The Ricks home was leased to the board of the St. Francis Hospital in 1907, treating the workers in local industries like milling, fishing, and factory workers. Over the course of the building’s history particularly as it converted from a home to a hospital, it was modified to fit the expected designs for hospitals at the time- clean lines without fancy Victorian trim. In its three years of operation, it conducted an “unprecedented kidney operation” and was widely regarded as a top hospital in the area, before its poor financial state caused it to merge with another hospital, Sequoia Hospital. It was then leased to the YWCA, offering important services to local women and families throughout town, which was greatly assisted by the building’s location in the heart of Eureka and easily accessible.
Part of working at a museum is taking occasional field trips to other local history institutions, including the friendly neighborhood Humboldt County Historical Society, which is located in the Barnum House at 703 H Street. I have the great fortune of living nearby, and on a walk over to the Historical Society a few weeks back, took a good look at the house just across H Street from the Barnum House at 730 H Street.
It’s a pretty plain looking house, an old one from the turn of the century for sure, probably broken up into apartments now like so many of the old Victorian homes around town (including mine!). It’s a somewhat strange looking building, the building being perfectly symmetrical except for a recent addition to the back of the home.
Later on that day, I was sifting through the photo collections at the Clarke and came across another notably strange looking symmetrical building, painted in dark colors with a white sign reading St. Francis Hospital. It was the same building- with only slight differences in appearance with the passage of time.
I looked more into it and found out that not only was the building a historic home, it was on the National Register of Historic Places for a couple of impressive reasons – it was determined to be one of the greatest examples of the Eastlake architectural style built by architects Fred B. and Walter Butterfield, who built a number of impressive and unique Eastlake homes around Eureka, housed Eureka’s first privately owned hospital, a boarding house, and Humboldt County’s first (and only) Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A) headquarters.
The building was originally built for the family of Thomas Ricks, who was a wealthy landowner and business owner in Eureka- interestingly enough, his wife Eva was also a large scale landowner, and managed her own holdings separate from her husband, which was unusual for the time.
One of the things I love about Eureka is all of the historic homes nestled in our neighborhoods- unassuming, but each with their own interesting stories to tell- you just have to keep your eyes peeled.
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