Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Bledsoe Wayland and Crozet’s First Hospital

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Crozet’s first hospital as seen today from Crozet Avenue, Just south of downtown. Photo: Phil James.

Try to imagine public reaction around rural western Albemarle county to a brief news note in the Daily Progress in the summer of 1909: “Dr. A.B. Wayland has in course of construction a handsome hospital, situated on a high hill overlooking the town [of Crozet] and facing the picturesque Blue Ridge mountains.”

Alfred Bledsoe Wayland (1874–1915) was a product of old Crozet. Born near Heards, a son of Jeremiah Finks and Elizabeth Bledsoe Wayland, he was also a nephew of Abram Wayland, who is often referred to as “the father of Crozet.” Young Bledsoe received his academic education at Fishburne Military Academy at Staunton, before entering the University of Virginia, where he graduated with a degree in medicine in 1897. Following two years of post-graduate work in New York City, in 1899, at age 25, he hung out his shingle in Crozet, a rural railroad town on the very cusp of great things.

Alfred Bledsoe Wayland received his academic education at Staunton’s Fishburne Military Academy prior to obtaining a medical degree in 1897 at the University of Virginia. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Pinkerton Scott.

Professional healthcare in Crozet at the time of Dr. Wayland’s arrival was handled by the much beloved Dr. William J. Jones (1841-1926) who graduated from the University of Virginia in 1866. Ruth Wayland Nelson (1892-1983) provided a glimpse of Dr. Jones in her 1950 memoir “Old Crozet As I Recall It.” She wrote, “Among our professional men was… Dr. Jones, grandfather to Mrs. Olinger. He was a dear old man who never believed in hurrying. He always had time to sit and visit when he came to see the sick member of the family. He used to mix his own drugs and make his own pills. I marvel now at his ability. His brother Ben Jones did carpenter work.

“A little house stood where the bank now stands [on Main Street] which was occupied by Dr. Bledsoe Wayland and next to it where Sandridge’s store now stands was a dwelling house with a store attached which was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Cole W. Sandridge.”

A 1960’s-era view of the north side of Crozet’s first hospital, constructed in 1909 for Dr. A. Bledsoe Wayland. Courtesy Phil James Historical Images.

A valuable personal recollection from this time of transition was provided by Lillian Gentry Kessler Bondurant. Lillian, a daughter of John W. Sr. and Lelia Mays Gentry, was born in 1901 on her Gentry grandparents’ farm in Mint Springs Valley. “When I was about five or six years old, all of us children came down with measles except my oldest brother Emmett who may have had the measles earlier. There was no way to escape what was a family epidemic for us, and soon I joined the infirmary. My sisters and brothers fared better than I did, though, for I developed pneumonia in both lungs. Double-pneumonia they called it, which was especially serious because the measles rash wouldn’t break out.

“I was critically ill when old Dr. Jones rode up in his buggy to use every remedy in his little black bag, but nothing seemed to help. After a while, Dr. Jones told Momma and Poppa that, although he had done all that he could, there was no hope for my recovery.

“One of Momma’s friends had come to stay a few days to help nurse the sick ones. With those words from Dr. Jones, she and my parents determined not to give up, but instead to send Emmett on horseback for a young doctor in the village who came right away, also on horseback. This Dr. Wayland was a familiar figure in Crozet riding with his saddlebags across his horse to visit his patients. At some time in his youth, an accident to one of his legs had resulted in a stiff knee, so he rode with the stirrup to his saddle let out full length to accommodate that stiff leg.

“Dr. Wayland came in already rolling up his sleeves and asked for a tub to be filled with real hot water and a couple of wool blankets. These blankets were kept hot one at a time, rung out of the water and then wrapped around me. I don’t know how long this treatment lasted but it brought out the measles rash and I began to show signs of recovery.

These now-crumbling steps originally served Dr. A. Bledsoe Wayland’s Crozet Hospital, 1909-1915. During that period, this section of Crozet Avenue was named Miller School Avenue/Road. Photo: Phil James.

“Dr. Wayland had a nurse, Mrs. Wyant, and I remember her real well. He brought this lovely lady to our house to care for me as long as she was needed. She stayed in the room with me, the big room which was Momma’s and Poppa’s bedroom/living room, with me in their big bed. She took complete care of me, even to preparing my meals, Momma would tell me.”

To understand the value of a local hospital, one need only ask those who must travel great distances to seek critical or emergency care. During an era still defined by primitive means of travel and poor roads, Wayland’s new hospital (alternately referred to in period media as Crozet Hospital, Dr. Wayland’s Hospital, and Dr. Wayland’s Sanitorium) was like a Godsend shining on a hill, providing hope, help and extended care to the sick and injured.

Long before HIPPA’s privacy laws, newspapers regularly reported accounts of accidents and sicknesses in the community. In January 1910, when E.H. Storm sustained serious injuries from being thrown by a horse near Mechum’s River depot, he was carried to “Dr. Wayland’s Hospital” in critical condition. At that same time just across town, little Elizabeth Ellison was “ill from scarlet fever,” while Crozet building contractor W.M. Jarman “has recuperated from his recent illness.” In March 1910, “Kenneth Dowell, a young farmer of Greenwood, this county, died yesterday at the Crozet Hospital, after an illness of six weeks of typhoid fever, aged 23.”

“Charlie Wiant, who has charge of the store of Mr. James W. Early at Mt. Fair, met with a serious accident late yesterday afternoon,” reported the local paper in June 1911. “Mr. Wiant was riding horseback near his place of business when his attention was drawn to an automobile which was behind him, and while looking back the horse stumbled and fell, throwing Mr. Wiant to the ground and rolling on him, breaking both bones in one leg below the knee.

“Mr. Wiant was brought here to ‘Dr. Wayland’s Sanitorium’ and attended by Drs. Wayland and [William F. Sr.] Carter, of this place, and Dr. [James M.] Melton of White Hall.”

A great sadness befell the region with the announcement in January 1915 of the passing of Bledsoe Wayland. “He had been in declining health for several years,” stated his obituary. “Dr. Wayland had practiced his profession successfully for 16 years at Crozet, with the exception of one year spent in San Antonio, Texas, where he went two years ago for the benefit of his health. Before the breaking down of his health, he was one of the leading public spirits of Crozet.” 

Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2021 Phil James 

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