The Marcus Hook Quarantine Station view from the river about 1900 shortlty after it opened.
Note: Much has been said about the Tinicum Quarantine Station in Essington and it's wonderful restoration by Tinicum Twp. and rightfully so. The 1801 building is to become Tinicum Twp. Municipal Building according to the news. The 1801 building looks great. After it closed in 1895 a new station was opened in Marcus Hook and that station closed in the late 1940's. Please read
STATE QUARANTINE AT MARCUS HOOK
The Guard Placed
Against the Entrance of Disease
Hazards Taken by Officers
Down at the State Quarantine Station at Marcus Hook are three men whose lives are placed in constant jeopardy by the nature of the profession in which they are engaged.
These men are the quarantine doctors, heroes almost unknown to fame, who stand at the gateway of the Quaker City, guarding from the invasion of epidemics the lives of almost a million and a half of persons. These men are Dr. Henry S. Heller, the quarantine physician, and Drs. Henry Horning and Joseph L. McCool, his assistants.
The recent sensational death of Dr. J.M.B. Ward, who, leaving the steamer which he had boarded at night, accidentally tripped against the edge of the hatchway and fell into the ship’s hold, first called attention to the hazardous occupation of the self-sacrificing quarantine physician and the many risks he takes with his own life for the sake of safeguarding those of others.
Like many other heroes, the quarantine doctors are quiet and unassuming. They wear no decorations or shoulder straps, but they deserve them, because no soldiers fighting for their country render more valiant or valuable service than these three physicians, who are the guardians, in a sense, of the health and comfort of nearly a million and a half persons.
They are at their posts day and night, summer and winter, and in sunshine and storm. They must be quick, confident and comprehensive in the performance of their duties. A certain amount of tactfulness is also required in order to satisfy the passengers of incoming steamers and yet at the same tie comply with the exacting requirements of the law.
HARDSHIPS AND DANGERS – The work of boarding and examining ocean steamers is always difficult and ofttimes dangerous. As soon as a vessel is sighted at Reedy Island, the fact is flashed over the wire to the Marcus Hook station, and the doctors prepare for the work of inspection. The quarantine tug, with its familiar yellow flag, goes out to meet the vessel. Here is where the danger element comes into full play. The sea is at times so turbulent that it is dangerous for the tug to go very close to the steamship. Then again the steamer is often so high and so big that it appears like the side of a mountain. Put yourself in the doctor’s place, climbing a shaky rope ladder 30 or 40 feet high with both the steamer and the tug in motion and you will gain some idea of the perils of the position.
The physician simply has to hold on for dear life and hope that he will reach the deck without mishap of any kind. His work has to be done quickly and with this comes the danger of slippery decks, ice-covered companion ways, open hatchways and the score of other things to be met with every time a bout is to be examined.
But this is simply one phase of the situation. Another is the personal danger from contagion. When evidence of a contagious disease is noted, the patient is immediately removed to the little hospital and the other passengers placed in quarantine and their clothing and effects thoroughly fumigated. So these three men guarding the portals of the city are liable to be called upon any day to treat cholera, small pox or something else just as dreadful and repulsive.
A BARRIER AGAINST DISEASE – Few people understand the well-conducted barrier to disease which the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania maintains against the introduction and spread of infection and contagion, always impending in and around the approaches of a commercial city. It can be readily apprehended that with vessels arriving from all parts of the world, many come from places in which the uncleanliness of the inhabitants offer a premium for the propagation of deadly disease.
Pennsylvania has had from its settlement by William Penn established quarantine, the records showing that as early as 1699, yellow fever raged in detention of arriving vessels, particularly from the West Indies. In fact, a rude sort of examination and observation had been practiced prior to that date on all arrivals on account of smallpox which seemed to be constantly prevalent with more or less vigor. This establishes the fact that the earliest and first quarantine service in the United States or rather the Western Continent, was originated in Philadelphia, and it is also known to be the second in the world.
The first station was situated on Fisher’s Island, in the Delaware River. This was used principally in 1793 for the detention of smallpox, malignant and yellow fever victims found on arriving vessels. Yellow fever prevailed and the population was almost decimated by its fatality, and this fact let to the formation of the Board of Health
THE OLD LAZARETTO – The quarantine station at the Lazaretto at Tinicum, about eleven miles below this city, was established early in the year 1800 and was superintended by the Board of Health of the City of Philadelphia and a quarantine physician was appointed by the Governor of the State. The dual government continued until the year 1893, when the Present State Quarantine Board was created by an act of the Legislature. This action was caused by the exodus of large numbers of emigrants from Austria, Hungary and Russia, where Asiatic cholera was prevalent. These immigrants embarked to Hamburg from where they expected to immigrate to the United States. The mortality was so great at Hamburg that the U.S. Government imposed the most rigorous restrictions on all arrivals from Europe and other foreign countries, so that tourists and persons engaged in legitimate business pursuits were subjected to the imperative laws laid down by the local health authorities.
At the port of Philadelphia, it was found most annoying and vexatious. The dual government of city and State authorities clashed and public meetings were held in several of the towns along the river front to discuss the proper disinfection of vessels. As a final result, a plan was formulated by which the Health Board of the city, the Maritime Exchange, representing the commerce of the port, and a number of physicians of well-known reputation were appointed a committee under the act and were known as the State Quarantine Board and an appropriation was made to the Board on its formation.
This board met and organized June 1893. They leased the Lazaretto from the city of Philadelphia, temporarily until a more suitable site could be procured, but finally the present site at Marcus Hook was leased for a period of years and the board proceeded to fit it up.
AN UP-TO-DATE STATION – When Dr. Heller, the present quarantine physician, entered upon his duties he did so with a zeal and energy almost incomprehensible to anyone familiar with public affairs. The various expenses for maintenance and salaries were closely scrutinized: extensive reductions were followed by greater economy both at the office and at the station. A disinfecting plant was built; the hospital improved and enlarged and a bacteriological laboratory created.
The latest achievement is the erection of a barracks building capable of accommodating over 500 persons who may be detained for observation a hospital for infectious and contagious diseases, a crematory for the destroying of infected articles, and all the requisites necessary for cases of emergency.
UNCEASING VIGILANCE – A vigilant lookout is kept day and night and stringent orders have been given to detain vessels and suspects from all ports where disease is reported to exist. All of these improvements have been accomplished without a dollar being added to the regular appropriation made by the State. Dr. Heller’s ambition and energies are now directed to the purchase of a new boarding boat, built and equipped for this duty, constructed strongly of steel and capable of boarding vessels when the river is rendered dangerous by reason of floating masses of ice, and a disinfecting barge to facilitate the fumigation of vessels.
Dr. Heller unites to his ability as a physician the rare quality of a business man. With the single purpose of preventing the impairment of public health, he does not lose sight of the great loss in time and money which unnecessary detention would cause to those engaged in commercial pursuits. With this two assistants he is serving hiss city and State well.
How often do we give even a passing thought to these three men, who thus guard our interests, our homes, in fact, our very lives? – Philadelphia Inquirer
Please read below: I'm president of the Delaware Co. Historic Preservation Network and a number of historic groups in the county have put together virtual tours etc. Special Thanks to Kate Clifford