The histories of The Doctors’ Clinic and the City of Salem were intertwined long before August 6, 1903 when doctors Willis Bent Morse and Charles H. Robertson established their medical partnership in the 1889 Eldridge Building. Dr. Morse, an 1891 graduate of Salem’s Willamette University Medical School, went on to distinguish himself as an early expert in recognizing and treating Malaria and Typhoid fever, which were prevalent in Salem at the turn of the century. In 1895 he was recruited to co-found Salem Hospital, the city’s first non-profit hospital, which in 1927 became Salem General Hospital. Dr. Morse was a strong advocate for improved sanitation with a goal of improving public health and he was active in civic affairs, including a term as President of the State Board of Health.
Much of Dr. Morse’s time was devoted to house calls for common illnesses as well as complaints that today require a trip to the emergency room, though patients with minor ailments might visit his office. Most babies were delivered at home– hospitals were for gravely ill or surgical patients. Aspirin was invented in 1897 and blood types were isolated in 1901, making transfusions and surgeries that had been highly dangerous almost routine.
With Salem’s population passing 5,000, Dr. Morse needed a partner. Dr. Charles H. Robertson, a 34-year-old graduate of Willamette and Rush College with post-graduate study at the Mayo Clinic was gaining a reputation in Salem as a gifted surgeon. In August of 1903 he joined Dr. Morse in the Eldridge Building. Their office overlooked broad Commercial Street traveled by booted men, wagons, and women discreetly gathering skirts to dodge mud, horse droppings and other things best avoided.
During the early thirties there was a concerted effort on the part of the partnership to build a new Hospital and Salem General Hospital was the result of their efforts. It was brand new and had the most up to date equipment that they could furnish it with. Soon Dr. Morse was named Chief of Staff.
The Guardian Building, which was once home to the clinic, burned on November 3, 1947. The fire started in the basement under the Quisenberry Pharmacy and went up the elevator shaft where it involved the fourth and fifth floors. Get an idea of what Oregon looked like in the 1940’s by touring a special Oregon archives collection.
After the Guardian Building fire, the doctors worked out of both Salem General and Salem Deaconess Hospitals until they were able to have a new building built at 2475 Center Street NE where the clinic would remain for the next 50 years. It was thought prudent to adopt a name for the partnership and “The Doctors’ Clinic” became the official name which has been used since the opening of the clinic on Center Street, but it’s roots go back to 1903 when Dr. Morse and Dr. Robertson joined as partners.
In 1996 The Doctors’ Clinic had a new building built to accommodate expansion and moved to its present location. Our clinic’s longevity is only one of many reasons why our patients entrust their health care to us. We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into our past.