LOST COKATO: THE COKATO HOSPITAL
(Editors note: This article is in no way intended to be a complete history of the Cokato Hospital. It is only intended to provide a general overview of this venerable institution's story.)
For almost fifty years, a hospital served the people of Cokato and the surrounding townships and communities. Located at the corner of Third Street and Swanson Avenue, just east of downtown, the Cokato Hospital played a vital role by providing much needed medical services.
An imposing two-story structure, the hospital was originally built sometime during the late 1880s as a private residence for the A. W. L. Almquist family. The Peter Stevenson family later resided there. The demolition of this structure, beginning in December 2003, gave countless people the opportunity to recall their memories of this place.
The story of the hospital begins in the summer of 1914, when the July 14 edition of Cokato Enterprise announced that local doctor O. A. Kvello purchased the Stevenson home with the intention of turning the structure into a “modern hospital.” Kvello also bought one acre of adjoining property.
Kvello was not new to Cokato. He had an existing practice, in operation since the fall of 1913.
Work on the hospital began in the late summer of 1914. Kvello and his partner, Dr. Reagan of Minneapolis, stated that they would spare “no expense or effort...in transforming the building into a strictly modern hospital, and that the grounds will be greatly beautified…”
The hospital officially opened on December 7, 1914. A large crowd visited the facility throughout the day, the Enterprise reported. The Stockholm Orchestra provided musical entertainment.
Kvello ran the hospital until September 1917, when it was purchased by the Cokato Hospital Association. The genesis of the association is not clear. Their treasurer’s books indicate that in the fall of 1917, they began selling stock shares to finance the purchase. Numerous individuals and institutions bought shares, including Dr. Kvello. The association ran the hospital for just over two years.
In late October 1919, local doctor Oscar (O. J. R.) Freed and a partner purchased the hospital from the association. By all accounts, Dr. Freed was a respected practitioner of medicine, building the hospital into a first-rate facility during his tenure there.
Sadly, Freed died in November 1932 at the age of 47. In 1995, Jo Ann Hannah, Dr. Freed’s grand-daughter, donated to the museum the bear-skin lap robe he used when making house calls in his carriage.
Following Freed was Dr. Arthur Thompson. Dr. Thompson began operating the hospital in 1934. He purchased the facility outright in December 1936 from Dr. Freed’s widow, Agnes. Thompson himself ran the hospital for seventeen years, until early 1951. At that time, for financial reasons, Thompson proposed turning the facility into a rest home.
The Cokato Association for Public Affairs (a forerunner of the Cokato Area Chamber of Commerce) intervened, organizing a drive to build a fund for keeping the hospital open. The unique aspect of the drive was that the association asked not for donations, but for loans—which were to be paid back with interest. In less than two months, the drive netted $43,000.
The beneficiary of this effort was Dr. Theodore Greenfield of Delano, who purchased the hospital in late May 1951. Greenfield’s time in Cokato lasted just over fifteen years.
The last chapter of the story of the hospital opened in the December 8, 1966 Cokato Enterprise. On page one of that edition, the following statement appeared: “If the Village will operate the hospital, Dr. Greenfield will stay and practice in Cokato. If the Village does not see fit to operate the hospital, Dr. Greenfield plans to terminate his practice in Cokato.”
The village decided not to act upon Greenfield’s offer.
The hospital saw the final babies born there on January 28, 1967, and the last patients the week of February 15, before closing its doors for the final time.
While the actual building survived, and saw a number of uses over the next three decades, for many, the structure would always be know as “the old hospital.”
The final post-script for this story arrived in 2003, when—-after too many years of decay—-the structure was deemed uninhabitable and slated for demolition. The local building inspector estimated that over $300,000 of repairs were necessary to bring the building up to code. It took less than a week for another icon of Cokato’s past to fall victim to the wrecking ball.
©2005, Cokato Historical Society