Model of historic Holmes Hospital added to Foley Depot Museum display
A building that has stood at the corner of what is now the intersection of Baldwin County’s two main highways for more than a century is the latest Foley landmark to be reproduced for the city’s railroad exhibit.
Members of the Caboose Club at the Foley Depot Museum are completing work on a replica of the building that housed the Sibley Holmes Memorial Hospital, the first hospital in Baldwin County. The replica is part of the model railroad display located in the museum.
The new model stands next to a replica of the Foley Hotel building. The two original buildings are side by side on East Laurel Avenue in Foley.
To make the hospital model, club members conducted research on the original building to make the display as exact as possible.
Members examined the hospital building as it now stands and went over old photographs of the structure from the early 20th Century.
Robert “Doc” Holiday, one of the builders of the model, said one challenge was to reproduce the details on a scale to match the rest of the display. The railroad layout is “O-gauge,” a scale of 1-48. One quarter of an inch on the display is equal to 1 foot in size in a real structure.
“A brick on that scale is about 2 millimeters by 2 ½ millimeters,” Holiday said. “We had to make the bricks one at a time and then assemble it with tweezers.”
Holiday said the project took about five weeks to complete.
Holiday said the research and work reproducing the models provided a lesson in the architecture of early Foley. They found details such as terra cotta trim and other work that might not have been expected in buildings constructed in the early years of a small town.
“The thing that amazed me was the care and the artwork that people took in building these things,” Holiday said. “You look at all that they did and they didn’t have to do that.”
Bob Irwin (pictured above), who also helped build the model, was born in the original building when it was the hospital between 1936 and 1958. He said the model includes details such as the signal once used to notify the police chief of calls in the 1940s. “If you look closely, you’ll see that one of the things that we have is Cobb’s Light and it operates,” Irwin said.
Cobb’s Light was placed on top of the building as a signal to Police Chief B.D. Cobb. When a resident called the telephone operator needing the police, the operator would flip a switch turning on the light. The chief would see the light while out on patrol and call the operator. A replica of the light now stands on the original building.
Irwin said club members are considering what other historic Foley buildings to reproduce for the display. He said one possible structure is the 1925 Foley Bakery building, which is now being renovated to be reopened.
Irwin said Foley has many historic buildings that have either been preserved or renovated.
“When you look around, we’re fortunate to have so many buildings that are still here,” he said. “You don’t see that in some places.”
The hospital building that the new model is based on dates back to the first decade of the 20th century. In September 1909, the owners of Stelk Brothers hardware announced plans to construct a two-story brick building at what is now the southwest corner of Alabama 59 and U.S. 98. The original building cost $5,000.
In 1921, the State Bank of Foley was located in the building. Crosby Drug Store later occupied the ground floor of the building on the corner. Wright’s Drugs was later located at that site. A bookstore now occupies the ground floor space at the corner.
Dr. Sibley Holmes operated his medical practice on the second floor of the building. In 1936, his son, Dr. W.C. “Buddy” Holmes, opened a hospital that took in the entire second floor. That hospital operated until South Baldwin Hospital opened in 1958.
Today, the Holmes hospital has been restored as the Holmes Medical Museum.
The model railroad exhibit is owned by the city of Foley as part of the Depot Museum. Members of the Caboose Club operate the trains as a free display for visitors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The Depot Museum is located on 125 East Laurel Avenue in Foley. It is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.