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Whitehead-Stokes Sanatorium

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History of the Whitehead-Stokes Sanatorium

Dr. Marcellus Whitehead came to Salisbury from Virginia in 1835 and established a general practice, but he was able to tend to various specialties such as surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and others.  He was considered quite competent in all fields.  His office was located on West Council Street and later in Cowan’s Brick Row.  He served on the town board and as chairman of the board of health.  In 1846 he married Virginia Coleman of Amherst Virginia.   Dr. Whitehead served as chief surgeon in the Wayside Hospital set up during the Civil War.  He died in January of 1885. 

Whitehead had two sons who were also physicians.   John was not only a gifted physician but also an adept businessman.  He was well liked and considered to have an excellent bedside manner.  His brother Richard received his medical training at the University of Virginia.  He entered into a partnership with his brother, but in 1890, went to the University of North Carolina to serve as Dean of the Medical School. 

A need for a general hospital became apparent in the 1890’s.  The Wayside Hospital set up during the Civil War had closed shortly after the conclusion of the war.  The first site for a new hospital was in the Smithdeal house on South Main.  In 1897, John Whitehead purchased the property at the corner of Liberty and Fulton and began plans to build the Sanatorium in collaboration with Dr. J. W. Long.  But there were problems between the two doctors and a third doctor opened a small hospital in the Shober House, which operated until August of 1900.  By 1899, though, Dr. Whitehead, minus Dr. Long, opened his Sanatorium.  Late in 1899, Dr. J. Ernest Stokes, who had studied medicine at Johns Hopkins and in Germany, came to Salisbury, married Rebecca Neave Marsh, and began to practice surgery.  He formed an association with Whitehead to form the Whitehead-Stokes Sanatorium.  Starting with a facility with 40 beds, they enlarged to a 60-bed capacity within a few years. 

Even so, by 1921, the hospital was too small.  The Salisbury Hospital, Incorporated, was formed but a bond issue put before the voters in 1926 was defeated.  Dr. Whitehead died in April of that year and left Dr. Stokes to cope the best he could.  The depression brought on huge problems for the hospital, and in 1932, citizens organized the Rowan General Hospital, Inc., a non-profit organization with a nine-member board of trustees.  The trustees leased the sanatorium and were able to qualify for funding from the Duke Endowment for help with patient care. 

By 1934, it was still not enough.  Burton Craige, a Salisbury native who resided in Winston-Salem told Dr. Stokes that he would like to see a new hospital in Salisbury and he would contribute to building a new facility.  A fund-raising effort was made with solicitations as gifts in the form of memorials to the families and loved one of the donors.  Dr. Stokes was an active part of this process.   With help from the Duke Foundation and the entire community, the new Rowan Memorial Hospital opened in July of 1936. 


Auxiliary to the Rowan-Davie Counties Medical Society.  Rowan and Davie Counties: Story of Medicine 1753-1976  Salisbury: Salisbury Printing Company, 1979