by Julia C. Reischel
A woman's question of where she was born was answered by a number of readers after this paper published her e-mail inquiry Feb. 2 on the front page.
It is likely that Elaine Shelton, a West Palm Beach, Fla., resident who grew up here, was born November 1941 at the Sunnyside Hospital at 400 Broadway.
Shelton, who could not find her birth certificate after last fall’s devastating hurricanes caused water damage to her Florida house, turned to The Somerville News to figure out where she had been born.
Shelton spent her early childhood on Pearl St, and her mother, Anna May Hyland, still lives in Massachusetts. Hyland couldn’t remember the name of the little hospital where she had given birth to her daughter.
Hyland did recall that Shelton was born in “a hospital which was a large home on a corner” and that “it was NOT the Somerville Hospital.”
Information about the Sunnyside Hospital, which was a Winter Hill institution for the first part of the 20th century, matches Hyland’s memories of the hospital where Shelton was born.
Founded by Dr. Charles Dickerman in 1920, the Sunnyside Hospital was originally a home for “elderly persons and invalids.” According to a May 4, 1928 Somerville Journal article, Sunnyside Hospital was first located at 6 Main St. in Winter Hill.
Soon, Sunnyside became the neighborhood’s main medical facility.
“It soon outgrew its quarters,” the Journal said, “and in June 1925, the hospital was moved almost across the street to 400 Broadway, Winter Hill, where it is now located.”
This location is at the corner of Broadway and Central St. in Winter Hill, a location that matches Hyland’s memories of Shelton’s birthplace. 400 Broadway was built in 1920 and was quite spacious, with 24 rooms and eight full bathrooms.
When Sunnyside Hospital moved in, it became a model medical institution. According to the Somerville Journal, it had “first-class equipment, including oil burner, electric refrigeration, gas incinerators, latest laundry machinery, and model delivery and operating rooms.”
The move from Main St. to Broadway allowed the hospital to increase its bed capacity from 15 to 35. In 1928, Sunnyside was expanding rapidly. The Journal reported that it had just purchased the Baker estate at 187 Central Ave., which it planned to convert into a nurses’ home that would be equipped with reception rooms, a music room, and a library where nurses could relax while off duty. Dr. Dickerman’s wife, a Mrs. Minnie R. Dickerman, was the superintendent of the nurses.
Shelton’s inquiry in The Somerville News sparked many responses from Somerville natives who remembered the Sunnyside Hospital in Winter Hill.
“I had so many people email me,” said Shelton.
Louis R. Franklin, an 81-year-old real estate broker who grew up on Heath St., both emailed and called Shelton to tell her his memories of Sunnyside.
“A lot of people were born in that house,” Franklin said.
Franklin said that he was delivered on July 22, 1923 by Dr. Dickerman, whose name he remembered as Downey. Franklin was born at 132 Heath St. and lived there until 1933. He remembers the area as a working-class neighborhood.
“The only time a doctor saw you was when you were born,” said Franklin, who remembered the Sunnyside hospital but never was treated there. “It was an apartment house, just 4-8 units, a small neighborhood thing."
Gilbert Ribeiro, the Constable of the City of Somerville, remembered the Sunnyside hospital from when he had his appendix out there in 1945. “It was a big gray three-decker,” Ribeiro said. “It’s still the same color. It was a hard place to find—it didn’t even have a sign.”
Ribeiro said that Dr. Dickerman came to his house on a Sunday when he was nine years old to investigate his high fever. The doctor diagnosed appendicitis, he said.
“They drove me right up there and operated on me that Sunday,” said Gilbert. Though Shelton did not know the name of Sunnyside, she did know some of the details about her birth. She said the delivery cost about $95, and that her father was short five dollars when it came time to pay the bill.
“Dr. Dickerman said, ‘This is my baby until I get that $5,’” said Shelton. “My mother wasn’t too happy about that.”
Today, 400 Broadway remains standing as an apartment building of 4 to 8 units. It was recently sold in October of 2004 and is now undergoing renovations.