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What was Babies Hospital?

Ben Steelman

A private clinic for more than 50 years on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway near Wrightsville Beach, Babies Hospital was a beloved local institution and a center for innovation in the care of infants and children.

Babies Hospital was the brainchild of Dr. J. Buren Sidbury (1886-1967), a native of the Holly Ridge area. A graduate of Trinity College (which later became Duke University), Sidbury earned his M.D. from Columbia University in 1912 and opened his first practice in Wilmington in 1915. A year later, he became only the second pediatric specialist in the entire state of North Carolina.

Sidburg pioneered “milk stations” in New Hanover County to promote children’s health and nutrition. He first opened Babies Hospital in a wood-frame house near Wrightsville Beach in 1920; until the 1930s, the clinic was only open during the summer. For years, it was the only pediatric specialty clinic in the state. Sidbury and his colleagues pioneered new techniques, including treatments for hypertrophic pyloric stenosis and the use of blood transfusions through the umbilical vein for certain medical conditions. It was the first hospital in the state to use an oxygen tent and to administer streptomyacin. From 1922, Sidbury arranged to have housing nearby so mothers could stay with their children during the recovery process — a novel notion for the time.

The hospital’s reputation rapidly grew. At one point, it was drawing patients from a 140-mile raidus, including charity cases from as far away as South Carolina and Virginia. In later years, doctors from Yale and Johns Hopkins University traveled to Babies Hospital for their pediatric residencies. From 1942 through 1967, it also drew nurses from across the state for its special three-month pediatric training program.

On May 29, 1927, the original Babies Hospital building was destroyed by fire. Sidbury quickly transferred his patients to James Walker Memorial Hospital and other facilities nearby and began to plan to rebuild. In September 1927, he and his supporters reorganized Babies Hospital as a non-profit corporation. By June 1928, a new building at 7225 Wrightsville Ave., Wilmington [Map this], was ready for service. Designed in a distinctive Spanish colonial mission style, with red tiles on the roof, the new hospital building was two stories high; a third story was added in 1955-1956.

Besides Dr. Sidbury, a number of Babies Hospital staffers became legendary in the community, such as Alice K. Schulken, who put in 18-hour days and seven-day weeks for 27 years as superintendent and director of nursing, and longtime nurse Wilma Dickey — who administered so many vaccinations that she became known to a generation of schoolchildren as “Sticky Dickey.”

Babies Hospital formally closed on July 15, 1978. Trustees cited a sharp decline in its patient population and changes in medical practice, including a shift to larger, more centralized hospital complexes. The hospital building was converted for office use and remained a landmark until its demolition in January 2004. (Earlier, property owners had vetoed community efforts to have the structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)

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17 Responses to “ What was Babies Hospital?”

  1. On September 5, 2009 at 4:09 pm Barbara Eason wrote:

    Dr.Sidbury was a wonderful Doctor.He had a way of making you feel better knowing he was looking out for your sick child.The last time I saw him was a couple weeks before he died my daughter had a lot of congestion and he worked with her for over an hour,laying her on a table and suctioning her out and when I left my bill was $15.00,he was one of a kind Dr. and I cried when he died cause I knew we had lost a legend,a friend to our children not to mention the best baby doctor anywhere.I spent many a night at Babies Hospital with my children.We`d sit at the window and watch the drawbridge open and close.Wish we had someplace like that now and I think the new addition New Hanover has added on for women and children may be the answer.

  2. On September 5, 2009 at 5:26 pm charles dewitt mcgowen, jr wrote:

    I just turned 78 this week, when I was 2 years old I stayed in the hospital for 9 months. When I was 26 I carried my son to Dr. Sidbury, we would always check me also.

  3. On September 8, 2009 at 7:24 pm trekstar54 wrote:

    I was a big supporter of Babies Hospital growing up at Wrightsville Beach, it seems my mother was taking me over there to get stitches or techness shots, oysters shells are not forgiving, dog bites.
    She said it was getting embrassing and I was just busy,busy and being a kid
    Wrightsville Beach will never be like that again

  4. On September 10, 2009 at 3:02 pm local wrote:

    you left a lot of very important people out of this list. Next time do more research

  5. On September 11, 2009 at 9:14 am Vaughn Hagerty wrote:

    Thanks for your comment, local. Although we can’t list everyone who might have been involved, if you think there are particular individuals who should be mentioned, let us know their names and we’ll consider adding them to this entry.

  6. On September 13, 2009 at 1:43 pm B. L. WIlliams wrote:

    I would also like to point out the importance of Babies Hospital as a cause for Preservation of our old buildings. Some structures give great joy to a town, and promote an appreciation of asthetically improving our community. Now, Babies Hospital is a vacant lot for sale by an out of town owner. The rest of us are stuck here to look at the destruction in their wake. The “knock it down first, and then decide what to do with the land” approach has laid waste to many previously lovely places.

