted plans for the building in June 1894. The structure was designed by the University of Illinois faculty and Architects Cyrus D. McLane and Charles A. Gunn. L.M. Moore and Son of Danville was awarded the $15,000 construction contract and work began on July 2, 1894. Mr. Burnham increased his gift once again to $19,000 to ensure the building would open without debt.

Cornerstone Laid

On August 23, 1894, the cornerstone was laid following a large ceremony by local dignitaries, including mayors and councils from both Champaign and Urbana, and University President Andrew Draper. The small copper box was placed behind the stone by Grand Master Leroy A. Goddard of the Masons, who traveled to the City for just this purpose.

The hospital's motto was engraved on the cornerstone and remained the motto for the next one hundred years: "With Good Will Doing Service."

Death of Julia Burnham

Just two months after the cornerstone ceremony on October 28, 1894, Julia Finley (Davidson) Burnham died in New York City at age 55. The namesake of the institution failed to see the opening of her beloved hospital. Homes and businesses throughout the community were draped in black in mourning for Mrs. Burnham.

Her funeral was held at the family residence at 603 West Church Street on November 1, 1894. She was survived by her husband A.C., son Robert, and daughter Mary.


Work continued on the hospital throughout early 1895. Organizations and individuals across the City donated supplies and money to ensure the highest quality hospital. The Western Star Lodge #240 furnished the reception room, Frank Walker, a local furniture dealer provided the kitchen, the Catholic Young Ladies gave books and clothing, and private rooms were donated by Mrs. Ross Mattis, Mrs. James McKinley, Chapters of the Eastern Stars of Champaign-Urbana, the Art Club, and the Urbana Masonic Lodge.

Longitudinal Section of the Burnham Hospital. Courtesy of the Champaign County History Museum.

These plans of the hospital appeared in the March 2, 1895 issue of the American Architect and Building News. The Romanesque structure was designed with two primary wards (one for males and one for females) on the ground floor along with offices, nurse's rooms, a dining room, a laundry room, and a kitchen. A separate isolation ward was constructed separately from the main hospital. This ward was to be used for all contagious diseases, including measles and diphtheria. Severe infections, such as smallpox, were not admitted to the hospital.

First floor plans. Courtesy of the Champaign County History Museum.

The second floor contained a children's ward in the front portion of the building. It consisted of a large room for three cots and a smaller private room with one bed connected by folding doors. This configuration allowed the ward to convert to a private room when children were not in the hospital. An additional four private rooms were located on the second floor, along with a nurse's office.

The ventilation system was considered state of the art and featured return air ducts under each cot in the main wards. The ducts led through the walls to the central aspirating chimney where the air is heated by a wrought iron smokestack in the center of the chimney and thus made to ascend.

The building was piped and wired for lighting by both gas and electricity.

1897 Sandborn Fire Insurance Map shows the extent of the hospital complex.

Forming a Staff

Just before the building opened, a new dispute arose and played out across the city's newspapers. The question of what doctors would have access to the hospital became a significant issue. Initially, it was decided that any doctor would be allowed to practice in the hospital. However, several doctors refused to serve beside specific categories of physicians, namely homeopathic doctors and those that advertise their services in newspapers. The issue played out for nearly two months but was finally settled when the board adopted a clause that bars from practicing in the hospital, "all physicians who advertise." The doctor issue arose again in February when the entire hospital staff offered their resignation following the offer to practice at the hospital to Dr. O.F. Hough by Mrs. Forbes, the corresponding secretary of the board. Even with his licenses in place and a history of working in major New York and Ohio hospitals, his license was as a homeopathic doctor. He defended himself in a letter, but ultimately he questioned - "shall I act in defense of my own rights, or shall I submit to a wrong to save the noble ladies composing their organization, who are laboring so zealously to make a success of a beautiful charity. " He chose the latter and offered his letter of resignation.

The Grand Opening

After nearly three years of planning and building, the Julia F. Burnham Hospital was ready to open. On Tuesday, March 5, 1895, the hospital opened its doors, and on March 9th, hundreds of locals were allowed in to inspect the new building. So many townspeople attempted to visit that staff had to close the doors and begin limiting the number of onlookers.

