The History of Richfield Living

A legacy built on the vision of two nurses.

Richfield Living’s story is unique and inspiring. Richfield is not owned or affiliated with any entity, as we are a not-for-profit senior living community. Our history tells the story of an institution that was built by ingenuity, dedicated individuals and from community organizations, and the concerted efforts of two professional nurses — Jane Morgan Harris and Cary Holladay. The following written account was taken from early records. We invite you to click on the tabs below to learn more about our history.

Richfield dates back to 1919 when a group of women saw the need to provide the rural citizens of Roanoke County and the surrounding area with a means of learning how to care for the sick. By February 1920 a nursing committee called the Roanoke County Nursing Committee was formed with an imaginative, dedicated lady by the name of Mrs. Jane Morgan Harris appointed public health nurse for this committee.

One bitter cold night in the winter of 1934, Mrs. Harris, was called out for a maternity case on Salem-Carvin’s Creek Road in Roanoke County. Accompanied by Dr. William C. Stephenson, they located the expectant mother, her husband and their seven children huddled together in a one-room abandoned filling station. The delivery was made using the doctor’s automobile headlights. Appalled at the care – or lack of care – which was provided for indigent, obstetrical patients, Mrs. Harris appealed to the County Board of Supervisors for the use of an old house on the County Farm west of Salem.

She began a unique program of mobile clinics which offered instructions in dental care, toxoids, tuberculin care, baby and preschool care and school sanitation. Mrs. Harris also offered classes to rural women instructing them in home nursing and care for the sick throughout Roanoke County. These groups of women were then organized into social service club resulting in 35 clubs.

Mrs. Harris and the women from the social service clubs, armed with scrub brushes and paint, made the old house habitable. A Roanoke Hospital donated two discarded beds and Mrs. Harris devised bedside tables from orange crates and stoves from oil drums. She admitted her first patients for a fee of $5 for two weeks of care. If the patients did not have the money, they brought in farm produce in exchange for their care. The Virginia Emergency Relief Association employed a graduate nurse for the first two years of operations as accommodations were gradually expanded.

When the Roanoke Public Health Association was founded in 1937, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors voted to turn the entire project over to the Association to be run as a nursing home and be known as Mercy House. Roanoke County maintained the buildings and paid the insurance, as well as the salaries of four men who operated the 280-acre farm under the direction of the county agricultural agent. The farm supplied fruits and vegetables for meals, and all surplus vegetables were canned. Pigs and chickens were raised for meat and a small dairy herd was maintained to supply milk. Any excess food or milk was sold.

In 1939, Cary Breckenridge Holladay was selected as the superintendent for Mercy House. She reportedly was the ‘possessor of an inexhaustible fund of common sense and had a prodigious capacity for hard work.’ Mrs. Holladay’s staff was comprised of a secretary, a graduate technician, eight domestics, and about thirty practical nurses. Patients ranged in age from infants to octogenarians with a wide range of physical disabilities. Mrs. Harris’ social service clubs worked on behalf of Mercy House. Their members attended Mrs. Harris’ home-nursing classes and were responsible for finding and reporting needy cases within their communities.

In the canning season, they formed committees to help can foods, which were processed by means of modern canning equipment housed in a remodeled woodshed. ‘One year over 20,000 quarts of food and 250 gallons of apple butter were preserved.’ Patient quarters were renovated and redecorated with funds raised by these clubs through cake sales, quilting bees, etc. Mrs. Holladay reportedly spent many evenings crocheting brightly colored Afghans to sell – ‘Whenever she sells an Afghan, she glories in the fact that now she can build a partition or cut a window for another private cubicle’. ”

In 1968, in honor of the work and contributions of Mr. and Mrs. S. H. McVitty, the decision was made to change the name from Mercy House to McVitty House. As the property expanded its services to offer various levels of care, the Board sought a new name which would reflect the whole community. A local historian advised that the property was situated on land that was once a part of the estate of a renowned local citizen and Revolutionary War General, Andrew Lewis. His estate was named Richfield; therefore, the decision was made to adopt the name Richfield Retirement Community.

Over the years many patients have found refuge and care at what is now known as Richfield Living. Richfield has grown from its humble beginnings into a place now recognized for excellence, both locally and statewide, as a leader in retirement living, assisted living and nursing care. It stands today as a tribute to those two Registered Nurses, Jane Morgan Harris and Cary Breckenridge Holladay whose skill and empathy worked together to bring health, courage and peace of mind to those in need.

A new nursing care center was built in 1971 in the location of the original farm house. An east wing addition opened in 1978. Also, in 1978, a 70-bed ‘home for adults’ named The Oaks opened in some of the original nursing home ‘cottages’ which were left standing and were located behind the new nursing center.

In 1980, Ridgecrest, the first of our senior independent living rental housing units opened.

Also in 1980, the Jane Morgan Harris Chapel was built with contributions from the public. The Chapel was dedicated, and appropriately named to honor our founder, Jane Morgan Harris. The chapel served as the center for religious activities on our campus for many years. The new chapel will be integrated into the new Town Center including the transition of the original stained-glass window to a place of honor.

In 1981, Knollwood Apartments opened its doors offering 81 apartments ranging from studio to two-bedroom floor plans.

In 1981, the former Fort Lewis Fire Department building was purchased and remodeled to house a medical clinic and a retail pharmacy. Both of these entities were replaced in 2003 when the H. E. Bowling Professional Center opened. The Professional Center currently houses a medical clinic, retail pharmacy, outpatient therapy clinic, home health care company, and Richfield’s Admissions offices.

In 1988, the first of our Lake Estates were built. Currently there are 13 cottages, which are situated around the upper lake on our campus.

In 1990, the 82 bed T. Stuart Payne Center for Assisted Living opened. This facility replaced the original home for adults, which was razed in 1990. It was named in honor of T. Stuart Payne who served as General Manager of Richfield from 1964-1981.

In November of 1993, The Oaks opened providing additional assisted living opportunities on our campus. The Oaks, licensed for 90 beds, was dedicated in honor of John B. Cocke, Jr., who served on the Board of Directors for 28 years.

With an ongoing need for assisted living space, the Joseph C. Thomas Center opened in June of 1998. This facility was named in honor of the Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Directors for Richfield Retirement Community. This facility is currently licensed for 96 beds.

In 2012, The Rehab Center opened offering 48 private recovery suites for those requiring a temporary stay from the hospital. Directly after, Richfield opened The Wellness Center, a fitness destination for campus residents and staff. The Wellness Center also houses our Richfield Outpatient Therapy, which is open to the general community and to all ages.

In 2017, the Herbert E. Bowling Professional Center has further allowed us to expand campus services. Richfield Living now houses Valley Internal Medicine, DaVita Dialysis, and Carilion Clinic Pharmacy.

2020 brings exciting new senior apartment options and convenient Town Center amenities catered to those looking for an active, independent lifestyle on its Salem campus. The restructured campus will also include brand new care suites featuring person-centered care to promote personal well-being and joy-filled living.

Also in 2020, Richfield Living’s award-winning skilled nursing and rehab is expanding to Roanoke with a brand new facility. Featuring all private rooms centered around the heart of a home – the household kitchen – this model of care furthers our mission of putting our residents first.

Find out more about living at Richfield today

The Cost of Care: Home vs. Independent Living vs. Assisted Living

Senior Living Communities and the Social Calendar: The Benefits of Active Aging

5 Things You Should Know About Richfield Living’s Assisted Living Residences

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