Burley Hospital closed in 1922 and for 15 years Almont was without a hospital. In 1937, Dr. Gilbert Clare Bishop opened Bishop Hospital at 409 East St. Clair Street.
Dr. Bishop was born in Almont in 1899 on the family farm on Bordman Road southwest of town. He completed his medical training and returned to Almont to open his practice. His office was initially above the Almont Saving Bank on Main Street (109 South Main Street). As his family grew, he bought the James Ferguson property on East St. Clair Street and moved his office and family there. In 1937, Dr. Bishop bought the Mark Braidwood farm located just south of the Village limits on Van Dyke (5331 South Van Dyke Road) and moved his growing family there.
The house on East St. Clair was then converted into Bishop Hospital. It had a surgery, maternity ward, patient rooms with 14 beds, exam rooms and waiting area.
Dr. Bishop served as Chief Surgeon and administrator. Mrs. Agnes A. Haag supervised the hospital staff and also acted as the hospital’s bookkeeper. The hospital served over 33,000 people in the Almont and surrounding area.
Dr. Bishop was a renowned surgeon. He was considered to be one of the ten best surgeons in the State of Michigan. His reputation brought people from all over the state to Bishop Hospital for treatment.
Fran Bannister recently told me the story of her experience in Bishop Hospital after giving birth to son Mark. At that time, it was standard practice to keep mothers in the hospital for five days after giving birth. On what I assume was a Sunday, Fran was expecting to be released the next day and there was only one nurse, Mrs. Leona Eagling, in the hospital. In a short period of time, three very pregnant ladies came into the hospital to give birth. Accompanying one of the women was an elderly man who got sick when one of the women’s water broke. Leona desperately needed help but couldn’t leave the patients. Fran stepped in and called an on-call doctor in Capac and another in Imlay City for help.
When my father was 32 years old, he needed his tonsils removed. He checked into the hospital and Dr. Bishop scheduled the surgery. He was prepped for surgery and then taken into the surgery. He was seated on a stool and Dr. Bishop sat on a stool in front of him. Doctor took a porcelain coated metal bowl with water in it and balanced in on their knees. He snipped one of dad’s tonsils and dropped it in the bowl. My father laughed and doctor snapped at him, “Don’t do that. You want to bleed to death?” Doctor then removed the second tonsil, stitched him up, and sent him to bed. My family got to see him the next day but we were outside on the porch on the west side of the hospital and talked to him through the window. The porcelain bowl used in dad’s surgery is now part of the Dr. Bishop display at the Imlay City Historical Museum.
In the early 1950s, improvements in medicine, more people having health insurance, and increased government regulations were causing the closing of small rural hospitals, such as Bishop Hospital. Drs. Burley and Bishop along with Leon Bishop and James D. Ligon organized a group to fund the construction of what would become Community Hospital. From beginning to end, it took six years to gather the funds and construct the hospital building, which was located south of Almont.
When Community Hospital opened in January 1959, Bishop Hospital closed. Dr. Bishop became Chief of Staff and Chief Surgeon at Community Hospital but kept the building on East St. Clair as the location of his office. Dr. Merle Bennett Haney joined Dr. Bishop’s practice in July 1960. Drs. Bishop and Haney saw patients at their office.
People would go to Dr. Bishop’s office for minor illnesses (colds, the flu, measles, mumps, chicken pocks) and vaccines. If the illness was serious, Dr. Bishop would send them to Community Hospital for treatment. During the 1960s, sports team members would go to their office for sports physicals. The “Country Doctor” in Dr. Bishop meant that he still made house calls. He finally retired in 1984 and closed his office.
I remember Dr. Bishop having big, strong hands that were extremely gentle when they touched a patient. His voice, which could be booming when he was singing in the First Congregational Church choir, was soft and calming when talking to a frightened patient.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s Homecoming book, “Remembrances of Almont 2020”can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.