With the support of a grant from the Community Foundation’s Carroll and Grace “Patsy” Guynn Memorial Fund, the Augusta County Historical Society is documenting the history of the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation (WWRC) complex in Fishersville from its World War II beginnings as the Woodrow Wilson Military Hospital to its post-war transition into a nationally-renowned rehabilitation center for people with disabilities and public educational center central to life in Augusta County.
The Guynn brothers—Jack, Jimmy and Doug— initiated the project because of the family’s strong connection to the WWRC and what was known as “The Post” where they and other families lived, worked and learned and gained such a deep respect for what the WWRC and the entire Post symbolized in commitment and spirit. Their father served as the longtime director of education at the WWRC and they, along with others, grew up in this unique setting of a place owing its origin to war and the Nation’s care of veterans and later the restoration and training of disabled in the Commonwealth and the education of Augusta County’s students. Their mother also was an educator whose final career days were as a teacher at Augusta County’s Wilson Elementary School on The Post.
Nancy Sorrells, a noted local historian, will author the book. Connie Doebele, a nationally and internationally regarded 25-year veteran producer and former on-air talent for C-SPAN, and resident of Staunton since 2011, will produce a 30-minute documentary film. The story not only traces the history of the WWRC but also some aspects of life in the special village known as The Post even after the Post was turned over to the state of Virginia and Augusta County .
The book and film are scheduled for joint release in early 2016. The Guynn family’s hope is that both forms of documentary will be developed to preserve history and to offer for future generations an insight into a remarkable spirit and way of life during and after World War II in Augusta County.
The Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center was the first state-operated comprehensive rehabilitation center in the country. Today the center provides vocational training and medical interventions for people with disabilities to assist them in obtaining employment and learning to live more independently.
The history of the center traces back to May of 1942, when it was announced that a military hospital would be built in Fishersville, a community located between the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro. The location was ideal because the C&O train, which ran through the area, could transport wounded soldiers from throughout the country to the hospital on The Post. There they could rest, recover, and rehabilitate for a better return to civilian life— with the emphasis from the beginning on rehabilitation for those who had sacrificed so much.
The state-of-the-art hospital was named Woodrow Wilson because of President Wilson’s birthplace in nearby Staunton and because Wilson signed into law the first comprehensive rehabilitation act and established the Veterans Rehabilitation Service— designed to help maimed or injured soldiers coming home from World War I.
On June 6, 1943, 300 wounded soldiers from the North African campaign arrived at the hospital. Eventually, there were close to 2,000 soldiers at the hospital, where many groundbreaking innovations in physical therapy and rehabilitative medicine, including adaptive prosthesis, were developed during the war years.
The military hospital was closed after WWII. After extensive planning and lobbying by state and local officials, the hospital reopened as a comprehensive rehabilitation center for civilians on part of the Post, and educational offices and housing for Augusta County Public Schools personnel were also located on another portion of the former military base known as The Post. . In 1947, Augusta County, using the old labyrinth of connected barrack buildings, opened the consolidated high school under the name of Wilson Memorial High School, where Carroll Guynn was a member of the inaugural faculty.
Much of the history of the Woodrow Wilson Complex has been preserved in the archives housed at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center, which will be a tremendous resource for Sorrells and Doebele.
The historians will integrate into their work the personal stories of individuals who experienced the Woodrow Wilson Complex, especially those who may have been affiliated with the complex during its use as a Military Hospital. To that end, they are seeking former employees, patients, and other individuals with a personal story that they are willing to share. Sorrells and Doebele can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected].
This project is made possible by the donor-advised grant program of the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, which serves the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, as well as Augusta, Highland, and Nelson counties. Learn more atcommunityfoundationcbr.org