The founders of the Davis Clinic, Dr. Merrill S. Davis, Dr. Joseph Davis, and Dr. Richard M. Davis came from a long line of doctors in the Davis family. The Davis family first came to Marion over one hundred years ago, when Dr. George W. Davis (Merrill’s father) and his brother Dr. Sam Davis moved to Marion from Russiaville, Indiana and Miami, Indiana to start a medical practice in 1896; they chose Marion because of the city’s gas boom during that time (Letter to Ed Breen). The two were known as Black Doc Davis (Sam) and Red Doc Davis (George) due to the color of their beards, and served Marion in medical care for many years (Letter to Ed Breen). George then had a son, Merrill, while living in Marion.
Merrill grew up in Marion and went to Marion High School. He then attended Indiana University, where he received his M.D. degree in 1914, under the six year undergraduate/medical school route; after that, he interned for one year at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis (Letter to Ed Breen). In 1915, Merrill moved back to Marion to begin medical practice with his father, Dr. George, only to have to leave in 1917 to serve in World War II for two years as an orthopedic specialist (Davis Clinic File). Merrill was chosen and sent to Harvard University Medical School with other young doctors to be trained for World War II as a reconstruction surgeon; they became the first specialists in orthopedics (Letter to Ed Breen). Upon returning to Marion in 1920, Merrill became a surgeon with a specialty of orthopedics, and he treated many crippled children in the area (Letter to Ed Breen).
Merrill later had two sons, Joseph and Richard, who followed the Davis family tradition and became doctors. Both graduated from Marion High School (Joseph in 1935; Richard in 1938) and Indiana University (Joseph in 1942; Richard in 1944); both obtained M.D. degrees upon graduation of IU (Davis Clinic File). Joseph and Richard then interned at the Philadelphia General Hospital after graduating (Letter to Ed Breen). Once World War II started, Joseph served two years in the Navy on the Hospital Ship Solace, and Richard was “put on active duty in the Medical Corps” at Rodriguez General Hospital in Puerto Rico (Letter to Ed Breen). After the war, both finished surgical training before beginning their medical practice (Davis Clinic File). Joseph was the first to return to Marion in 1949, and he and his father Merrill formed the Doctors Davis Partnership; Richard joined them in 1951 (Davis Clinic File).
Design and Construction
“The plans for the Davis Clinic were well under way and in 1952 the building being designed similar to the Mayo Clinic plan was built” (Davis Clinic File). The objective of the Davis Clinic was “to build a functional hospital for effective use by the medical and para-medical team. A building designed to take advantage of every time and effort-saving device known to industry that can be related to the practice of good medicine” (Davis Clinic File). Dr. Carl Walter, a “Harvard Medical School professor who was the current authority on new sterile technique and operating room design”, was a good friend of the Davis’ and agreed to become their consultant for the project (Davis Clinic File). The first architect he considered for the project was Frank Lloyd Wright, as he had just designed Richard’s house on Overlook Road (Brief History). But, Wright was not as knowledgeable in modern hospital design as the men who had been researching it for years, and he was way too busy for the clinic project; he was working on more than three major projects at the time (Davis Clinic File). The next choice was Eero Saarinen, who had just designed a building known for its revolutionary design and seemed like a perfect man for the job (Davis Clinic File). He agreed to the job, and as a result, John Dikaloo became the associate for the clinic project. But, after working on the building for six months, Saarnin realized he did not have the “facilities or personnel” to develop the clinic plan; he referred the Davises to his former associate, Harry Weese, to work on the clinic. Weese, who had just designed the chapel and auditorium at M.I.T., agreed to the project.
Although the building was not constructed according to the original design plans, the original plans were nationally acclaimed by and received awards from notable institutions such as the American Institution of Architecture, the American Hospital Association, and the American College of Surgeons (Davis Clinic File). The plans for the building were a result of more than eight years of architectural, procedural, and medicinal development (Davis Clinic File). The clinic introduced the private-room concept, and “integrate[d] the various functions of a complete medical center into an extremely compact unit” (Modem Hospital). The building contained top medical technology such as a diagnostic X-ray, laboratory, radioactive isotope laboratory, clinical pathology laboratory, medical records, medical library, and abundant office and examining room space (Group Practice). The private-room concept was developed, as the doctors realized patients are better diagnosed under private conditions and patients’ need their space (Davis Clinic File). Each room had a bed, toilet, washstand, and window, and is located by the central nurses’ station (Davis Clinic File). The rooms were grouped according to nursing needs and degree of care needed (Modem Hospital), as the nursing unit was designed to “make bedside care of the patient as easy as possible” (Group Practice). Not only was the concept modern, but so was the interior design. The architecture and design of the interior of the building was new, modern-looking, and appealing aesthetically. The clinic was finally constructed in 1952 by Harreld Bros. Construction Company at 131 N. Washington Street and was made of brick, concrete, and glass; the dimensions are 70 by 165 feet, “with 7320 square feet of floor surface” (Davis Clinic File). The clinic was proposed to be completed by April, after 90 days of construction (Davis Clinic File). A few years later, the clinic required more space, and the building was almost tripled in size (Davis Clinic File).
The staff of the Davis Clinic included many doctors, all of whom required to be graduates of medical or dental school (Davis Clinic File). The staff included doctors in specialties such as surgery, internal medicine and diagnosis, pediatrics, clinical laboratory, obstetrics and gynecology, neuropsychiatry, and orthopedics (Davis Clinic File). Besides the Davises, the staff had extremely talented, educated doctors from all over the U.S. who moved to Marion to join the Davis Clinic: Dr. John C. Jarrett, Dr. Barton T. Smith, Dr. John Pattison, Dr. Henry Alderfer, Dr. John Woodbury, and Dr. Edna Wojick are just a few of the many who were involved in the clinic (Davis Clinic File).
After serving numerous years in the medical field, Dr. Merrill S. Davis died in 1974 at the age of 84 (Davis Clinic File), and Dr. Joseph B. Davis died on April 5, 1998 at the age of 81 (Bulletin). As their lives had to come to end, so did the Davis Clinic. Although the Davis Clinic ceased existing as “The Davis Clinic” on Washington Street, it became “Ambucare” in 1982. Ambucare resided in 131 N. Washington Street until 1988, when it moved to 119 Washington Street, and the old Davis Clinic building became vacant. Recently, in 2002, the Davis Clinic building became reoccupied, and was turned into the Riverbend Learning Center for mental retardation and disabilities (City Directory). The Davis Clinic was a building that integrated medical research with modern concepts that revolutionized the standard idea of the hospital.
- Davis, Richard M. A Brief History of the Riverside Hospital Project: Davis Medical Foundation, 1953.
- Davis, Richard M. Letter to Ed Breen. 14 January 1991.
- “Group Practice and Hospital Progress”. Group Practice. 8.9 (1959).
- Hanlon, C. Rollins. “Joseph B. Davis, MD, FACS, Dies”. Bulletin. 83.6 (June 1998) 50. Marion City Directory. (1982, 1988, 2002).
- “Progressive Care Calls for a Progressive Design”. The Modern Hospital. (March 1959). The Davis Clinic File: Marion Public Library.
This article was created by Meryl Lester in 2005 for Mr. Munn's US History Class at Marion High School.