Robert Koch Hospital, St. Louis

The last exit on I-255 in Missouri before the Illinois border is Koch Road. Turn right on Koch Road, in a community now known as Oakville, and you run into the curiously named Robert Koch Hospital Road, which runs through a residential area. But where’s the hospital? It turns out Robert Koch Hospital was demolished in 1989.

Robert Koch Hospital history

In about 1854, the city of St. Louis established Quarantine Cemetery 15 miles south of the city limits, in present-day Oakville.

The city followed with Quarantine Hospital adjacent to the site in 1875, to quarantine patients suffering from cholera, yellow fever and smallpox. In 1910, it received the name Robert Koch Hospital, and its focus turned to tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Tuberculosis killed more residents than all other infectious diseases combined. The hospital provided free medical care to victims of the disease.

The name came from Robert Koch, a German bacteriologist.

Robert Koch Hospital
This is the main administrative building of Robert Koch Hospital near St. Louis as it appeared in 1984.

The hospital at its peak had 19 buildings, its own post office, and even its own town, Koch, Missouri. The buildings that survived to 1989 were all built between 1907 and 1939. It consisted of a 426-bed intermediate care facility, a 39-bed hospital, and a 166-bed residential-care facility. The site was bounded by Jefferson Barracks on the north, Telegraph Road on the west, Cliff Cave County Park on the south, and the Mississippi River on the east.

The hospital expanded in 1920, 1933 and 1934 but still couldn’t keep up with demand. In 1939 the city made plans to expand the hospital to 1,000 beds to eliminate the waiting list, but couldn’t secure an appropriation from Congress to fund it.

Reutilization

By the 1950s, we knew how to treat most infectious diseases, so there was no longer any great need for a quarantine hospital. The city considered selling the hospital, then decided to repurpose it. It held indigent elderly patients from 1961 until November 1983, when it closed for good, and the city sold the perimeter acreage.

Sale and Demolition

In 1984, the city of St. Louis successfully nominated the complex for the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985, the city sold the remaining buildings to Bussen Quarries. The new owners demolished the buildings in 1989. The buildings had problems with vandalism after the hospital closed in 1983, and that probably played into the decision to raze the site.

An estimated 18,000 former patients lay in unmarked graves on the old site. Since this could present a health hazard even today, the site remains empty. A fire destroyed the old records in 1880. There are about 70 marked graves on the site, most dating from the 20th century.

The Robert Koch Hospital site today

Robert Koch Hospital Road turns sharply and makes a loop through undeveloped land before straightening out and cutting through a residential area. The old hospital site was south of the loop. There is no access from the road, and the site is private property, but you can see some of the old paths and driveways from Google satellite view. The abandoned roads south of Robert Koch Hospital Road and west of Bussen Underground Road that seemingly lead nowhere are the remnants of the site.

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