Community Medical Center - A Brief History
(This article was written in the 1970s by the late Rudolph E. Wirth, M.D.)
The important thing in life is to have a great aim, and to possess the aptitude and perseverance to attain it." - Goethe
The Missoula Community Hospital and its adjacent medical facilities stand as a gleaming monument to the dedication and vision of hundreds of Montanans and, in particular, two doctors who came west in the early 1900s.
Situated on a grassy plain near historic Fort Missoula, Community Hospital is part of a modern complex that includes a nursing home, the Missoula Crippled Children's Center and private offices.
The story of Community Hospital begins with two brothers who were prominent in the early history of Western Montana medicine.
Dr. Charles Thornton (known affectionately as "Dr. Charles") came west in 1905 to begin a practice in Corvallis, Montana. At that time the mortality rate of spotted or "tick" fever was 80 to 90 per cent. Of the first 11 cases Dr. Charles treated, only one patient died. He subsequently became known throughout the Bitterroot Valley for his ability to treat the dreaded Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
An ardent sportsman, Dr. Charles was among the first to introduce Chinese and Hungarian pheasants to Western Montana. He also imported and bred German shorthaired pointers to hunt the wily pheasants. At one time, he had more than 30 German pointers in his kennels. Dr. Charles also imported Belgian horses and brown Swiss dairy cattle.
Dr. Charles' brother, Dr. Will Thornton ("Dr. Will") came west in 1907 and started a practice in Stevensville, Montana. He had been a professor of anatomy and had worked with Dr. J. H. Kellogg, the surgeon who established the Battle Creek sanitarium in Michigan. Dr. Kellogg was the older brother of W. K. Kellogg, who developed the corn flake into a multi-million-dollar industry.
Dr. Will performed more than 15,000 major operations in 36 years of active practice, and he participated in the construction and operation of three private hospitals in Western Montana.
In 1910 he built the first hospital in the Bitterroot Valley and ran it until 1917, when he moved to Missoula. At that time, he built the Thornton Hospital, now the Thornton Apartments at the corner of Third and Orange Streets.