This Week In Illinois History: Army Abandons Massive Hospital Complex (September 20, 1946)
September 20, 1946, saw the end of the Mayo General Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois. This massive, sprawling complex occupied 99 buildings across 155 acres and was one of 60 Army hospitals built during World War II. For safety, the Army distributed its hospitals far from major population centers, and Galesburg was 200 miles from both Chicago and St. Louis.
Construction on the $5.5 million project began in May 1943. Seventy-seven brick buildings were completed by December. The complex was named after the Doctors William and Charles Mayo, brothers who had served in the Army’s Medical Reserve Corp and helped their father establish the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
When wounded soldiers arrived in February 1945, they found a complex operating like a small city, complete with a library, post office, chapel, movie theater and gym. The hospital treated over 18,000 patients. But when the war ended, the army designated its hospitals as surplus. On September 20, 1946, it abandoned Mayo General Hospital to the state of Illinois.
In 1947, the University of Illinois converted the complex into a satellite campus, enrolling 3,000 students, many of them disabled vets. But U of I canceled the program in 1949.
In 1950, the Illinois Department of Public Welfare converted the complex into the Galesburg State Research Hospital, specializing in mental health. The hospital operated until 1985. Today, many of the original brick buildings exist as an office park.