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Hammond General Hospital
(Vernalis Reconditioning Center, Vernalis Branch Prisoner of War Camp)
 
 

On 2 March 1942, the initial acreage required for the establishment of Hammond General Hospital was acquired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) by fee purchase from the County of Stanislaus with an additional 40 acres acquired on 16 June 1942 by condemnation proceedings against the Modesto Irrigation District. Almost immediately after acquiring the first parcel of land, the USACE began building the 2,540 bed general hospital using standard Quartermaster Corps (who had the U.S. Army’s general construction mission prior to 4 December 1941) and USACE 700-, 800-, and 1100-series plans for wood framed wards, clinics, barracks, and support buildings. On the eastern portion of the hospital, a cantonment area using mostly TOS-series buildings was constructed for hospital patient and garrison overflow as well as for Army Ground Forces units training at the hospital. Hammond General Hospital specialized in neurology, general and orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery and psychiatry. On 6 March 1943, the hospital was designated as one of five thoracic surgery centers, and the only one on the West Coast. The center remained at Hammond General Hospital until August 1944 when it was transferred to Baxter General Hospital in Spokane, Washington. Hammond General Hospital also maintained six “detention wards” for the mentally ill and a prison ward, all of which were surrounded by security fencing.

The hospital was named in honor of Brigadier General William Alexander Hammond (1828-1900), who was appointed as the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. Hammond energetically began reforming the Medical Department. He eliminated much of the red tape of the prewar service, created the general hospital service, saw that competent medical men were appointed to high-level positions, provided assistance and medical information to surgeons in the field, and oversaw the establishment of an efficient ambulance corps. Hammond also created two large government operated drug laboratories to produce high quality medicines for the army. Hammond could be autocratic and tactless, and he clashed with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. As a result, Stanton had him court-martialed on a petty charge and dismissed from the army in August 1864. After the Civil War, Hammond was the primary impetus behind the founding of the American Neurological Association and his signature was the first listed on the original membership invitation letter of 1874. Hammond's court-martial was overturned in 1878 by an act of Congress, and he was restored to the rank of brigadier general. He was placed on the retired list the following year and continued his efforts to advance the field of neurology.

In addition to the hospital’s permanent garrison, Service Command Unit (SCU) 1975, at least two Army Ground Forces units, the 47th and 77th Field Hospitals, were stationed at Hammond General Hospital prior to their deployment overseas. SCU 1975 was subordinate to the Army Service Forces’ 9th Service Command headquartered at Fort Douglas, Utah.

By 1945, the Hammond General Hospital was a 2,556-bed facility with approximately 240 buildings and other structures, including 78 wards, clinics, barracks, offices, warehouses, 6 mess halls, pump houses, and utility shops. The building inventory is presented in Table 3-2 and the general layout is shown in figures 3-1 through 3-5.

4,427 linear feet of railway siding that spurs off of Southern Pacific Railroad Fresno Line used for patient and freight transportation; road system consists of 1,796 square yards of paved (bituminous) roads, 18,276 square yards of gravel roads, and 30,286 square yards of paved parking and storage area;

The 31 December 1945 War Department report, Owned, Leased and Sponsored Facilities, Hammond General Hospital is shown to have operated a convalescent section and a 250 man prisoner of war branch camp located near the town of Vernalis. This information is included in this report for operational history purposes only and this site is not otherwise included in this report.

In December 1945 Hammond General Hospital was closed by the U.S. Army. With the closing of the hospital, the State of California set its eyes on the facility as a possible state mental hospital. On 20 December 1945, Governor Earl Warren sent a telegraph to the Federal Surplus Property Administration (after March 1946, the War Assets Administration (WAA)) expressing an interest in acquiring the former Hammond General Hospital for that purpose. On 9 April 1946, the USACE reported the Site as surplus to the needs of the U.S. Army to the WAA who assumed jurisdiction over the Site.

In a letter dated 19 April 1946 to Lieutenant General E.B. Gregory, Chairman of the WAA; General Omar N. Bradley, Director of the Veterans Administration, waived any claim to the hospital, thus clearing the way for the State of California to obtain the Site. On 17 November 1946, the WAA granted a Right of Entry to the State of California to begin the process of converting the former Hammond General Hospital into a state hospital pending a formal transfer of the facility. Through the WAA, the former Hammond General Hospital and its assets (i.e., medical and support equipment) were quitclaim deeded to the State of California on 20 October 1947, who operated it as the Modesto State Hospital under the Department of Mental Hygiene (After 1971, Department of Mental Health) until 1970.

On 6 and 10 August 1970, the State of California respectively quitclaimed the former Hammond General Hospital/Modesto State Hospital to the Yosemite Junior College District and the County of Stanislaus. On 17 March 1947 and 12 October 1978, the County of Stanislaus quitclaimed two parcels to the Yosemite Junior College District. The Yosemite Junior College District developed their portions of the Site into the West Campus of Modesto Junior College. The County of Stanislaus has developed their portion of the former Hammond General Hospital/Modesto State Hospital into a consolidated juvenile justice center.

Known Units at Hammond General Hospital
 
Service Command Unit 1975
47th Field Hospital
77th Field Hospital
 
Updated 18 May 2008
 
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