Charles Holzer builds the first general hospital in SE Ohio

Posted by | May 19, 2016

Today, Holzer Medical Center-Gallipolis is the largest employer in Gallia County, OH with 1,123 people on the payroll.

Dr. Charles Elmer Holzer (1887-1956) came to Gallipolis in 1909, as a resident surgeon at the Ohio Hospital for Epileptics. Recognizing the need for a community hospital, he returned in May 1910, after completing his training. With a local loan, he converted a private home into a seven-bed infirmary just a stone’s throw from the Ohio River.

In 1913, Holzer furthered his training in surgery, closing the hospital temporarily to study in Europe (where he in a few short years would volunteer as a surgeon during the World War). He returned to Gallipolis in 1914, married nurse Alma Vornholt and resumed his practice. The couple bore a son, Charles Elmer Jr, in 1916. That same year Holzer senior began construction on the First Avenue Holzer Hospital, the first general hospital in southeast Ohio.

Charles E. Holzer, Sr. in scrubs. Photo courtesy

Charles E. Holzer, Sr. in scrubs. Photo courtesy

The new facilities opened in 1917, and Holzer Hospital continued to expand until further growth in that location was no longer possible. Dr. and Mrs. Holzer meantime opened the area’s first school of nursing in 1920.

Dr. Charles E. Holzer’s contributions beyond the field of medicine include founding The French Art Colony, a regional multi-arts center. It occupies a historic Greek Revival house, “River by,” on a site continuously occupied since 1796. Dr. George Livesay constructed River by between 1855 and 1858. Originally, the building had three stories, six rooms, a large front hall, and a winding stairway.

The Holzers purchased four adjoining city lots and the home in 1918 for $5,700.00. Alma Holzer is credited with naming the home “River by” after seeing that phrase in a book, “A Journey Down the River,” by naturalist John Burroughs. The Holzers made a number of physical changes to the house, adding a large front porch and a swimming pool where Mrs. Holzer gave swimming lessons to area children. The couple remained in the home the rest of their lives.

Charles Holzer organized construction of the Silver Bridge in 1928, joining the capitals of Ohio and West Virginia; purchased land for an airport; and initiated the first air ambulance service in Ohio.

In 1933, the Holzers bought an old Gallipolis tavern—‘Our House’—originally built in 1819 by a Henry Cushing and his sister Elizabeth, and furnished it. The tavern had been the center of the community’s social life for many years. General Lafayette, on his triumphant tour of America, was entertained there on May 22, 1825. Gallipolis still celebrates Lafayette’s visit with a ceremony each spring.

Holzer Hospital in Gallipolis OHHolzer Hospital in the 1930s. Courtesy of the Gallia County Historical Society, photo by the late Dick Thomas, retired photojournalist, Gallipolis Tribune.

Jenny Lind, internationally recognized singing sensation of the mid-nineteenth century, stopped at Our House in the 1850s during her American tour. The Cushing family owned and operated Our House until 1865.

In 1936, the house opened as a public museum, The Our House Museum, and was given by the Holzers to the Ohio Historical Society in 1944 as a memorial to the French families who founded Gallipolis.

In 1949, the Holzers gave the growing Holzer Hospital to the citizens of the five county area, to be administered by the Holzer Hospital Foundation. After outgrowing its downtown location, Holzer Medical Center opened on Jackson Pike in 1972 with 269 beds.


7 Responses

  • cay cross says:

    can you please tell me the name of the person who was hospital administrator when holzer medical center was dedicated -I believe in 1970 to 1972… David Harmon was guest speaker.

    Thank you so very much.

    Cay Cross

  • eric james says:

    to anyone interested i have a silver coin that was presented to staff as a commerative coin when the holzer hospital branch opened on jackson pike in 1972, i would like to sell it to someone , i do want it to go to someone who will appreciate it and collect it not melt it down someday. eric james 7405774339

  • Diana Randolph says:

    I too have one of the silver coins. It was offered for sale to the public when the new hospital was dedicated in 1972, and the money from the sale was devoted to landscaping the property around the hospital. I was a candy-striper (aka volunteen) at the hospital at the time, and I attended the dedication ceremony in May 1972. The guest speaker was David Hartman, the television personality who had a role as a doctor on a TV series at that time. I remember my fellow candy-stripers and I wondered why they had an actor who played a doctor on TV as a speaker at the dedication instead of having a real doctor speak.

  • Henny Evans says:

    could the admin. have been Wayne Foster???

  • Bob says:

    I thought it was Hugh Kirkle

  • Sara Sheets says:

    Administrator was Hugh Kirkle
    Find it interesting that Riverby is mispronounced
    If it was from book – River by should be how
    Also ther is an error in Alma Vornholt spelling

  • Julie McGowan says:

    I was born in the holzer hospital in 1967.
    I wish I could see in it again.

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