Travel Back in Time: Choate Property Has Seen Many Reinventions
Travel Back in Time with the Wednesday Patch Passport, to discover the history and roots of Woburn.
Frances Norton and Carolyn Johnson used to be neighbors when they owned homes on Warren Avenue. Now they live in the same building on that street, where Norton once worked.
That property, originally a family mansion “born” just before 1850, has been reborn twice, coming full circle as a home for local seniors.
In between, for eight decades, it was a community hospital: Choate Memorial Hospital.
Johnson was born at that hospital, in 1924. She remembers going to the hospital when she was little with a broken leg. Later, both she and Norton delivered some of their children there. (One of Norton’s children was born at home.) Norton worked at the hospital for 13 years, from 1969 to 1982.
Before it was a hospital, the mansion, on Academy Hill, was the home of Charles Choate, a “well-known 19th century Woburn philanthropist and statesman,” according to the company, New Horizons at Choate, that that now calls the property home. Choate lived at Academy Hill from 1847 until 1906, according to information provided by Christine Coakley, director of Community Relations for New Horizons at Choate.
Charles Choate was a selectman from 1866 to 1869; served for more than 10 years on the town’s cemetery committee; as one of the first three water commissioners; and filled a vacancy on the School Committee in 1875-76, according to John McElhiney, in his book, "Woburn—A Past Observed.” Choate also served as a state senator, McElhiney wrote. Choate died on Feb. 15, 1883, according to McElhiney at the age of 76.
“Choate envisioned that the property would (continue to) serve as a charitable community resource,” and, in 1909, McElhiney wrote, the city’s first community hospital opened there.
It was “an excellent hospital,” according to Norton. She worked for a time as a secretary on “one of the busiest (hospital) floors,” she told Woburn Patch, the operating floor. Seven to eight surgeries a day were performed there, she said. Children loved the pediatric floor, according to Norton, because the hospital staff “catered to them.”
The hospital closed in 1989, after bankruptcy.
New Horizons opened a not-for-profit, affordable retirement community for local seniors there in August, 1990. Now 126 seniors in independent and assisted living programs call that address home. Cummings Properties Charitable Foundation bought and renovated the property into a retirement community, continuing Charles Choate’s important charitable mission, according to New Horizons.
When the time came for Johnson and Norton to move out of their homes, “Where else would you come,” Johnson asked, “but here?” Both women like the atmosphere at New Horizons—not too formal.
Norton remembers when the hospital coffee shop was near the entrance to the building.
“The switchboard operator was there,” she said, pointing to the area near the New Horizons lobby. The operating rooms were on the fourth floor, she said, where residents now get help with activities of daily living. The maternity unit was on the main floor, Norton said; the Emergency Room downstairs and in the back of the complex, where the children’s day care center is now. The maintenance department is located, Norton said, in the hospital morgue.
Norton and Johnson remember when, they said, doctors used to have their offices in their homes; the population of Woburn was around 10,000; and when there were many farms here.
Now, “There isn’t a vacant lot in Woburn,” Johnson said.
Part of the Choate complex is still used for medical purposes, for counseling, dialysis, physical therapy, spine treatments, blood drawing, internal medicine and to treat kidney disorders. The rent those tenants pay helps offset costs for the seniors who live there, according to New Horizons.
The building also houses assisted living and daycare programs for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia and daycare for children.
Children from the day care center come at certain times, Coakley said, to visit New Horizons residents.
At Halloween, Norton said, they come because “We have candy” to give them—in some ways like getting a lollipop after a visit to the doctor or a treat from a grandmother.
Historical facts about Woburn:
Residents vote for city form of government—June 12, 1888, to take effect Jan. 1, 1889.
Charles Choate moves into home on Academy Hill—1850.
Choate Memorial Hospital dedicated—June 29, 1909.
Number of births at Choate Memorial Hospital in 1910—10; in 1930, 329; in the 1950s, more than 500 a year. Maternity ward closed in 1976.
—From John McElhiney’s “Woburn, A Past Observed”