The First Modern Hospital In Wahpeton


Dr. Timothy O’Brien was a country doctor and pioneer surgeon who slowly moved west from Ontario, Canada. His wife, Mary, was a nurse from Minnesota. They met in Little Falls, Minnesota, and married in 1901. Dr. O’Brien operated his practice out of storefronts in small towns and made house calls typical of rural physicians. He often spent more time on his horse than in his office.

Once settled in Wahpeton, North Dakota, the O’Briens heard that the only hospital in the area opened in 1886 and closed a short time later. Dr. O’Brien thought a modern hospital with a surgical facility and regular hours might do better in town. He and Mary began planning how to make it work for them and their small family.

In May 1911, construction on the Wahpeton Hospital began under Dr. O’Brien’s watchful eye. Mary ordered cutting-edge and tried-and-true medical equipment equally to keep up with the day’s technology and offer comfort to patients who were used to seeing doctors use older equipment. 

The new hospital opened in October 1911. The couple’s original $12,000 budget was blown out of the water when the completed project came in at $20,000. It was well worth the money because it was the only hospital in the Wahpeton-Breckenridge area. 

Inside the Classical-Revival style hospital were 20 rooms for patients, a surgery, offices, a large kitchen, and a morgue. Mary was the nurse, cook, anesthetist, and overall caregiver and face of the hospital.

The O’Briens operated the hospital until 1919 when they sold it to H.H. Aaker. Aaker opened a new hospital outside of town and closed the Wahpeton Hospital. He converted the building into apartments with drop ceilings to protect the original ones. The morgue was adapted for use as the laundry room. 

The Wahpeton Hospital was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. You can find it on the corner of Dakota Avenue and Eighth Street in Wahpeton. The building is still used as apartments.

A side note about Mary O’Brien, she lived to be a whopping 107 years old. She was born in Poland in 1873 and died in Breckenridge, Minnesota, in 1981.

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