Then and Now: Dr. William Baldwin Fletcher’s Sanatorium “Neuronhurst” 1140 E. Market Street

Written by on November 10, 2011 in Then & Now - 4 Comments
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Fletcher’s Sanatorium, known as Neuronhurst after 1904, was one of Indianapolis’s first private hospitals for the treatment of nervous and mental diseases in Indiana. (Norway’s Sanatorium was another early facility.) Dr. William B. Fletcher, a son of Indianapolis pioneer Calvin Fletcher, opened his private hospital in 1888 on Pennsylvania Street and eventually moved to Alabama Street in a house on the current site of the old Indianapolis City Hall (most recently used as the interim library). Fletcher worked closely with Dr. Mary A. Spink, who eventually became his business partner.

In the late 1890s, the Sanatorium purchased this large Second Empire-style house on the northwest corner of E. Market Street and N. Highland Avenue to house the women’s sanatorium. Also at about this time, Fletcher and Spink started training nurses in the Neuronhurst training school for nurses located at 126 N. Highland Avenue, just north of this house.

In about 1903 Neuronhurst, presumably named after neurons which are the basic building blocks of the nervous system, expanded on the eastside site. Dr. Spink’s brother, Edgar G. Spink, moved to Indianapolis to serve as construction manager for a new hospital. Spink would remain in the city and become known as a developer and manager of many hotels and apartment buildings such as The Lodge and the Spink-Arms Hotel. Through the years, the older house on the corner would house Edgar Spink, W. B. Fletcher and his family, and various hospital staff and nurses. (1914 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, IUPUI Library)

The new, three-story and basement brick hospital could house up to 50 voluntary and committed patients. Census records show that there was a very high nurse-to-patient ratio and advertisements promised close personal supervision with minimal restraint. Like many modern hospitals of the era, Neuronhurst provided pleasant surroundings with gardens, a solarium, balconies, and screened-in sleeping porches for fresh air and sunshine. Treatment included a careful diet and plenty of exercise in the gymnasium and swimming pool.

Later ads and articles indicate that the sanatorium also specialized in overcoming alcohol addiction. Many people attended the institution to get relief from business and daily stresses and enjoyed the therapeutic baths (saline, Turkish, steam, light ray, and ozone) and massages. Neuronhurst was nationally known and ads in the New York Times indicate that rates varied from $50 to 65 per month.

After working together for nearly twenty years, Dr. Mary Spink took over as president after Dr. Fletcher’s death in 1907. Spink pioneered the way for Indiana women who wished to practice medicine. She was assisted at the sanatorium by her sister, Dr. Urbana Spink, who was also a neuro-psychiatrist. Their aging mother, Rosanna Morgan Spink, helped manage the nurses and lived at 126 N. Highland Avenue. Both sisters lived at the institute, but traveled extensively overseas and to a cottage in Florida. Mary was an active suffragist and active with many medical associations.

This snapshot shows two 1920s nursing students identified as “Naylor” and Ethel Brewster, who graduated from the Neuronhurst Nursing School in 1926. Brewster would marry Lawrence Fox, who lived in a house across the street from Neuronhurst (the Fox family ran the nearby Fox’s Jail House Tavern). (Posted on Flickr by TwoGuysonPots)

Here, Ethel (Brewster) Fox and Naylor pose in their nurses uniforms with the old mansion in the background. The older woman between them looks like Dr. Mary A. Spink. The sanatorium suffered from a loss of patients during the Depression and after Spink’s death in 1939 the hospital closed. In the 1940s the buildings were used by the Medical Health Center Hospital, operated by the Indianapolis Public Health Department. The structures were demolished in the 1950s.  (Posted on Flickr by TwoGuysonPots)

Today a large, unidentified building sits on the old Neuronhurst site in the Holy Cross Neighborhood. Google searches indicate that it is occupied by Mid-America Elevator Company and the Holt Foundation.

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About the Author

Joan Hostetler and John Harris own Heritage Photo & Research Services. The company specializes in house and building research and historic photograph preservation, interpretation, archiving, and digitization. Since they see so many cool photographs tucked away in attics and basements, they recently created "The Indiana Album" to borrow, scan, and share hidden Indiana images with the public. Like them on facebook or send them an email to share your photographs.

4 Comments on "Then and Now: Dr. William Baldwin Fletcher’s Sanatorium “Neuronhurst” 1140 E. Market Street"

  1. Sandra Jarvis November 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm · Reply

    OMG, what a great article Joan. I’m sickened by the demo of these AMAZING BUILDINGS and if this were a private conversations a lot of $%^*! words would be used.

    Awesome research and photos! I’m fascinated by the Sanitariums.

  2. Susan Neikirk August 23, 2012 at 9:48 am · Reply

    a relative of my husbands died at Fletcher’s in 1904. Do you know if there are any records left anywhere for that time period?

  3. Joan Hostetler August 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm · Reply

    Susan, So far I have not found any old records from Neuronhurst. I suspect that the Marion County Health Department might have tossed them or possibly has later records squirreled away someplace. You might check with the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana State Library.

  4. R.M. Steele April 24, 2015 at 6:01 pm · Reply

    My Great Grandmother died at the Fletcher Sanitorium in 1910. She had pernious anemia.

    Yours is the first article I have found. Marion Co has no death record for her. Very odd.

    She had been ill for quite some time. She was 51. The obit matched family lore.

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