Gaston & Catawba

Old orthopedic hospital was strict home for disabled kids

If you drive south on New Hope Road in Gastonia, you might notice an imposing building on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. That building is the old N.C. Orthopedic Hospital, which was home to disabled children from across the state from 1921 until it closed in 1979.

One of those children would grow up to become my wife, Linda Johnston. She says that she and the other kids had a very rigid schedule, rising at 6a.m. for baths and breakfast, followed by extensive therapy for the rest of the day. They had strict visiting policies, allowing visits only on Wednesdays and Sundays – and then, only adults were allowed to visit.

Family members also had the option of signing the patients out for the weekend.

Discipline was severe, too, and many practices would not be tolerated today. Linda says one discipline tactic they used was placing the kids in the “dog house,” a dark supply closet, for the night. “I definitely knew my way around the dog house,” she says. A couple of offenses that got her a night in the dog house included wheelchair racing with the other patients and crying after her aunt, Hazel Franks Johnson, would return her after the weekend.

While she says many of the staff members were very strict, she had two favorite nurses, Grace Raby and Louise Williams Carrington, who she says put a lot of love and care into their work.

The hospital was started in 1921, after local businessman Roy Babington read a newspaper article about a widowed woman whose disabled child was turned away from an orphanage because the state lacked a facility equipped to care for disabled children. He successfully pushed for a facility, and today a monument still stands on the property.

Former staff members include orthopedic surgeons Dr. William Moorefield and Dr. George Miller, both of Charlotte.

The late singing cowboy, Fred Kirby of Charlotte's WBTV, was a frequent visitor and would entertain the children as well as take them to the circus.

In 1970 Linda left the Orthopedic Hospital for good, when her aunt Hazel and her grandparents Charlie and Sally Franks took her to live with them. She returned for outpatient therapy until the hospital closed in 1979. Today Pathways offices occupy the main building while another building is used for an adult day care facility.