The DeWitt Historic Site: The Story of a Place

This historic 225-acre site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is currently operated as the Placer County Government Center, using many of the same buildings originally constructed in 1943 to serve as the DeWitt General Army Hospital for wounded servicemen during WWII.

This site was chosen for a military hospital by the Surgeon General after a lobbying effort by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce and Congressman Englebright. The major selling factors: Above the fog and below the snow, access to railroad transportation, and geographic location near Sacramento and northwestern US military bases.

A massive 50’ flagpole stood directly in front of the Administration building and the official Open House and Flag Raising Ceremony took place on February 27, 1944 with 4,000 people in attendance. By then, they had already received the first two patients.

When the military hospital opened, it had a 1,727 bed capacity. During this time, a population of over 3,000 individuals lived on the site. This included US Army officers, military medical personnel, and enlisted servicemen and women including of the Women's Army Corps. When it later became a State Hospital in 1946, the same patient wards, barracks, and facilities continued to be used for 26 more years.

The hospital was named after Brigadier General Calvin DeWitt who was a Civil War veteran and moved up through the ranks as a medical officer. It is interesting to note that his first son Wallace DeWitt, had a hospital in Fort Belvoir, Florida named after him, making two DeWitt Army Hospitals named after the same DeWitt family.

The chapel was completed at the end of 1943 with 250 seats and a new pipe organ. The first mass was for Christmas of 1943. The chapel rotated Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish services. The first wedding to take place at DeWitt was held in the Chapel on June 24, 1944.

Patients came to the hospital from both the Pacific and European theaters, and as transfers from other hospitals around the nation. There were also several instances where a local tragedy, such as a train accident, brought non-war related patients to the hospital.

Patients of course received excellent healthcare but they were also provided with a variety of diversions including theater productions and movies while at DeWitt. Silver screen star Dorothy Lamour visited the hospital early in her career. She performed on stage and visited recuperating soldiers.

Comedian Joe E. Brown

Originally, every single building on the campus was connected by long hallways. This allowed patients to be moved from one end of the complex to the opposite without ever going outside, lowering their exposure to germs and the elements.

Doctors knew that sunlight and nature were beneficial to the healing process. Patient wards also had solariums. DeWitt was a Vascular Surgery Center, and the Chief Surgeon Dr. Storck created non-smoking wards in the hospital.

When the Army Hospital was repurposed as a State Hospital, one of the issues staff faced was the great distances that needed to be traveled between different parts of the campus. This could make the complex feel dislocated and isolated.

The gymnasium was the DeWitt Red Cross Recreational Auditorium where many activities were hosted for the soldiers, some of which included dances or other social events.

It’s hard to believe that so many changes have occurred in 74 years. This campus has been an Army Hospital, State Hospital, and is now a Government Center. With changes occurring so rapidly, it’s important that we save the stories, artifacts, and memories that are associated with the DeWitt campus. That’s the importance of the new museum. We invite you to join us in learning about the history of DeWitt, and contributing your own stories, memories, and any artifacts and photos you may have of this historic site.

Inside the new DeWitt History Museum, a farm cottage that predates the hospital, photographs and artifacts help tell the stories of the different uses of the property during different eras. Exhibits highlight its purchase by the federal government as a WWII hospital, its subsequent purchase by the State Department of Mental Hygiene as a state hospital, and it’s most current function as The Placer County Government Center.

DeWitt History Museum