How KU Med came to KCK (and not Topeka)

The old Eleanor Taylor Bell Memorial Hospital was a precursor to KU Med.
The old Eleanor Taylor Bell Memorial Hospital was a precursor to KU Med.

Dr. Simeon Bell was New Jersey-born, Ohio-educated and thus Missouri-bushwhacked.

Quantrill’s boys rang Bell’s bell, so to speak, twice.

Beaten so badly during the unpleasantness between the states, he went back East to have two skull fractures repaired with a metal plate.

In 1866, the sirens of Kansas lured him back, but not to his burned-out home/office/store in Aubrey in Johnson County. This time he settled on a quarter section in Turkey Creek Valley.

This was the little Rosedale community, now the neighborhood in southeast Kansas City, Kan.

Eventually, he foresaw more gain in land sales than grain being reaped from his farm. He lobbied for a Southwest Boulevard, grading the first 100-foot-wide section diagonally across his property.

Many distrusted going off the street grid, he’d recall. “They told me I’d have to employ an army of men to keep down the weeds as no one would travel such a crazy road.”

Travel it they did, and purchased his lots, too. Railroad tracks followed. By 1894, he was wealthy enough to donate a multileveled tract of his third subdivision.

Besides land, the civic-minded Rosedalian put up cash for a hospital and medical school. Some lawmakers resented the proximity to Missouri, but they were too cheap to counter Bell’s ever-increasing benevolence. Others recognized the advantages of being near a big city.

Sealing the deal, Kansas City Medical College (founded in 1869), Medico-Chirurgical College (1896) and the College of Physicians and Surgeons (1893) of Kansas City Kansas merged to provide the second two years of clinical training.

So in 1906 on “Goat Hill” came a 24-bed, three-story, homey affair with wide verandas. It was called the Eleanor Taylor Bell Memorial Hospital (she’d died soon after her husband brought her back to Kansas).

Three years later, Rosedale’s pride had graduated 111 doctors and its first four nurses. They’d gotten their science courses at Lawrence. Two “half schools,” derided one critic, both weak. But better than Kansas Medical College in Topeka, with its “indescribably filthy” dissecting room populated by a “single, badly hacked cadaver,” he said, “simultaneously used as a chicken yard.” The room, not the body, we hope.

Goat Hill saw two red-brick buildings added, but space on the “rocky promontory” proved cramped, paths steep and the railroad smoke irritating.

Topeka clucked about moving the school there among the chickens, but by 1920, Rosedale stepped up, bidding a truck farm and wine garden at 39th Street and Rainbow Boulevard. The new Bell Memorial Hospital opened in 1924.

The old place eventually assumed subsidiary medical roles until it was razed in 1972. Today, construction cranes swing above the newest building project nestled among the more than 40 structures near 39th Avenue and Rainbow Boulevard, shared by the University of Kansas Medical Center and the University of Kansas Health System. Ceremonies this spring saw about 800 graduates from medicine, nursing and other health professions on the med center campus.