The hospital opened with room for 25 patients. Gertrude Montfort was named the hospital's first Superintendent. She was a graduate Nurses Training School in New York with additional work in Boston. Before coming to Champaign, she had served three years at Bellevue Hospital in Detroit. Miss Montfort, along with three nurses (two day nurses and one night nurse), made up the nursing staff. The medical staff included:

  • Dr. Hartwell C. Howard, M.D. President

  • Dr. W.L. Gray, M.D. Secretary

  • Dr. Carrie Noble White, M.D.*

  • Dr. J.E. Morrison, M.D.

  • Dr. C.B. McClelland, M.D.

  • Dr. C.B. Johnson, M.D.

  • Dr. J.O. Pearman, M.D.

  • Dr. J.H. Finch, M.D.

The rate was $7 per week for beds in the wards and $10-$15 per week for private wards. In the first year, 136 patients were admitted. Of those, 68 were male, 63 female, and five children (two of whom were born in the hospital).

*Side Note: Dr. Carrie Noble White was the only female doctor on the Burnham staff when it opened. She was a notable Urbana physician that became instrumental in the Anti-Tuberculosis League when she was appointed Visiting Inspector in 1912.

Operating Room
Hospital Kitchen

Julia F. Burnham School of Nursing

During the planning for the hospital, the Social Science Club had contemplated organizing a nursing school at the same time. However, it was decided that

Francis North, Hospital Superintendent

completing the hospital was the priority. The History of Burnham Hospital states "to provide trained nurses for the care of all the sick increases the expense of the hospital but since skilled nursing constitutes the principal advantage to be gained by going to the hospital and is the thing the patients pay for we feel that in thus planing we are maintaining a correct principle." The groundwork for the school was started in 1902 by Dr. W.K. Newcomb, President of the Medical Staff, and Frances North Superintendent of the Hospital.

The first students were admitted in 1904. Seventy-two hours of class were required for first-year students and sixty-five hours for second-year students. Twelve-hour daily duty on the hospital floors was mandatory. The doctors taught all classes except basic nursing skills, which were eventully taught by graduate nurses.

Being a nurse in the School of Nursing was a tough job. The rules governing the workday illustrate the demands of the job:

"The hours of duty are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., allowing time for meals, and from one to two hours for study and recreation. Day nurses are allowed one afternoon each week, and when practicable, a half-day on Sunday."

Nurses Home

The first nurse's home was erected in 1900 and located east and a bit north of the hospital near the corner of Fourth Street and Stoughton Street.

It was a simple wood-frame house with six bedrooms, a bath, and a reception room.

First graduating class

The first graduation ceremony was held at 8:00 p.m. on May 28, 1907, in an assembly room in the Lewis Department Store Building at 115 North Neil Street. Dr. A.S. Wall gave the commencement address. The first graduates were:

  • Sarah Estella Meyers

  • Mamie Price Inman

  • Nina Esther Deiterli Shaw

  • Ada Kennedy Lohman

  • Mary Coffman Stunkard

1906 Addition

In March 1906, the Board voted to approve the first expansion project for the hospital. Mary Burnham Harris, daughter of A.C. and Julia Burnham, offered a $12,000 loan to expand the second floor over the men's and women's wings. A maternity wing with five private rooms and a delivery room was added to the west wing. A surgery room was added to the third floor consisting of one large room, a tonsil room, a sterilizing room, and a doctors dressing room. The isolation ward was also enlarged to two stories with each floor containing three beds. The addition brought the bed capacity to 40.

The new second floor additions can be seen in the photo above. You can see by the Sandborn map below, the north side of the building has been expanded along with the expansion of the nurses home to the east.

