The world-wide influenza epidemic, with final U.S. death estimates over 500,000, was impacting Lockport. Public officials were dealing with the need requested by the Board of Health for a quarantine hospital. 

Byron V. Covert of the Covert Gear Company, pledged to build a quarantine annex next to City Hospital in two days, and he did it.

There was an old “pest house” on the site of the City Hospital, but it was not suitable for use.

A quarantine hospital was also called a pest (pestilence) house, in earlier times. It is where sick people were isolated. Quarantine is a voluntary or compulsory isolation, typically to contain the spread of disease during an epidemic. Such hospitals were used during disease outbreaks to house those afflicted with communicable diseases such as cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis and influenza.

In The Turning Wheel: The Story of General Motors through Twenty-Five Years, 1808-1933, Arthur Pound describes the founding of Harrison Radiator Corporation, Lockport, New York (467-468): “The other officers associated with Mr. Harrison in the founding of Harrison Radiator Company were B.V. Covert, Vice President and Treasurer. Mr. Covert deserves particular notice. His Covert Gear Company made bicycle gears and Mr. Covert himself experimented in motor-car design.”

Construction on the hospital annex began on a Saturday, and was occupied by patients early the following week. The 24-by-30-foot structure was completed with city sewers, hot water and heating, hardwood floors, and interior wall board supplied by Lockport Upson Board Company.

This amazing two-day addition is not mentioned in any historical publication about the hospital. A local newspaper account from 1918 noted that, “Nothing more to the credit of a citizen of Lockport had occurred here in a long time than this act of mercy for staying the advance of the influenza plague in the city.”

Lockport native Jim Boles is a senior researcher with the Museum of disABILITY History, focused on early care and healing in Niagara County. His US&J column “Abandoned History” is published every other week. Contact him via email at Jboles@people-inc.org.

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