The story of what is now Richfield Retirement Community is unique and inspiring

History of Richfield

Richfield is not owned or affiliated with any entity. Our history tells the story of an institution that was built by ingenuity, dedicated individuals and organizations from the community, and the concerted efforts of two professional nurses – Jane Morgan Harris and Cary Holladay. The following written account was taken from early records.

1_janeharrisRichfield dates back as far as 1919 when a group of women saw the need and encouraged the formation of a nursing committee which by February 1920, was formally named the Roanoke County Nursing Committee. The purpose of this committee was to provide the rural citizens of Roanoke County and the surrounding area, with a means of learning how to care for the sick. In 1923, an imaginative, dedicated lady by the name of Jane Morgan Harris was appointed public health nurse for this committee.

“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 clubs, 35 would eventually be formed by Mrs. Harris.”

“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 and her husband with their seven children, huddled together in an abandoned filling station because they had been evicted from their home. The delivery was made using the doctor’s automobile headlights. After this experience, Mrs. Harris swore this should never happen again. She was determined to find a place where people in need could be cared for properly. Mrs. Harris appealed to the County Board of Supervisors for the use of an old house on the County Farm west of Salem.”

9_kitchen“Mrs. Harris rallied support from the women of the social service clubs and armed with scrub brushes and paint, they made the place 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. “

13_painting“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. Social service clubs that were organized by Mrs. Harris, 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’. ”

A new nursing care center was built in 1971 in the location of the original farm house. An east wing addition opened in 1978. 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.

2_mercyhouse_000As the property expanded its services to offer various levels of housing and care, the Board sought a new name which would better reflect the growing 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.

Over the years many individuals have called Richfield home. The Richfield Living community has grown from its humble beginnings into a place now recognized as a leader in retirement living, assisted living rehabilitation 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.