1909 Sandborn Fire Insurance Map

Alumnae Assocaition Formed

On May 22, 1913, the growing number of past graduates of the Julia F. Burnham School of Nursing met in the Nurses Cottage to form the Alumnae Association. The founding members were Margaret Ahern, Nell Donohue (Hamilton), Lenace Condit, Ada Kennedy (Lohman, Mary Bergin (Reiss), Nina Deiterle (Shaw), Jessie Proessel (Ryan), Regina Thoma (Hardy), Nellie Baird (McPheeters), Lora Lane Snyder, Florence Whall (Hartley), Elsie L. Ferguson (Temple), Eunice Witton (Skeen), Sra Anderson (Burt), and Emma Wellman (Hensley). The association held a yearly reunion every year until its final gathering in the summer of 2018.

1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

The O'Neil History included the following story:

"In 1918 was the terrible "flu" that killed so many children, young adults as well as older adults. Frequently entire families would be bedfast with a very high temperature with no one to care for them. The hospital was crowded with the sick. Nurses and doctors were ill. One student in training at the time (Amanda Loehr) remembers taking the temperature of 104 of a doctor who was trying to see his patients, he promised to go home to bed after he'd seen his patients. He died within the week".

"University students with "flu" were put on cots in the College Hall dance hall as well as in their rooms. Dr. Cleve Bennett asked for the student nurse to go with him to College Hall to help care for the sick. At first, the Superintendent refused, but he took the student anyway. She was there for some time, helping to care for the young students. Nuns out of St. Louis came to help at College Hall. The student remembers staying with a delirious student. In those days, nurses never left a dying person alone."

Mary Burnham Harris' Final Gift

Mary Burnham Harris, the daughter of A.C. and Julia Burnham remained a key figure

Mary Burnham on her wedding day.

in hospital. On February 5, 1920, Board President Alber Eisner received a letter from Mrs. Harris. She offered what would be her final gift to the hospital named in honor of her mother. She offered $75,000 for the expansion of the hospital and another $25,000 toward the hospital's endowment fund. The hospital board accepted this gift and made the following note in the hospital's history:

"With a heart pulsating for the welfare and happiness of others, and with the generosity in keeping with her means, she sought out opportunities for doing good. The great work for public welfare, which was so generously started by her father, she made her particular concern, and in the years to come the lives of men, women, and children will be made easier and more secure because of her."

On March 2, 1920, Mary and her brother Robert (the only remaining heirs to the original Burnham deed of gift) offered to release the hospital from many of the terms of the original gift. It was clear that several of the terms could pose challenges with the proper and lawful operation of the hospital.

Mrs. Mary Burnham Harris died on January 10, 1921.

1921 Building Expansion

With the gift from Mary Harris and the release of the restrictions on borrowing, the board undertook a capital campaign to expand the hospital to 80 beds. $63,000 was pledged, but that was not enough to begin construction. The Board voted to issue bonds for $40,000 to meet the needs.

Construction began in 1921 and lasted through 1924. The new two-story wing stretched from the west side of the hospital north toward Stoughton Street. It provided ten private rooms with modern metal beds with cranks to raise and lower them. Each room had a dresser, bedside table, straight chair, and lounge chair. The beds were high enough for extra cots to be stored below for private duty nurses that accompanied their patient. Many middle and upper-income families hired 24-hour duty nurses to provide care to the patient in addition to the Burnham staff.

The operating rooms on the third floor were enlarged and brought up to date with new lighting and equipment. A nursery was added on the second floor.

The new addition can be seen extending north of the main hospital. 1924 Sandborn Fire Insurance Map.

Burnham City Hospital


Champaign Residents Vote to Accept Hospital

On Monday, June 16, 1924, the Champaign City Council approved Ordinance No. 624, "a petition for the calling of an election for maintaining a public hospital". A week later, Ordinance No. 635 was approved entitled "Ordinance for Special Election." The referendum would require the City to levy $3,000,000 each year for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a public hospital.

The special election was held on July 16, 1924, with voting from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Champaign City Building. The vote was the largest ever for a special election. When the votes were counted by 9 p.m. that evening, the tally was 2,443 for the question and 1,054 against it. On November 10, 1924, an ordinance was passed by the Champaign City Council, providing for the establishment and maintenance of the public hospital to be known as Burnham City Hospital.

