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First BuildingHospital History

In the 30 years after its opening, the Erie Canal transformed Buffalo from a sleepy village on the shores of Lake Erie into a bustling, rapidly growing city with a population of 74,000. The waterfront produced stabbings and shootings, and the busy region suffered from its share of common maladies and injuries, including broken bones and “hydrophobia.” Twice during the three decades, Cholera and Typhoid epidemics struck the region with devastating results. The Sisters of Charity had established a tiny hospital in a private home in the early 1840s, but it was woefully inadequate.

SurgeryIntent on forming a “proper” hospital, 17 men led by Phineas Strong, MD, and Charles Clarke met on a sleety, windy evening in the office of the Buffalo Medical Association at 7 South Division Street on Wednesday, November 21, 1855. Among the group were businessmen George Hazard, Andrew Rich, Bronson Rumsey, Thomas Rochester, MD, and Sandford Eastman, MD.

After reiterating earlier conversations, the men unanimously resolved to “proceed to organize a Hospital Association for the establishment and maintenance of such a charity... and that said association be called... The Buffalo General Hospital.”

Three years were needed to raise the necessary funds and on June 24, 1858, Buffalo General Hospital (BGH) was dedicated. Ex-president Millard Fillmore, a BGH Trustee, presided. Board Chair Charles Clarke reported that the hospital had cost a grand total of $26,014.36 to build. The first patient was admitted on July 15, 1858, with a condition similar to what is now known as carpal tunnel syndrome. He was 38-year-old John Russell, a tailor and native of Scotland. He was treated surgically and discharged two weeks later as “cured.” His bill was $2.50.

X-RayThe original building on rural High Street, containing four wards with a total capacity of 100 beds, faced westward, toward Ellicott Street. It was the first, and for nearly a quarter century, the only teaching affiliate of what is now known as the University at Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Bio-medical Sciences.

Throughout its history, the hospital has been known region-wide for its patient care, clinical education and research programs. It was the first hospital in New York (outside of New York City) to organize a training school for nurses and the first to use hypodermic injections, mercury thermometers, electrocardiograms, insulin and 100 percent oxygen. It was also the first to use sterile surgical procedures, support cancer research, use X-ray machines, blood dialyzers for kidney disease, and the first to use the “patch-graft” technique for coronary bypass surgery.

First KitchenStill the largest teaching affiliate of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Buffalo General Medical Center, as it is now known, provides a wide spectrum of clinical inpatient care and outpatient services. It offers specialized programs in cardiac, vascular, stroke, orthopedic surgery, bariatric surgery, general surgery, urology, psychology, gynecology, dialysis, gastroenterology, rehabilitation medicine, neurology and neurosurgery, primary medicine and a variety of specialty clinics.