The Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre will mark its 135th anniversary on March 16. This milestone makes the Robert Packer the oldest hospital in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania and the Southern Tier of New York State.
The prestigious mansion of Robert Asa Packer in Sayre sat empty after his death in 1883. His wife, the former Emily Piollet of Wysox, had moved to New York City. Robert Packer’s only living sibling, Mary Packer of Mauch Chunk, Pa., who controlled the family fortune and property of her deceased father Asa Packer, was asked to donate the large home in Sayre to be used as a hospital for the railroad workers there. Accidents were plentiful on the rails and a place to care for the injured was desperately needed. Miss Packer, later Mrs. Charles Cummings, agreed and that was the beginning of the Robert Packer Hospital.
The charter for the Robert Packer Hospital was granted by Paul D. Morrow, then the president judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Bradford County, on March 16, 1885.
“The purpose for which the Corporation is formed,” reads the original charter which is now in the files of the hospital, “is the care and nursing of such injured and sick persons, as is designated by the by-laws, or regulations of the corporation, without distinction on account of creed, race, or nationality, the providing for their welfare, and the erecting building or otherwise procuring a suitable building or buildings for the persons aforesaid, by voluntary contributions, or in any other way the trustees may legally devise.”
Sayre was designated as the seat of the institution in the original charter, which also provided that the Corporation “is to exist perpetually.”
The charter also designated the first 35 members of the original Board of Trustees as follows: E. P. Wilbur, South Bethlehem, Pa.; R. A. Lambertson, South Bethlehem, Pa.; Robert Lockhart, South Bethlehem, Pa.; William Stevenson, John Whittle, J. N. Weaver, Bert Hayden, W.B. Morrow, all of Sayre; Howard Elmer, A.L. Decker, Waverly; C. S. Maurice, the Rev. John Costello, Athens; Joseph Powell, E. T. Fox, Edward Enos, Towanda; W.C. Conyngham, Fred Mercur, Charles Mitchell, Wilkes-Barre; Henry Rathbone, the Rev. George H. W. McKnight, Elmira; William L. Wright, Robert J. Swan, Geneva; F. C. Platt, Owego; William L. Bostwick, Franklin C. Cornell, Moses Coit Taylor, Ithaca; E.D. Woodruff, Auburn, N.Y.; Wilson S. Bissell, Livingston Lansing, J. H. Horton, Buffalo; F.G. Babcock, Hornellsville, N.Y.; Robert H. Sayre, Y. H. Stanley Goodwin, W. L. Estes and William W. Thurston, South Bethlehem, Pa.
The Robert Packer Hospital was dedicated July 13, 1885 with the first patient arriving on July 27.
Joseph W. Bishop of Sayre was the first treasurer of the corporation, and his son, Howard E. Bishop, followed in his father’s service in that office.
Howard Bishop was appointed superintendent of the hospital on June 1, 1912. He was the first lay superintendent, the duties of this office having been carried on prior to that date by the chief surgeon. Dr. Franklin M. Stephens was appointed the first resident or chief surgeon of the hospital in 1885, and he continued in that office until the selection of Dr. Charles H. Ott in 1896.
Dr. Donald Guthrie, then of Wilkes-Barre, was named surgeon-in-chief to succeed Dr. Ott on January 10, 1910, he served in this role until his death in 1958.
At the time of Dr. Guthrie’s appointment, the only buildings standing on the hospital grounds were the old Packer residence, the old dispensary, the former men’s surgical ward, and private floor building, the women’s ward and sun parlors and corridors connecting the women’s and men’s ward buildings. The old private floor and men’s ward surgical were entirely destroyed in the disastrous fire of May 3, 1933, while portions of the other buildings mentioned were partially damaged.
Others who have served as leaders of the Robert Packer Hospital: Ray Bollinger, second administrator; Howard Jones, third administrator; Ralph H. Meyer, fourth administrator during his tenure the title changed to president; Gary Morrison, fifth president; Russell M. Knight, sixth President; William Vanaskie, seventh president; Mary N. Mannix, eighth president; Marie Droege, ninth president; and Joseph Sawyer, tenth and current president of the Robert Packer Hospital.
Henry Farley is president of the Bradford County Historical Society and serves as archivist for the Guthrie Clinic.