The Great Depression

Entering the great depression in 1929, the hospital had 82 beds and admitted 2,912 patients in 1928. In 1930, the hospital was experiencing financial problems and had to borrow $3,000 to meet operating expenses. However, during this time, gifts were still being made to the hospital's endowment. Of note, $9,300 was received from Mrs. Morie of Tolono and more than $1,000 from each of the following; Mrs. George Harwood, Mrs. Minnie Spalding, Mary Howard, and Mrs. Mary Bragg.

In 1931, the board made several cuts to positions, salarys and hours and several doctors accepted cuts in pay to balance the budget.

1937 Addition

Even with the depression continuing, the need for hospital care did not diminish. In 1935, the community voted 4 to 1 to authorize the City Council to finance 70 percent of the construction cost for a new addition. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) would fund the remaining 30 percent.

The 1937 addition looking southwest from the corner of Fourth and Stoughton Street.

The new building located to the north of the main hospital and east of the 1921 addition, started construction in December 1935 and was completed January 27, 1937.

The new main entrance of to the 1937 addition. Courtesy of Charlotte Golden.

The new main entrance was shifted to Stoughton Street, where Burnham City Hospital's name was engraved in limestone above the door.

The solarium and new abulance port can be seen in the 1937 addition. Courtesy of Charlotte Golden.

The addition added a new admitting room, library, medical records department, and bookkeeping department. Private rooms were added on the second floor, along with a solarium above the new ambulance port (seen above). The third floor contained all-new modern surgical units with four operating rooms. The surgical floor was dedicated to Dr. W.L. Gray, who came to Champaign in 1891 and was a notable figure in the construction of the original hospital. The old isolation building was moved to Third Street to make way for the new addition, and the old senior cottage and former nurse’s house was razed.

The War Years

Thirty-five doctors are noted to have gone to war beginning in 1941, along with an unknown number of nursing students. This loss put additional strain on the hospital, and retired physicians returned to work to take care of patients. Student nurses were asked to assume more duties, and for the first time, aides were trained to take temperatures, make beds, and give baths. Champaign's proximity to Chanute Field did offer some benefits as graduate nurses and wives of airmen came to work in local hospitals.

In 1940-41 there were 1,740 operations and 483 births (so many that children had to be put in dresser drawers). Five years later, in 1945, there were 2,102 operations and 768 deliveries.

The war years brought enormous increases in the number of births in Champaign County.

The massive demand and overcrowding led to beds being added to the solarium, and anywhere else, that room could be found.

The solarium was used as a secondary ward for women during the war years. Courtesy of Charlotte Golden.

In 1942, local attorney James Capel was hired to help secure additional federal funding for yet another addition. However, on May 11, 1942, the hospital was notified that due to the lack of critical materials such as steel, the project could not proceed.

Another important addition to the hospital at this time was the creation of a new Blood Bank. This new service, established in 1943, provided vital blood to not just Burnham but also Mercy, Cole, Chanute Field, Warner Hospital in Clinton, and Jarman Hospital in Tuscola.

Operating Room at Burnham City Hospital. Courtesy of the Charlotte Golden Collection

Below is a collection of photos, courtesy of Burnham Nurses Association President Charlotte Golden, from the doctors working at Burnham in 1941. (scroll left and right)

Nurses Residence at 403 South Third Street

On June 19, 1944, the hospital board entered into a contract with Berger and Kelly Architects to design a new nurse's residence. The properties at 304 and 306 E. Springfield were purchased, and the Federal Works Administration granted $66,500 for construction of the building. Just before the structure was set to be completed in June 1945, the Nursing Superintendent Mildred Caldwell told the board the building would be inadequate even for peacetime. The board then approved a third floor to the building.

The New Champaign Memorial Hospital

In 1946, as Champaign-Urbana experienced rapid post-war growth, a new campaign was started to erect a new hospital structure to be called Champaign Memorial Hospital. The stated goal was "to give Champaign County a modern medical center equal, except for size, to any in the country." The new structure was to sit west between the hospital and the nurse's residence.

