Holmes Medical Museum coming back better, but different

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 10/29/20

FOLEY - Walking outside the day after Hurricane Sally tore through Baldwin County was similar to entering a new world. Trees were down. Roads were flooded. Once familiar signs, buildings and …

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Holmes Medical Museum coming back better, but different

Posted

FOLEY - Walking outside the day after Hurricane Sally tore through Baldwin County was similar to entering a new world. Trees were down. Roads were flooded. Once familiar signs, buildings and structures no longer stood.

Over a month later, walking into the Holmes Medical Museum, the historic first hospital in Baldwin County, gives that same impression. Bare walls stand where displays once did. The entirety of the upstairs hospital has been gutted, allowing you to see from one end to the other. Looking up reveals snippets of blue - the triple layer of tarps where the roof once protected the interior.

“We were accessing the damage after the storm and I looked down onto the street and saw the roof lying in Highway 98,” said Museum Director Bill Swanson. “The wind had basically just rolled the roof up and thrown it off into the street below … One of the lamps on the side of the building is now facing up, when it’s supposed to be facing down. I can’t even imagine those winds.”

The walls, which used to have carpeting covering them, had to be stripped. Once the roof was gone, rain was able to pour into the building and get into the walls. Swanson said it took almost a month to get the interior cleaned and dried. The museum was tested within a week of the storm for asbestos and black mold. The tests came back negative, but it didn’t take long for the carpeted walls to begin sprouting yellow and green mold. Swanson said the City of Foley assisted the museum in paying the large insurance deductible to begin cleanup, though the act took out most of the museum’s reserves.

“We’re going to reopen,” he said. “I optimistically said the first of the year, but I think it’s more like the first part of the year. It’s about when we get the money, who’s going to do the work, we’ll have to go through bids, and we’re not open so we’re not getting donations from visitors.”

Swanson recalled walking into the upstairs museum after the storm and seeing nearly every room’s ceiling had fallen down. While a new roof is going up, he believes the majority of the floors can be restored. He said four dumpsters-worth of materials were taken from the building. Overall, he believes 90 percent of the artifacts were saved and are now in storage or tarped in the museum.

“We saved as much as we could,” Swanson said. “We immediately got the books out and boxed them up, but we lost 50 or so books due to water damage. They were 100 years old. We just focused on getting as much as we could as quickly as we could … We lost about 30 or so upholstery chairs that got wet that we couldn’t save. I about cried.”

Through it all, Swanson is remaining positive. The Holmes family members have been contacted and asked to come and look around the museum once renovations are underway. Swanson welcomes any suggestions they are willing to give to restore the museum as it was. There will be a few changes, though. The downstairs area, once the site of a grocery store, will be recreated to just that - the Kennedy's Market. Swanson is working with the Kennedy family and will be asking for donations of grocery store artifacts from the 30s, 40s, and 50s for the display. He’s also been contacted by a doctor in Mobile who wants to donate a hospital bed and medical equipment from the 40s, and someone who owns an original crib from the hospital. These new displays will be placed among past displays once the museum is in operation.

“I think when we open up again people will be surprised,” said Swanson. “We’re going to be asking for volunteers to help set up the new displays and labelling … We’re going to come back better and a little different, but still have the hospital just as authentic as we can make it.”

Anyone who would like to do so can send donations to the Holmes Medical Museum at PO Box 546, Foley, AL 36536.