  7. On September 13, 2009 at 4:05 pm sue bulluck wrote:

    Ben, you might want to do some additional info on Babies as it really was run by the Crouch’s, Drs. Walter and Aulie Crouch for the better part of 20 years after Dr. Sidbury no longer practiced and passed away. Ms. Dickey and Dr. Walter Crouch stayed on to the bitter end including contributing both personally and financially when the hospital could no longer make its bills. It would be an interesting story for you to do a follow up on the Crouch Clinic which was one of the primary pediatric clinics that kept Babies going.

    Glad you did the story.

    sue bulluck

  8. On November 4, 2009 at 10:02 pm danny hall wrote:

    I enjoyed reading this history, but have one change to offer, please. Miss Dickey’s first name was Willa.

  9. On July 26, 2010 at 11:51 am Davie Lewis wrote:

    Who owns the land on which Babies Hospital once stood?

  10. On August 10, 2010 at 5:29 pm Ron Hilburn wrote:

    The Babies Hospital lot is “Holy Ground” for me… my grandparents lived in a small wooden house at the front of the property, next to the pond, and my grandmother worked at the hospital for at least 15 years during the 1950’s-60’s. My earliest memories are sitting on their front porch, watching “granddaddy’s bridge” go up and down, and hearing the distinctive “bip-bip-baaaaaa-bip-bip” sound as cars passed over the steel mesh bridge deck. Would give $$ for a photo of that little house, which is long gone.

  11. On August 16, 2010 at 8:53 pm Mary Gaddy wrote:

    I had my tonsils taken out at Babies Hospital in the late 1940’s. I also spent some time there doing a flu epidemic. There was a ward with several beds. I will never forget Miss Dickey…I use to see her sitting out in front of the Cape Fear Hotel Apt. and she scared me even then and I am an adult.

  12. On November 14, 2011 at 2:01 am jacki london wrote:

    I had puemonia in 1956 and was treated in Babies Hospital. Delores Brown (a close relative) was a nurse for many many years at “Babies.” I never thought I would see the day it closed.

  13. On April 29, 2012 at 7:52 pm Donna Livengood wrote:

    I was at Babies Hospital in late 1958,I stayed off and on the first 2 years of my life.Dr.Sidbury,Dr. Hooper,Ms Dickie,I always got the cool room up front to watch the boats

  14. On April 15, 2016 at 11:57 am Steve Cavenaugh wrote:

    I’m trying to locate hospital records on my brother, Gary Cavenaugh, who has hospitalized in Baby Hospital, Wrightsville Beach, several times. Do you know if medical records were preserved and where I could retrieve a copy of them from? Appreciate any help you could give me.

  15. On April 19, 2016 at 2:22 pm Si Cantwell wrote:

    We haven’t had any luck finding these records, unfortunately. Here’s a previous answer on the topic: http://www.myreporter.com/2014/02/are-medical-records-from-the-babies-hospital-still-available/.

  16. On November 11, 2016 at 5:16 pm Eddie Smith wrote:

    I do remember Babies Hospital. When I was 7 which was decades ago, I was a patient twice within a 5 day time period. I had my tonsils out and 5 days after I was discharged I was taken back because I was hemorrhaging and Dr. Sidbury came to the rescue. Dr. Black had taken them out but couldn’t be reached so Dr. Sidbury stepped in and saved my life late that Saturday night. I remember it was raining so hard you almost couldn’t see to drive. I was staying at my grandparents while I recouped when I took sick. He was my night in shining armor. I was scared, very sick and I heard the words he could die. He made many visits to my bedside. Dr. Sidbury was one of a kind. Here I am at 70 plus years of age with failing health as I take some trips down memory lane. I only wish that Star News would post as many pictures as possible of places in Wilmington, my home town. Places are being destroyed, land marks are disappearing. I live in central VA now and I don’t see at trip for sighting back to my roots. All I have now are memories, the net to read articles and only a precious few pictures which are posted. YES Babies Hospital was a life saver for many children and adults as well. He knew every family member by name.

  17. On February 24, 2017 at 6:09 pm Vera Houston Godley wrote:

    I grew up in Wilmington and recall my Dad saying many times that he “bought” the Babies Hospital. That was simply because I was hospitalized there several times and very sick. I had “double” pneumonia 5 times (the last at age 6) and was treated at Babies. One occasion they held me in a tube of ice/water to reduce my fever. Treatment was multiple sulfur and iron shots to the rump. No antibiotics back then. On another occasion I was very anemic and they did a direct blood transfusion from my father to me. Thankful that this innovative hospital was available in the early 1940s. And there was no health insurance back then. Wages were low and parents paid their bills. Doctors were gracious with time and energies to their patients.

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