As World War II began in earnest, the wounded returning from war overwhelmed the military hospital system and new hospitals were planned. In 1942, the city of Spokane donated 160 acres and the county donated 80 more in northwest Spokane for a hospital.
In less than a year, contractors had built a 1,500-bed hospital with most of the beds in long barracks-style frame buildings with a single large hospital building for operating rooms and doctor’s offices. The cost would eventually total $4.1 million. City inspectors said the building permit was the largest in Spokane since the building of the Davenport Hotel in 1912.
On March 3, 1943, military ambulances lined up at the Milwaukee Road’s freight office and picked up the first stretcher-bound patients and hauled them, one by one, to the new Baxter General Hospital.
The facility was named for Col. Jedediah Hyde Baxter, a famed Civil War surgeon who rose to be the U.S. Surgeon General.
Little thought was given to the aesthetics of the massive compound. So an all-volunteer Civilian Planting Committee solicited donations for landscaping plants and grass turf, turning the dusty roads and pullouts into a park-like setting by the end of the war.
During its short run, Baxter served more than 14,000 patients with injuries ranging from minor to grievous. The hospital also served veterans from previous wars.
In one of the saddest tragedies of the era, an airshow was planned near the hospital to entertain the troops, many of whom who were bedridden. In July 1944, as planes flew low over the nearby dusty hills, two A-25 dive bombers collided and crashed, killing four men. Actual film footage from the disaster can be seen in movies from the era.
In October 1945, the commanding officer announced that Baxter would be closing soon. The buildings were sold or given away to be moved off-site. Many buildings went to the school district, Whitworth and Gonzaga colleges.
Shortly after the land was cleared, construction began on the new Spokane Veterans Affairs Memorial Hospital, now called the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center.
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