Dr. Cropp’s home on Rose Street

Dr. Cropp’s home on Rose Street.

Editor’s note: This is the third and final of a three-part series on the history of Dr. James Cropp and the Walla Walla Hospital that once was located where the city library is today.

Accused of forging a will to make his hospital a beneficiary, Dr. James Cropp was in the public eye again in 1901. The case was heard by Judge Chadwick in Whitman County, who concluded that Mr. Conatser had been too ill to have the “testamentary capacity” to create a will, and that the document making the Walla Walla Hospital a beneficiary was “not the will of Joseph Conatser.”

The judge did not use the word “forgery,” nor were any charges brought against Dr. Cropp, but the judge awarded the estate of the “Miser of Sunset” to relatives.

As it had after the Minnie Caldwell scandal, J.F. Cropp’s reputation bounced back.

“The hospital is a complete success,” wrote the Evening Statesman in 1904, and “is considered one of the best institutions of its kind in the state.”

Despite the glowing praise, the doctor and his hospital continued to face challenges. An outbreak of typhoid caused the hospital to be “crowded to the limit.” Utility bills were high for the building, and Dr. Cropp petitioned the city government to limit the maximum that could be charged for electricity and gas.

The City Council recommended that his petition be granted. In 1906, he asked that his hospital be exempt from property taxes, claiming “it is an ‘educational institution and provides nurses training open to any and all worthy applicants.’” He described his hospital as a charitable institution and so should be exempt, as was St. Mary’s.

In 1907, the hospital was accused of tossing trash over its back fence. A bottle with a poison label on it, broken crockery, hosiery and “underdrawers” were some of the detritus noted, but an inspector found the hospital not responsible for the trash and described it as being in a “first class sanitary condition.”

Dr. Cropp ended up in court twice in 1909.

Accused by a health officer of not reporting a case of a contagious disease, the doctor was actually arrested, but a judge dismissed the case. The delay of the report reaching authorities was due to a failure of mail delivery, the judge determined, and not caused by the negligence of Dr. Cropp.

Charges were also dropped when the doctor was called into court for going 60 mph on Main Street. He explained he was hurrying to aid a machinist at Gilbert Hunt’s Agricultural equipment factory who had experienced an “apoplectic fit” and fallen into some machinery.

The year 1911 saw J.F. Cropp, a Democrat, elected as mayor by a narrow margin. During his tenure, he strove to make improvements to the city’s water system.

During the flu epidemic of 1918, Walla Walla Hospital was opened as an emergency center for influenza patients. During the years 1918 to 1925, Dr. Cropp made the building and medical equipment available free of charge to the Red Cross, who administered the facility. Patients who could pay were expected to do so, but patients in “county charge” received free care.

Walla Walla Hospital continued to be a significant employer. In 1922, it was reported by the Portland Daily Journal that the facility employed 227 people.

In 1922, Ida Cropp, Dr. Cropp’s wife of 43 years, fell ill and died of complications from gallstone surgery. Ida died in August, and in December, Dr. Cropp married 18-year-old Gertrude Noyes, a telephone operator from Seattle. Gertrude was 40 years his junior.

Just three years after his marriage to Gertrude, Dr. Cropp decided to sell his hospital in 1925 to a group of local doctors, who built a new building on Bonsella Street to house it. The new hospital went bankrupt a few years later and was bought by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which moved its Walla Walla Sanitarium into it.

Dr. Cropp converted his empty hospital building on Alder Street to the Benvenieu Apartments in 1928. Costing $18,000 to remodel, the 17 apartment units ranged from one room to four rooms and all had kitchenettes.

In 1933, Dr. J.F. Cropp died at age 79. He was described in an obituary as “the dean of medical men on the Pacific coast.” The Walla Walla Union’s editor wrote that Dr. Cropp “was one of the types (of doctor) who answered calls cheerfully in the middle of the night or the heat of the day, in good weather or bad.”

Existing as an apartment building for only 12 years, the Benvenieu was razed in 1940 to make space for a supermarket and service station.

Some locals may remember Otto Roedel’s Ice Cream and Candy shop next to the Sigman Grocery store. A fire destroyed Sigman’s in 1964. During the 1960s, the old Carnegie Library on Palouse Steet became too crowded, and by 1969, the former hospital site was occupied by Walla Walla’s new public library, which opened in 1970.

Dr. Cropp’s Walla Walla Hospital is just a memory now.

As a person in the public eye, his behavior frequently came under scrutiny, and that scrutiny sometimes revealed shortcomings — some documented and some reputed.

What is most important when we look at Dr. Cropp’s life is to acknowledge his hospital’s contribution to the community and the years of service he provided to his patients.

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