Babies Hospital at entrance to Wrightsville Beach is now history.
January 30, 2004
Area residents experienced strong emotions this past weekend as the former
Babies Hospital on Wrightsville Avenue was demolished over a period of three
Since 1978, the 77-year-old building had housed offices, but for years prior to that, babies and children from across the state were treated for a variety of illnesses and injuries. While some people simply attributed the loss of the building to progress, others were deeply saddened, and many were even angered over the demise of the historic structure.
Demolition was to have actually begun Thursday afternoon, but had reportedly been delayed because city officials questioned whether or not the contractors had installed the required silt fences and sufficiently protected the large oak trees surrounding the building. According to the city of Wilmington’s planning manager, Kaye Graybeal, construction inspector Arley Day of the city’s engineering department visited the demolition site to make sure everything was in order prior to the beginning of the demolition. “He did go out there and find that there were silt fences up,” said Graybeal, who then read the following e-mail she had received from Day: “A silt fence has been installed between the building and the creek (an orange fence that prevents the silt from spreading into the creek). This protects most of the trees on the site. There’s one evergreen tree, about 10 inches in diameter, between the building and Eastwood Road. This tree has a ‘do not cross’ tape around it, but the inspector thinks the tree is too close to the building for reasonable tree protection to be effective.”
Graybeal said Day told her there was nothing more that could be done to prevent damage to that one tree, and no citations were issued.
A small group of people, most clutching a camera or camcorder, stood behind that band of yellow tape marked “do not cross” last Friday morning when the actual demolition began and watched as Southern Excavating’s yellow trackhoe bludgeoned its way into the back side of the historic building.
“They could’ve done something else with this building – turn it into a hospital museum or something,” said Wanda Long of Wilmington as she watched pieces of the building crumble. “It’s a historical monument. It’s a beautiful building.” Long added that her younger sister had been a patient in the hospital at 2 ½ months old.
One man, who opted not to be identified, shook his head slowly while watching the back of the building fall and briefly spoke about when he was quarantined at Babies Hospital in the 1940s due to the polio epidemic.
Reid Hardy hadn’t watched the demolition, but remembers being a patient at the historic hospital. “That place saved my life when I was about eight or nine years old,” he said Friday. “I was eating shellfish, [and] I had an allergic reaction and I couldn’t breathe. My dad rushed me ... into the back door, where they had the emergency entrance, and they gave me a couple shots of adrenaline, I guess epinephrine, or whatever, to open my air passages back up. So, [Babies Hospital] means a lot to me. It is near and dear to my heart. I’m sick about it, but what can we do?”
“This is really going to be tough to drive across the bridge after having lived here since 1959 and not see that building there,” Wrightsville resident John Bates said Friday. Bates, who had taken pictures of the landmark earlier that morning, said he had been “patched up” many a time at Babies Hospital while he was growing up. “You know, oyster cuts, nails in the feet, that kind of thing, as a kid,” he said. “And all of my contemporaries, you know, we all got injured playing, and that’s where they took us. It means a lot to this community.”
Demolition continued through the weekend, and a steady stream of people came to watch, including for a brief time the daughter of the hospital’s late founder, Dr. J. Buren Sidbury.
On Saturday, a good portion of the front of the structure fell. By Sunday evening, in spite of damage to the front window of the excavator taking down the site and freezing rain, the once proud building had been reduced to rubble, with the exception of some of the first-floor walls.
A Southern Excavating spokesman said trucks would be used to haul away the massive pile of debris. The steel from the structure is to be sold for scrap.
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