Just north of the intersection of Rtes. 22 and 23, the first road on the left is called Pill Hill. Ever wonder why? Here’s the answer.
In 1945, President Harry S. Truman called upon Congress to address the severe lack of rural healthcare facilities around the country. Not long after, Senator Harold Burton (R, Ohio) and Senator Lester Hill (D, Alabama) sponsored the Hospital Survey and Construction Act (or the Hill–Burton Act), which passed in 1946.
Columbia County was among the regions deemed in need of assistance. Like many rural counties, ours did have a few country doctors, but there were few specialists and even fewer modern healthcare facilities. The Hudson City Hospital (renamed Columbia Memorial in 1949) was the premier healthcare facility in the county, but it was too small to adequately serve the needs of the county’s 42,000 residents. (There are 63,000 residents today.)
In 1945, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn established the Rip Van Winkle Clinic in Hudson to provide area residents with affordable, high quality medical care. One of the clinic’s patients was Eleanor Roosevelt! (More on that in a moment.) Thanks to a Hill-Burton grant in the early 1950s, he was able to establish satellite clinics in Germantown, Philmont and Hillsdale.
“Essy” Esselstyn had no difficulty attracting excellent physicians from downstate to these clinics. The clinics provided doctors with the chance to make a significant contribution to the health and welfare of rural communities and allowed them to raise their families away from the urban and suburban sprawl of New York City and Westchester County.
The Hillsdale branch of the Rip Van Winkle Clinic was located in a stately Victorian house called Edgewood, which was built around 1880 by George M. Bullock. Bullock co-owned a feed, grain and lumber business called Bullock & Herrington, later and to this day known as Ed Herrington, Inc. (Edmond Herrington owned the house in the early 1900s.) Edgewood eventually became the Rip Van Winkle Clinic and was directly across the street from the Old Methodist (“Parla Foster”) cemetery, an odd pairing when you come to think about it.
In the late 1950s, several medical professionals joined the clinic with their families, including Drs. Stuart Cooper, Joseph Fusco, John Waldo and Irma Waldo, and Patrick DelGrande. The access road to the cemetery was extended, and construction began on several houses. (The Historians of Hillsdale now live in the house where Dr. Cooper raised his family.)
The new road was christened “Doctor’s Drive.” But it wasn’t long before it was nicknamed “Pill Hill.” In 1976, Dr. Fusco and several other Doctor’s Drive residents petitioned the State to officially change the name (which many felt was a bit pompous, not to mention a sort of “X-marks-the-spot” for burglars) to Pill Hill, and it remains so today. The clinic, however, closed in 1964, leaving recent arrivals to Hillsdale to wonder about the peculiar name. Now they know.
An item from the February 23, 1961 issue of the Chatham Courier featured the Hillsdale Clinic. The headline of the story was, “Blasts at Bunny, But Hits Friend.”
“A Bronx hunter who shot at a rabbit near Copake Wednesday morning missed the cottontail but loaded a hunting companion with buckshot.
“According to State Police, Daigo Mangano, 27, 1085 Rhineland Ave., the Bronx, saw the rabbit as it sped out from underneath a bush and he fired twice with a 12 gauge shotgun.
“The blasts failed to hit the quarry but penetrated the body of Nunviato Valenti, 32, 1951 Haight St., the Bronx, who was walking 125 feet ahead of Mangano. At the time of the shooting, the victim was hidden by a heavy undergrowth of bushes, State Police were told.
“Valenti was removed to the Hillsdale office of the Rip Van Winkle Clinic where he was treated by Dr. Stuart W. Cooper of the clinic staff. He was then taken to Columbia Memorial Hospital where the pellets were removed.”
And the bunny dined out on that story for months!
As to the Eleanor Roosevelt connection, she was a prolific newspaper columnist and wrote a syndicated column called “My Day” from 1936 until her death in 1962 – some 7,000 articles in all. In her May 11, 1953 column, Mrs. Roosevelt tells of her visit to the Rip Van Winkle Clinic in Hudson:
“NEW YORK, Sunday—I spent last Thursday visiting the Rip Van Winkle Clinic in Hudson, N.Y., which was set up to try to answer some of the problems of rural medicine. This clinic, whose medical director is Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, is now six and a half years old, and is an interesting example of group practice with branch centers in a rural county.
“The purpose of the clinic is to make available to rural communities the best medical care at a cost which at least 90 per cent of the people can afford. To do this, of course, it is necessary to create an atmosphere that will attract well-trained young physicians to rural areas.
“In my childhood I lived just south of the Columbia County line, and I am very familiar with some of the problems of this area of the Hudson Valley. The county, which is 35 miles long and about 25 miles wide, has a population of 42,000. The income of the area is derived largely from dairying and fruit farming. There are some mills and small industries. The roads are good and are kept open in winter. The level of income among the farmers is perhaps a trifle larger than in some of the other counties of the state.
“Care was taken not to disrupt the security of the already existing medical economic structure of the county. Those belonging to the group practice clinic replaced older physicians or physicians who were leaving. They did not come in as new competition.” (She went on to tell of her visit that day to Columbia Memorial Hospital, describing it as a “modern, fireproof hospital.” A ringing endorsement if ever we heard one.)
But in a later column, dated July 18, 1955, she was a little less enthusiastic:
“HYDE PARK—I think I can say that Thursday was for me rather a waste of time. I went for a physical check-up to the Rip Van Winkle Clinic in Hudson, where a most comprehensive and thorough job was done in what I think would be considered record time. Yet, is there anything duller than doing things about your health when you feel completely well and, as far as you can see, are completely well! They tell me, however, that when people reach old age they should go and have periodic physical examinations. Since this is the thing to do, I suppose I should feel satisfied that it is over, and perhaps I will never have to do it again.”
The Historians of Hillsdale wish you a wonderful rest of summer. We’ll see you back here in September. Click the “follow” button at the top and you’ll get new posts by email.
(As always, please leave additional information, corrections or amplifications in the comments section below.)