Reimagining 'the ruins' of Raleigh's St. Agnes Hospital

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, April 23, 2022
Reimagining 'the ruins' of Raleigh's St. Agnes Hospital
St. Agnes Hospital is a historic and medical landmark for African Americans in Raleigh and this part of the South.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The historic stone walls have stood at the edge of Saint Augustine's University for more than 125 years. St. Agnes Hospital is a historic and medical landmark for African Americans in Raleigh and this part of the South. Now, there's a new federally-funded push to bring this abandoned shell of history back to life and reimagine the long-abandoned building.

Going inside the walls of St. Agnes Hospital feels like an archaeological dig.

It's cracked, overgrown; the roof is gone; standing sentry over this section of Oakwood Avenue.

It was built in 1896 as St. Agnes Hospital. But these days, many locals call it "The ruins" for short.

"The history of this hospital is incredible. So, an opportunity is what we have behind me," said Veronica Creech, vice-president of economic development at St. Augustine's.

The university built St. Agnes as a hospital and medical training school. Most of the Black nurses who served in World War II trained here. And for decades, during segregation, St. Agnes was the only hospital between Washington and Atlanta to treat black patients. When Jack Johnson, the first Black world heavyweight boxing champion, was severely injured in a Raleigh car wreck in 1946 -- he was brought here.

"And he was turned away from two area hospitals before he came here, which delayed his medical care. And he did die here," Creech added.

Honoring the legacy while reimagining St. Agnes is the new mission at the Raleigh HBCU that built it. This month, the U.S. Commerce Department gave Saint Augustine's a $400,000 grant to fund a study on the feasibility of remaking St. Agnes.

The university launched a new campaign to seek input from students, staff, alumni -- and community members on what they want it to become.

"(The community) is holding us accountable as they should," said Creech. "When I say community: neighbors, folks that live here; folks who were born here -- there's a whole society of St. Agnes babies."

Linda Tuck, 65, is not just a St. Agnes baby, she's a lifetime neighbor of "The ruins" in east Raleigh.

"It makes the neighborhood look real bad. And it really needs to be anything but what it is now," said Tuck, who said she believes it should once again be a hospital, potentially a place to treat the uninsured.

St. Augustine's President, Dr. Christine Johnson-McPhail, is leading this charge. She said she's open to all ideas. There's talk of a glassed-in venue space for the community; a health clinic; a STEM learning facility; or a center for the study of health equity. Everything is on the table.

"What it means to me is a renaissance for the campus and the community," McPhail said. "When we do this, our students will see the work of the ancestors, the work of the founders did not go away. And to me, it's about legacy building."

With the grant money secured for the feasibility study, the next big date is May 9. The nation's assistant secretary of commerce arrives that day from Washington to see St. Agnes in person. That visit may go a long way in deciding how much the federal government is willing to spend to help rebuild the ruins of a history not forgotten.