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Column: St. James Hospital cared for 40,000 patients

The St. James Hospital stood at the corner of Fifth Street and Sixth Avenue SW in Perham for more than 90 years.

Built in 1902 at the request of Dr. Frank Brabec, it was constructed of yellow brick from a local brickyard owned by August Haut. Many turn-of-the-century buildings in Perham were built from this yellow brick, and a few still remain.

The St. James Hospital was built by the Franciscan Sisters, whose primary concern was function. Nonetheless, the structure had a pleasing symmetry, and the bricklayer, named Alex Nelson, topped each window with a graceful arch.

Above the main entrance was a bell tower. The bell was used to summon the doctor who lived across town. In 1925, a new wing was added to the building, which botched the original symmetry but greatly increased the ability of the hospital to serve the growing area. The 60-foot addition contained an elevator and many other modern features of the day. This addition was also built by Alex Nelson.

The hospital served the village of Perham and surrounding communities for more than 50 years. Although it was managed by the Franciscan Sisters, it was described in Mason’s History of Otter Tail County as “a public institution, being maintained by donations from Catholics and their friends for the benefit of the public generally irrespective of religious beliefs.”

The building contained 70 rooms and was always filled. 

By the late 1950s, it was necessary to build a new hospital to conform to the burgeoning regulations for medical facilities. St. James became a home for the aged. It continued to be staffed by the Franciscan Sisters until, finally, they gave the St. James building, land, and a cash donation to the community.   

Once a new nursing home was built, the St. James building was left vacant (except for storage of medical records and supplies). In 1989, hospital district representatives voted to demolish St. James, but delayed doing so at the request of local citizens and because of a lack of money. It was eventually demolished in 1993.

St. James Hospital played an important role in the history of healthcare in the Perham community. During the half-century that it flourished, it cared for close to 40,000 patients.

Lina Belar is the founder and retired executive director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.