The nationally recognized Chicago architect Holabird & Root, spent months on developeing the concept.

The six-story building was designed to accommodate 164 additional beds, new delivery rooms, three times the beds for maternity care, a contagious disease wing, a new pediatric care wing, and a premature infant care center.

The fundraising goal was $700,000, and while the campaign was well organized, the funding failed to materialize.

Instead, the plans were scaled back in 1951, and a new three-story extension to the 1937 addition along Stoughton Street was designed. Again, Architects F.E. Berger and R.L. Kelley & Associates were asked to design the 70-bed addition. The bids for the project were taken on May 13, 1951, and the contract awarded to E.A. DeAtley on August 26, 1951.

Additionally, in the face of public opposition, the decision to rename the hospital was abandoned, and Burnham City Hospital remained named for its founding philanthropist.

The construction project faced financial issues, though, and on March 18, 1953, the project came to a standstill for lack of funds. Over 125 pledges were delinquent. The community once again stepped up and rallied to the hospital's cause. Businesses and individuals pooled their funds and allowed the project to proceed. The new wing was dedicated on September 30, 1954, and opened on October 20, 1954. The total bed capacity for the hospital now stood at 179, making it the fourth-largest downstate hospital in Illinois.

View of the 1951 addition (left) taken from the roof of the nurses residence.

The wing delivered on the previous promises of new labor and delivery wards, including 28 beds for mothers and a nursery with 35 bassinets. Of particular note given the times, children infected with polio could now be treated in iron lungs on the first floor of the new addition.

1952 Sandborn Fire Insurance Map shows the new wing of the hospital under construction.

The End of the Original Julia F. Burnham Hospital

As the hospital continued to move into the modern medical era of the 1960s, the original Julia F. Burnham hospital building was quickly becoming a relic of a by-gone era. In the early 1960s, plans began to emerge for a multi-million dollar expansion project that would replace the original hospital building.

The plans called for the razing of the original hospital and, in its place, a modern, adaptable structure.

Rendering of proposed Burnham addition. Courtesy of the Champaign County History Museum.

Groundbreaking on the new $5 million addition was held on March 1, 1966, and construction started June 8, 1966. Additionally, the entire hospital was finally air-conditioned on July 19, 1966.

Work begins on western end of the new addition in September 1966. Photo Courtesy of Charles Cassad.

The opening of the new addition was phased over time, with departments moving into the western section of the building before the eastern portion was complete. The original hospital was scheduled for demolition on September 15, 1967. On September 12th the original cornerstone was removed and the small copper box placed by Julia Burnham, and the Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge were made public. The box contained:

  • A letter dated August 18, 1894, from Clara Forbes, Secretary of the Hospital Association addressed to "Dear Friends" and containing the history of the hospital.

  • By-laws of the Julia F. Burnham Corporation

  • The Deed to the Property dated October 30, 1893

  • Seven Champaign County Newspapers of 1894

  • A book entitled "Early History and Pioneers of Champaign County" published by the Champaign County Herald in 1886

Work progressess on the new addition continues July 1967. Photo Courtesy of Charles Cassad.

Work continued through 1967 and 1968 despite a workers strike that caused considerable delay and pressure on the hospital due to the loss of beds from the original hospital building while new beds weren't yet completed.

The new addition was constructed of precast concrete panels, each weighing 29,000 pounds. The panels were used as both structural elements and exterior wall cladding. The design was chosen because it could reduce the cost in the future of adding a fifth and sixth floor to the building. The fins of the panels provided limited sun-shielding and noise control.

