Where the “worthy poor” went for medical care

It’s 1831, and you live on the poorer outskirts of newly fashionable Washington Square.

You’re nursing a fever or broken bones, but you’ve got no money to see a doctor.

You’re in luck—you can visit the new Northern Dispensary, located on the triangular wedge of Christopher Street and Waverly Place.

Opened in 1827, this nonprofit was one of several dispensaries established in the city during the 19th century for the “worthy poor,” reports The New York Times.

Think of them as the equivalent of today’s walk-in clinics, where you could get meds at little to no cost.

Edgar Allan Poe, then living on Waverly Place, dropped by in 1837 for help with a head cold. “Clement C. Moore was a donor, as were Samuel F. B. Morse and P. T. Barnum,” the Times article states.

According to Inside the Apple, by Michelle and James Nevius, “the people who availed themselves of the Northern Dispensary would have been the tradesmen who provide services to the wealthier residents of Washington Square.”

The Northern Dispensary continued to offer care to the indigent through the 20th century.

In the 1960s it limited its services to dental health, and in 1989 was to be given to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, which planned to turn it into an AIDS hospice.

That didn’t happen; instead, the Archdiocese sold it in 1998 to a real-estate investor who died a year later.

Bound by a 181-year-old deed that stipulates the property must be used for health care for the poor, the Northern Dispensary remains eerily empty.

[Top sketch of the Dispensary between 1840 and 1870: from the NYPL Digital Collection]

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9 Responses to “Where the “worthy poor” went for medical care”

  1. wendy Says:

    I used to go to the Northern Dispensary for dental care in the 70’s. What a shame, when we have so many people in need of medical care, to have this wonderful building stand empty. Our country has turned mean spirited, I’m afraid.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    It has such potential to be reopened into some kind of health care facility–it’s a shame it sits empty.

  3. Rich T Says:

    Does the bottom pic show the back side? The number of windows per floor and door locations don’t seem to match the other pictures.

  4. pinball Says:

    Mayor Bloomberg allowed St Vincents hospital to close, he certainly wouldnt care about restoring this beautiful building for anyone but his developer buddies. Im sure they will figure out a way to circumvent the deed restrictions in time.

  5. Bosko Says:

    The Writers’ Room was located there in the ’80s, and I sublet an office within it. At the same period I was working as a proofreader at Time-Life, and we got (free) car-service transportation to and from after dark, so I was often calling for a car to pick me up there. The address, though, never failed to confound dispatchers: the corner of Waverly Place and Waverly Place.

  6. Doug Says:

    There is something going on in there now – I saw the NYC dept of buildings construction notices in the windows.

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