The past and present of Smith Clinic: Friday morning, flames engulfed the historic Smith Clinic building — what happens next?

Jordan Meier and Amanda Minton
A postcard painting of the Smith Clinic building.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The smoke billowing from the Smith Clinic apartments on the corner of 9th and Broadway could be seen from almost anywhere in Pittsburg Friday morning.  The fire, which required the efforts of the Pittsburg Fire Department, the Frontenac Fire Department and the Baker Township Fire Department to contain, left the nearly 100-year-old building torched on the inside.  

After the flames were finally extinguished, two major questions were left unanswered: what caused the fire, and what will happen to the Smith Clinic building?  

On Monday, just three days after the fire, Pittsburg Fire Chief Dennis Reilly said he felt confident calling the fire accidental and that there was no foul play suspected.  

“We think it was accidental and likely caused by electrical lines in the building,” Reilly said.  

Reilly said the fire department is still waiting on the final report from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, but added that he expects the report later this week.  

With the cause of the fire largely settled, efforts will now pivot to what will become of the Smith Clinic building.  

Both Reilly and Deputy City Manager Jay Byers said Monday that the building seems salvageable. Byers said the City of Pittsburg has had inspectors and engineers in the building to assess the damage, which he said was largely contained to the interior.  

“It’s structurally sound,” Byers said. “The entire inside needs to be redone, obviously, and there is some water in the basement that needs to be removed, but the structure is intact.”  

However, despite the structure not being an issue, the building is privately owned and it is up to the owners to decide what will become of it.  

“It's going to depend on the owners,” Reilly said, “and how much time and money they want to put into it and how much insurance can help.”  

An Arkansas man reached Monday who identified himself as a part-owner of the building but did not wish to provide his name said the owners have zero idea at this time what they are going to do with the building.  

“We’ve had inspectors and engineers in there to assess but we don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “We know it has historical value to Pittsburg, and we’re going to keep that in mind.”  

 The Smith Clinic building has a rich history as one of the first doctors’ offices in the area and has been around since the 1920s.  

An early version of the present-day “clinic” concept of doctors’ offices, with several doctors under one roof, was brought to Pittsburg 114 years ago by C.A. Smith, a physician and surgeon. 

Claudius Aubrey was born in Windsor, Missouri on Feb. 10, 1869. Upon reaching college age, he attended State Normal School at Warrensburg, Missouri, taught school for a time, and then attended Barnes Medical College in St. Louis, graduating in 1899. Shortly after graduation, he came to Yale, a mining camp located in present-day Crawford County, as a physician and surgeon to the Western Coal and Mining Company. 

Yale was then a thriving mining camp. Dr. Smith brought his wife with him to Yale and he served as company physician there until 1906, when he went to Europe for a year to study medicine a Berlin, Vienna and London. While he was in Europe, his family moved to Pittsburg. When he returned in 1907, he opened his private practice here. His first office was on the west side of Broadway between 4th and 5th streets. He later moved to the second floor of the National Bank Building at 4th and Broadway, where he practiced until 1926. 

Dr. Smith’s son, C. Herbert Smith, also a doctor and graduate of Barnes, joined him in practice in 1916. They made plans for the establishment of a clinic in Pittsburg for better facilities for the diagnosis of disease. World War I delayed the opening of the clinic, but in 1919, Dr. Smith, his son, and Dr. H.E. Marchbanks formed the nucleus of the Smith Clinic. The first offices of the clinic were in the National Bank Building, but a new building at 902 N. Broadway, built specifically for the need of medical purposes, opened in 1926. 

 The original Clinical Building Association was composed of six people; Dr. C. A. Smith, Dr. C. Herbert Smith, Dr. L. J. King, Dr. H. L. Church, Dr. H. E. Marchbanks, and Jack Lindburg. While the Smith Clinic was not operated exactly as clinics are operated today, it served a need and a purpose in the community for over 40 years. There were X-Ray facilities in the building during much of its use as a medical facility. King was a dentist, Lindburg had a pharmacy in the building, and the others were physicians and surgeons. Other doctors had offices there before it was sold and the company dissolved on Feb. 27, 1968. 

 Dr. C. A. Smith was also instrumental in assisting Mt. Carmel Hospital to attain a class “A” rating in the state. In order to meet this standard, it was necessary to organize a hospital staff. Dr. Smith led this organization and served as its first chief of staff. He specialized in surgery and become known as one of the best in the state in that field. He was a member of AMA, KMA, and the County's Medical Association. 

The C.A. Smith family had started a new home at College and Webster, planning for it to be one of the finest in Pittsburg. Dr. Smith died suddenly of a heart attack on Feb. 1, 1928, before it was finished.  

When the company dissolved in 1968, Merle Humbard converted the building into apartments. Over the decades, ownership exchanged from Fred Spigarelli to Jack and Lois Lemon and others, however, the Smith Clinic remained as apartments to date. 

Jordan Meier is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be reached at Amanda Minton is a local historian and Executive Director/Curator of the Crawford County Historical Museum.