100-year-old former brothel and hospital renovated to continue serving as rural community health clinic

Clinic closed this spring to conserve PPE and staffing because of COVID-19.

Tigerton Hospital
Tigerton Hospital in the 1950s. (Tigerton Clinic Inc.)

A community clinic in Tigerton, operated by Thedacare out of a 100-year-old building, was forced to close this spring as the healthcare system consolidated operations to conserve PPE and staff. 

The closure has left a hole in Thedacare’s services, forcing patients to drive 30 minutes to clinics in Shawano or Clintonville — especially challenging for some older patients who would normally walk to their appointments. 

The clinic serves 1,200-1,500 people in the Tigerton area and some people — through a mix of COVID-19 fears and a newfound lack of access — have foregone care since March. 

But the pause in services has allowed the time for much-needed renovations to a building with a story that mirrors its community. The work has required updates to aging plumbing and electrical systems, and carpets have been pulled up across the building (even in exam rooms), revealing antique tiling, hardwood and cork flooring that need to be carefully preserved.

“It’s been really hard for a lot of our patients right now but there’s no way we’d be able to do the renovations” if the building remained open, Dr. Jasmine Wiley says. 

Originally the family home of a local lumber magnate, the “Swanke Mansion” was constructed from 1919 to 1921. The home was sold in 1945 and for five years a bar, the Castle Inn, was operated out of the basement while rooms on the second floor were rented out. Local legend says those second floor rooms were used for “questionable activities,” according to Wiley, as a brothel.

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But, “the ladies on the historical society deny that fact,” Wiley says. 

In 1950 the building was sold again and began its life as a healthcare facility. Donations of time, money and supplies helped turn the building into Tigerton Hospital, a 32-bed space that opened for patients on Nov. 15, 1950. 

The hospital functioned under a co-op system for much of its early life. After a $100 initial membership fee, a single person would pay $3 a month, a married couple with four children would pay $6.75 per month, gaining access to 62 days of room and board, nursing services, access to operating and delivery rooms, dressings, laboratory services, x-rays, electrocardiograms, metabolism studies, oxygen therapy, and $25 worth of drugs, serums, and IV solutions in a contract year. 

The Tigerton Clinic serves 1,200 to 1,500 patients from the area. (Aaron Damrau)

Adjusting for inflation, that family of four’s monthly payment would be about $65 today. 

The hospital was open until 1974 when its doctors moved to the larger and more modern Clintonville Hospital. In the hospital’s 24 years, 1,834 babies were born there. 

Three years later it became Tigerton Clinic, providing outpatient services to the community until 1994 when Thedacare moved in. The building is still owned by Tigerton Clinic Inc., a non-profit with a board that includes some members of the original co-op. 

The renovations are being funded by the non-profit, which at this point will be around $50,000 — not including the $15-20,000 for the electrical system — by the time the building is ready to reopen in January, according to clinic manager Aaron Damrau

A true rural health operation, the clinic provides services ranging from obstetrics to senior care. Wiley is at the clinic one day per week while nurse practitioner Margie Anderson covers the rest of the time. 

But it’s not just the patient services, the clinic is embedded in the community culture, Wiley and Anderson say. 

“It feels like home,” Anderson says.

Overlooking the Embarrass River, the clinic is across the street from a school, which allows students to walk to their appointments.

Most of the original building remains intact. (Aaron Damrau)

A longstanding clinic practice that far predates either Wiley or Anderson is that members of the community will just pop in for care without an appointment and people stop in just to say hi. Often, Wiley says, people will bring paperwork into the clinic to get help from the front desk staff — assistance with health literacy that’s necessary in a rural community. 

“All three of our clinic sites are really important to each of the communities they’re in, but that is in some ways more apparent at the Tigerton clinic because it’s smaller,” Wiley says. “You don’t get that, in a lot of ways in a big health system, the Tigerton clinic feels like a small private practice because it is such a close group of staff and patients where they would just stop in and stay hi when they’re walking past.” 

Ripping up carpet revealed antique cork flooring throughout the clinic. (Aaron Damrau)

“That speaks volumes for what the community means for people,” she continues. “It’s a place where I know there’s been patients that have — health literacy is different in that community — patients have stopped in just because they need help with a piece of paperwork that came in the mail. People know it’s a place they can come for that kind of support. We’ll do whatever we can for people.” 

The clinic is set to reopen for patients on Jan. 18 but there’s still lots of work to be done to keep the building in working order. In the spring the 60-year-old roof and decorative gables will need replacing, also on the list are new windows and replacements for rotting window sills. 

“This is pretty much just the cosmetic stuff on the first floor,” Damrau says. “Hoping it will get people excited about the building because the community will need to come together to save it.”