HISTORY REPEATED: St. Ignatius Manor Hospital: A history abandoned

Everyone might feel better about their lives if they were provided with an ethereal sign from time to time. Maybe that's why ghost hunters do what they do, and provide ghost hunting spectators with all the drama that comes from hand-held video cameras and overactive imaginations.

But the catalyst has always been the location - primarily the structure and its history.

That could have been what drew me and some friends to the old St. Ignatius hospital in Colfax. We couldn't imagine a greater structure with a history crafted around life and death and time.

When we got to the structure, which I had only heard about that same night some several years ago, I was amazed at how massive St. Ignatius actually is - being as it's tucked away just off the highway in a small residential area.

The spoiler is that while we were looking for ghosts - some more seriously than others - it was only our overactive imaginations that materialized throughout St. Ignatius' hollowed hallways.

But it wasn't all for not.

In the end, I realized the one thing that kept me intrigued about St. Ignatius - aside from its eery charm - was being able to imagine people there when the building had been in its prime and a contribution to the community.

This place had once been the first and only hospital in Whitman County - where the wounds of the past were mended and generations continued to give birth to new generations.

But to look at it now, St. Ignatius is broken and battered. The hallways that circulate this structure are infected with asbestos and all airways are - at least in theory- blocked.

With a little help from Edwin Garretson with the Whitman County Historical Society and Edith Erickson's "Colfax, 100 Plus," I was able to realize what St. Ignatius had once been and appreciate what I had seen in my brief, impulsive visit there, rather than foolishly regret the apparitions that never appeared.

The Catholic Church decided it would build a hospital in Whitman County in 1892 and settled on Colfax, but also looked at Palouse and Pullman. Colfax was lucky enough to have the only resident priest in Whitman County.

In our "spirit quest," we chanced around the main building, walking on crunchy, frozen long grass toward what seemed like a mini barn we thought might provide a glimpse of a haunted spector. We found the barn crammed full with assorted junk. I only recently found out that, while we were correct in assuming it was a storage shed, it had been used for medical purposes in 1893 when construction of the hospital was delayed. It became pretty much what it is now over time after the hospital was completed in 1894.

The hospital became self-sustaining in 1908. In that same year, the Mother General of the Order of Providence approved expansion of the facility.

The second and third stories became patient floors, which I found most interesting since the rooms here seemed - in the present - to still resonate with life. St. Ignatius shut down in 1964 when it faced either extensive remodeling or losing its license. An amazing effort began - not to save St. Ignacius, but to build a new facility, which was successful. St. Ignatius, like all saints, died. Whatever equipment was salvageable, like organs in the body, was transported to the Whitman Community Hospital, which opened in 1968.

St. Ignatius was left to decay while the only news that seemed to present itself to the building was whenever a group of juveniles went traipsing past its "Do Not Enter" signs. I don't know if being a college student at the time made things better, but I don't regret the memories I gathered from the place.

Finally heeding the asbestos warnings, we settled on these patient floors - avoiding the fourth floor where operations took place - with rooms that seemed as if they had been hastily vacated. Scattered among mattresses and tiny pieces of furniture, we found boxes of old letters (likely belonging to those who spent their final days here) and tiny trinkets and treasures.

It was the letters that fascinated me. Letters from children to grandparents. Letters from sons and daughters to fathers and mothers. Letters from friends wishing the ill a swift recovery. Each letter was an expression of the time when they were written, the history of the people they addressed and the sentiments the writers felt toward their recipients.

While the walls lining the hallways of St. Ignatius are tattered and molded, the wallpaper only peppering certain places, and the rooms are musty and an unflattering yellow, I can't help but feel there is history left there to be salvaged. It seems unfair that it is boarded up and all of its artifacts are entombed inside. True, St. Ignatius would look better - from a real estate point-of-view - flattened and hauled to the dump, but I can't help but feel that this old hospital was the victim of lofty dreams in a time no one is alive to remember.

Still, it stares at the cars passing by toward the thoroughfare of Colfax, and maybe more like me wonder about its presence.

This history abandoned.

Brandon Macz is the Slice editor for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

Recommended for you