Luckey Hospital of Wolf Lake

If you're going to pick a name for a hospital....Luckey's not a bad one to choose.  The following is the history of the Luckey Hospital in Wolf Lake.  The building is now a medical museum:  It was listed on the National Register in 2012.

Dr. James Edward Luckey, founder of the hospital, was born in 1865.  He graduated from the American Medical College in Chicago and received a certificate from the Medical College of Indiana in Indianapolis in March of 1892.  This was the forerunner of the Indiana University School of Medicine.  He satisfied the requirements for study in histology, pathology, and bacteriology.  Dr. Luckey returned to Noble County and began to practice medicine in Wolf Lake as early as 1893.   In 1901 he built a home from which he operated his medical practice until the size of his family and his practice grew to a point that he built a small wood frame building behind their home to accommodate his practice.  Until that time, Luckey allowed patients to remain in his home if they were too ill to return to their homes. The first building was expanded to a five bed hospital in 1928.  The building was razed to make room for the new building in 1929.

As was common practice, Dr. James Luckey made house calls.  A story was relayed of a house call for a delivery in 1917.  The child weighed only four pounds and was placed on the door to the oven of the wood cook stove to help keep her warm.  Luckey also performed surgery for his nephew, Frank Starkey, in the family’s kitchen.  Frank had a fractured and compressed skull for which Luckey inserted a steel plate in the frontal area of his skull.  Luckey was very seriously injured in 1918, requiring immediate medical intervention to save his life.  Luckey had visited a local store in Wolf Lake when he was stabbed by a man.   A witness wanted to take Luckey by automobile to the Luckey residence; however the doctor felt he could not withstand the car ride and instead walked several blocks to his home.  A Ft. Wayne ambulance and several doctors from nearby towns were summoned and it was determined that Luckey would bleed to death if transported by ambulance, so he remained at his residence under the care of local physicians.  Dr. James Luckey enjoyed hunting and fishing and would rather sit and visit with people than practice medicine.  James brought a bear cub back to Indiana from a trip to Washington state; once it had grown it escaped its cage.  Several men in the community helped catch the bear and required stitches from Dr. Luckey from cuts the bear inflicted.

In 1929, Luckey and his son, Robert, also a doctor, embarked on the creation of a state of the art clinic and hospital facility for the region, primarily funded by James Luckey.  The facility was equipped with fire protection, electricity, nurse call equipment, surgical center, and a full dining area with kitchen.  The Luckey Hospital also acted as the village drugstore for the community of Wolf Lake.  At the time the Luckey Hospital opened the nearest hospitals were the McCray Hospital in Kendallville, also in Noble County, and the hospital in Columbia City.  This left a considerable area not serviced by a hospital for emergency care, surgeries, or maternity care.  The Luckey Hospital was designed to fill the gap of services and excel in patient care.  Within two years of being fully operational the Luckey Hospital had recorded 250 surgical cases and 7,475 treatments, examinations, and prescriptions in the outpatient department.  Doctors from all over the region brought patients to the facility.

Appointments to see the doctors in the hospital were not taken; rather it was first come, first served.  After Dr. James Luckey’s death in 1938 the second floor of the Luckey residence was converted into nurses’ quarters and nurses came and went from the hospital to the house utilizing the tunnel Dr. Luckey had constructed for himself.  Nurses were provided with housing, uniforms, meals, and $16.00 a week in pay.  Part of the nurses’ responsibility was to gather cash for groceries which were purchased locally.  The hospital was utilized after a train accident which resulted in a number of injuries in Cromwell.  Being understaffed for the demand, the nurse on duty called her son who operated the Wolf Lake Hardware for assistance.  Dr. James Luckey called on his nephew at the age of 19 to assist with restraining patients.  After World War II the baby boom created a shortage of space in the maternity ward of the hospital.  At one time all four maternity beds were filled and beds were set up in the hallway of the third floor.  The nurses used dresser drawers to hold infants because of the lack of space in the nursery.  Dr. Harold Luckey designed and constructed an incubator for smaller babies out of a box and a light tube.

Dr. James Luckey died in 1938.  His son Harold had been receiving surgical training in Austria when his father died.  It was said of Dr. Luckey that his community loved him for what he was, a kind, skillful, hard working, self-sacrificing doctor devoted to his professional duties.  In Luckey’s lifetime the practice of medicine changed from country doctor and house visits to physicians’ offices and hospitals.  Luckey not only was a part of that change, but led in it by establishing his state of the art hospital in the small community of Wolf Lake.  In 1957 Whitley County opened a new hospital in Columbia City, which made the privately operated Luckey Hospital somewhat obsolete.  The hospital closed in 1959.  Family members of the Luckeys purchased the hospital and reopened it as a museum of medicine.


Jim said…
Cool. Thanks for telling the tale.

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