A new main entrance was included at the corner of Fourth Street and Springfield Avenue with a large carport for drop offs.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on June 24, 1969. A stainless steel "memory box" was placed above the main entrance covered by a large commemorative plaque. The contents included:

  • A Brief History of the Burnham City Hospital and Julia Burnham School of Nursing

  • Pictures

  • Auxiliary History

  • A University of Illinois Centennial Medallion

  • 1967 Mint Set of Coins

  • 1968 Illinois Sesquicentennial Commemorative Stamp

End of the Nursing School

The 1960s were a time of tremendous growth for the hospital but also one of challenge. In 1967, the new Parkland College opened in various buildings throughout Downtown Champaign, and in 1969, the ground was broken on their permanent campus in northwest Champaign. With the development of Parkland came a new nursing program that was starting to have impacts on the recruitment of nurses to the Julie Burnham School of Nursing. That, coupled with rising costs, increases in nursing regulations and accreditation requirements, and a decline in high school seniors entering the field spelled trouble for the Burnham nursing program. Meanwhile, discussions with the Burnham nurses and the Illinois Nurses Association began centering around the idea of recognizing the association as a bargaining unit. On April 15, 1970, a group of Burnham nurses went on strike following the dismissal of a staff nurse for discussing and promoting the issue of bargaining. While Carle nurses did not go on strike, some walked off the job and joined the Burnham nurses. The strike lasted eleven weeks and was finally called off, saying that "no one had won."

On June 14, 1970, a special meeting of the hospital board was convened, and the decision was made to close the nursing school after the final existing students completed their three-year programs. The last commencement was held on May 14, 1972. Coincidentally, there were five students in the final class, the same as the first class in 1907. In total, 820 nurses graduated from the Julia F. Burnham School of Nursing.

Final 20 years

Over the next twenty years, the hospital's growth leveled out. There were no major construction projects undertaken with the exception of the acquisition of eight parcels of nearby land for expansion of parking. However, new procedures and technologies were developed at Burnham and new advaced diagnostic equipment was installed in the hospital.

By the late 1980s, the hospital was becoming a more significant financial burden on the City of Champaign. Former Mayor Dan McCollum stated that by this time, the hospital was costing the taxpayers about $1,000,000 per year. However, the hospital still had to be maintained to achieve its accreditations. In 1988, the City of Champaign bonded and constructed a $5-million-dollar energy center at the southwest corner of Third and Stoughton to supply the hospital with new boilers. However, this project was open before talks began between the City and Mercy hospital on a possible acquisition. On September 15, 1989, the City voted to execute the sale of Burnham City Hospital to Mercy Hospital. While described as a merger, it was a complete sale of the hospital and land to Mercy. The result was the creation of the new Provena Covenant Medical Center. The operations at Burnham were slowly moved to Provena's campus at Wright and Park Street in Urbana, and the Burnham City Hospital facility closed for good in 1992.

Life After Burnham

1992 - Present

A Blighting Factor

Shortly after the hospital closed, Provena Covenant sold the Burnham property to the University of Illinois through the State of Illinois for the possible development of a new Natural History Survey. However, the University rejected that plan and the properties continued to sit empty.

The now-vacant structures quickly became a blight on the City and the surrounding campus neighborhood.

1988 Aerial view of the Burnham City Hospital Site.

In 2002, talks began wth the State about the City reacquiring the vacant structures. A master plan was developed by the City to redevelop the entire area into a new residential district. In January 2002, the plan began with the establishment of a new Tax Increment Finance District that would create the funding source for the demolition and environmental remediation work that was estimated into the millions.

In early 2004, the City Council issued nearly $8 million general obligation bonds for site acquisition, environmental remediation, building demolition, and other redevelopment expenses.

On March 1, 2004, a small group of Burnham nurses and onlookers gathered as Mayor Jerry Schweighart gave brief remarks, and Council Members and dignitaries took the first swings of the sledgehammer.

Group of Burnham Nurses assembled. Nurses Residence and Energy Center in background.

City Manager Steve Carter was one of the officials on hand for the ceremonial demolition.

Brandenburg Engineers were awarded the contract to remove the hospital, nurse's residence, and energy center.

The boarded up 1921 and 1937 additions on Stoughton Street.
Final demolition of Burnham Hospital courtesy of the Champaign County History Museum

Once demolition was complete, the City needed to secure a developer to purchase the land and construct a development large enough to pay off the bonds through new growth in property taxes and recaptured by the Tax Increment Finance District. After several rounds and failed attempts to secure a developer, the Pickus Company was selected to redevelop the land on July 5, 2005.

