Skip to Main Content

Lowell History: The Isolation Hospital

The Lowell Isolation Hospital, later called Meadowcrest Hospital. Officially opened in 1920. Partially opened in 1918 to treat victims of the Spanish Flu.

The Isolation Hospital

The Lowell Sun, November 14, 1917


The Lowell Sun, October 26, 1920



See the October 11, 2020 Lowell Sun article, "Isolating, a century ago in Lowell"

by Alana Melanson

The Isolation Hospital (1920 - 1963)

Detail of map of Lowell 1924


In Lowell’s almost 200-year history, there has been numerous political controversies and many of these were about municipal buildings. One of the most contentious projects was the Isolation Hospital.  It was controversial before it was built, consistently controversial during its over 40-year existence, and controversial right up to its closing and demolition.

There were three separate hospital buildings, referred to as “the shacks.” They were Y-shaped one-story structures set apart from each other facing in the same direction. There was also an administration building and a heating plant.

The Hospital was build for patients with tuberculosis and other contagious diseases of which there were many. These multiple missions were often a source of misunderstandings.

At that time, doctors and scientists knew that a microbe caused tuberculosis, but a cure would not be available for decades. In the absence of a cure, the response was to isolate the patient to prevent the spread of the disease and to provide treatment.

The only known treatments at that time were fresh air, sunlight, good and plentiful food, and rest. The shacks were designed to provide the patients with the maximum amount of sunlight and fresh air possible. This is the reason for the interesting architecture of the hospital.

Doctors and scientists also knew that tuberculosis was a contagious disease, but it was not contagious like influenza and other easily-spreadable diseases. So, there were also efforts to isolate those afflicted with tuberculosis from others. This is the reason for the interesting name of the hospital.

The Isolation Hospital can also be seen as a metaphor for a society’s response to disease and, on a larger scale, an attempt to control something that seemed to be beyond control and understanding. There were countless attempts to do this throughout history. Some succeeded, some failed, and some helped. The key is that some people tried.

Spring and All by William Carlos Williams (1923)

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken