A look back at the Baptist Hospital

A fixture is slowly disappearing from the Knoxville skyline. It's peered across the river to the heart of the city for decades.

It's been called Tennova Riverside and Mercy, but it will forever be remembered as Baptist Hospital.

"When it is totally down, it will be hard but it will be a relief," said Dan Hix.

Hix, a longtime chaplain at Baptist, says it's been tough to watch the building be demolished because intermingled in the crumbled concrete and shards of steel are a lifetime of memories. Thousands of employees came through the doors everyday for 60 years beginning in 1948. Hix said at that time there was a need for another hospital in Knoxville and the Baptist community rallied support.

"They felt like if they could raise a million dollars you could build anything. So they were able to do that but soon realized they needed a little bit more than that," said Hix.

Baptist Hospital opened the doors to its first patients in the fall of 1948.

Dr. James Worden guesses he treated thousands of patients over the course of his 40-year career at Baptist. Retired and now 91 years old, Dr. Worden surrounds himself with reminders of his time there. He met his wife while at Baptist.

"She still remembers what it's like to be head nurse and I'm the one her orders go to now," jokes Worden.

He also wears a cherished watch given to him in 1969 when he served as chief of staff at the hospital.

"It still works."

In 1957, Modena Beasley left her West Texas home to come to teach at the newly established Baptist Hospital nursing school, albeit reluctantly.

"I remember saying 'Oh Lord, please don't send me here.' This was the dirtiest town I had seen in my life," said Beasley .

She would eventually rise through the ranks to become one of the longest serving, most respected administrators at Baptist. She quickly grew to love the people and the place.

"It was such an atmosphere you felt it when you went in the front door. So many of the people were answering a call of service," said Beasley.

Julia Duck spent her entire 45 year career in nursing at Baptist. Her memories take her back to a sacred place.

"The chapel was the place where I actually received my diploma. There were times when you could just go to the chapel and sit down and it was very quiet. Whatever was bothering you, you could just let go," said Duck.

"There was a way the sun hit those windows. It was an amazing moving experience just to sit in the chapel," added Hix.

He ministered to patients and employees in the chapel.

Soon their walls will come down, but the beloved stained glass windows will continue to stand. They were salvaged in the nick of time. The windows were removed from the chapel a few months before the destructive hail storms of 2011.

"We had put some clear glass in. When I went back to the chapel after the storms, all of those windows were broken out," said Hix.

"The spirit that was Baptist lives on. These windows are a reminder of that."

Soon, the hospital will be gone. But its foundation will stand strong through its people and their memories.

"Will I be unhappy that it is coming down? Not at this point because it's empty. It's not what it was," said Julia Duck.

"I'll feel better when I drive by and can remember what it was because that's always here with me."

The hospital should be leveled by the end of July. Shortly thereafter, construction will begin on a new development that includes luxury apartments, a hotel, restaurant, retail and office spaces.


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