Their initial proposal called for a central residential tower and grocery store to be constructed on the main Burnham block and smaller townhomes to be built on the surrounding parcels.

City Council approved the development agreement in October 2005. Over the next few months, the overall site plans would change, and the central tower grew in scope and height. Amended agreements were signed in 2006, and work began shortly after.

The updated plans called for the construction of a new County Market grocery store as part of the development. This was to be the first full-service grocery store in the University District.

The plans for the grocery store's design changed to fit the County Market brand.

Work began in the summer of 2007.

Aerial view of the construction site taken in October 2007.

The residential tower, named Burnham 310, was capped off on May 22, 2008, and construction continued through the fall of 2008.

Just as the project opened, the great recession of 2008 began. The recession forced the Pickus Company to abandon future townhouse plans, and the City of Champaign retained those parcels of land. However, the tower and grocery store were completed.

View of Burnham 310 looking northeast from Scott Park.

Landmarks of Julia Burnham and the Burnham City Hospital

During the City's demolition project in 2004, the original grey limestone archway around the 1937 addition was salvaged and sat at the Public Works facility awaiting a fitting concept to honor the hospital. During the final construction of the Boneyard Second Street detention basin, just a block away from the hospital site, the opportunity was presented to create an archway as a welcome to the neighborhood.

Through a change order in the contract, Hitchcock Design Group developed a schematic based on the rough sketch of Champaign Planner T.J. Blakeman (seen above). They returned this concept.

Construction began on the archway shortly after the Boneyard Basin was completed in 2011.

The archway was completed in the summer of 2011.

In 2017, the original limestone entablature that stood above the main entrance to the original hospital in 1895 was installed in a memorial to Julia Burnham and Julia Harris Dodds along University Avenue at the main entrance to now Presence Covenant Medical Center, the former Mercy Hospital. Today the hospital is owned by OSF Healthcare.

The Impacts of Burnham

While the memorials above now stand in tribute to the physical buildings that housed the institution first conceived by Julia Burnham in 1893, the real, lasting impact is in the lives saved, babies born, and outstanding care rendered by the staff and leadership of the hospital.

This hospital was conceived and maintained for nearly 100 years, first and foremost, by the women of Champaign. From Julia Burnham, Melissa Harris, Gertrude Montfort, Francis North, Mary Harris, the women of the Social Science Club, the countless female volunteer and board members, to the 820 nurses who graduated from the nursing school, this endeavor was made possible by their courage and dedication in a day when they weren't afforded equal rights. The entire community owes them a long overdue thank you!

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Mar 28, 2023

Great story. I wonder if anyone knows if the plaques honoring my Great Aunt, Irene Hickernell, and her best friend Maude "Miss Mac" MacMillan were saved from the demolition? One was in the first floor hallway and the other was just inside the doors to the surgical ward (both in the newer 1960s building).

TJ Blakeman
TJ Blakeman
Mar 29, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for reading the story and leaving the kind feedback. I have never seen the plaques but I think there are two likely placess they might have ended up. One would be they were removed and transfered to Mercy Hospital (now OSF Heart of Mary on University Avenue. Two, they may have been transfered to the Burnhan Nurses Association. However, I don't believe that organization is formally organized and no plaques have ever turned up in the collections from the nurses donated to the Champaign County History Museum. The other option was that they were in the building when it was razed by the City of Champaign in 2004. My hope and guess is that OSF might still hav…


Feb 25, 2021

I enjoyed your pictorial history of Burnham Hospital very much. Well done! I am seeking a photo of one of Burnham's superintendents of nurses, Miss Aurilla Jane Perry, R.N., who was associated with the hospital about 1917-1920. Do you have a photo of her in your archives? My interest is related to her service as the first full-time instructor at University of Michigan Training School for Nurses in 1915-1916. Thanks! Janet Tarolli |

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