Lost Hospital — Karlstad Memorial Hospital, Karlstad, Minnesota

Around 1883, Carl August Carlson moved from Sweden into an area of the United States west of Twin Lakes and established a homestead. In 1904, the Soo Line Rail Road built its track through the Carlson farm, purchasing a town site from him. The area was named Karlstad, honoring both Mr. Carlson and the city of Karlstad in Sweden.

Karlstad Memorial Hospital opened in 1951, providing medical care to the small town in Minnesota. In the 1990s, a shortage of money and doctors forced the town’s only hospital to close. The closure of the Karlstad Memorial Hospital cost the community about 20 jobs, but residents who needed emergency care were forced to travel to hospitals in Thief River Falls and Roseau, 35 and 40 miles away, respectively.

Karlstad had a closing ceremony in 1995 when it finally shut its doors. Residents circled the building while holding lighted black candles. “It was a black day in Karlstad,” said Lori Bothum, local resident and managing editor of the North Star News.

Aside from the loss of jobs, shortly after the hospital closed the Town & Country restaurant also shut its doors. With a bakery, banquet room, bar and fine dining, the restaurant added to the quality of life in the small town. That the restaurant closed just after the hospital, according to local residents, was not a coincidence: “It lost a lot of business without that traffic from the hospital,” Bothum said. Two gas stations and a grocery store also closed after the hospital.

“We knew it was going to be bad,” said George Wikstrom, former Karlstad mayor for 28 years. “Whenever a service or business is lost, the community is hurt.”  According to Marlene Pearson, one of the hospital board members who voted unanimously for the closing: “We had no money to continue to function. So many things in small towns seem to be so out of anyone’s control.”

Wikstrom also exlained:  “The doctor situation was part of it, but it was of more a financial issue. Financially, it was not carrying the load. The city had been subsidizing it for quite some time. It was not easy, but it had to be done.” The city subsidy amounted to $70,000 to $100,000 a year, according to the former Wikstrom.  “And the rules then were that we couldn’t increase our levies.”

Bothum noted: “Most of the older residents were unhappy, and a lot of that was because they had worked so hard to get it going (in 1951). They got contributions from people who really didn’t have the money to contribute.” Older residents that made a $25 contribution were rewarded with a certificate to display proudly in homes and businesses.

After it closed, the hospital was used for cold storage, home to medical equipment, city records and Tri-County School property. “It hurts to see the hospital just sitting there, falling apart,” Bothum said. “But I suppose it’s too expensive to fix up or tear down.”

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