Key Takeaways

  • Massachusetts General Hospital celebrates the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Bulfinch Building.
  • The first patient on September 1, 1821, was a horse saddler with syphilis.
  • Hospital staff and descendants of the building's architect Charles Bulfinch were on hand to unveil banners and celebrate the occasion.

The Bulfinch Building has always been at the heart of our hospital and a reminder of our enduring mission to provide the very best patient care to all who come through our doors.

Peter L. Slavin, MD
President, Massachusetts General Hospital

BOSTON—Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) today marked a milestone, celebrating its 200th anniversary of continuous patient care. It was Sept. 1, 1821, when the first patient was admitted to the iconic Bulfinch Building designed by famed architect Charles Bulfinch. In recognition of two centuries of care, descendants of the noteworthy architect gathered with hospital staff on the building’s portico to unfurl commemorative banners highlighting the hospital’s history and legacy.

“Over generations the MGH campus has changed considerably,” says Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president. “Throughout that time, however, the Bulfinch Building has always been at the heart of our hospital and a reminder of our enduring mission to provide the very best patient care to all who come through our doors. We consider ourselves the guardians of its legacy.”

Although chartered in 1811, MGH did not open the doors of its original building until 1821, following delays resulting from the War of 1812 and years of fundraising. While Bulfinch planned and designed the structure, the building was completed by his former student, Alexander Parris, following Bulfinch’s departure for Washington, D.C., where he was commissioned to design the U.S. Capitol.  A visual and technological marvel of its day, the 36,000-square-foot Bulfinch Building, was among the first to have central heating and simple indoor plumbing. The first patient to enter the doors of the Bulfinch Building for medical treatment was a 30-year-old horse saddler seeking treatment for syphilis, a miserable and complex disease to treat in the days before antibiotics.  

“The family was honored to be invited,” says Douglas Bulfinch, descendant of Charles Bulfinch. “We are proud of the work of our ancestor and the work that Mass General has done for the community.”

The Bulfinch Building is best known for the hospital’s original operating theater, now called the Ether Dome. It was here, on October 16, 1846, that local dentist William T.G. Morton made history with the first successful public demonstration of ether for surgical anesthesia, ushering in a new era of pain-free surgery. The Ether Dome was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

About Massachusetts General Hospital
Founded in 1811, Massachusetts General Hospital is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and the third oldest hospital in the nation. Each year, the 1,100-bed academic medical center cares for more than 50,000 inpatients, records more than 1.5 million outpatient and emergency visits, and delivers more than 3,800 babies. The MGH is consistently ranked among the top hospitals in the nation on the US News & World Report list of “America’s Best Hospitals.” The MGH Research Institute conducts the largest hospital-based scientific program in the nation, with annual research expenditures of more than $1 billion and comprising more than 8,500 researchers working across more than 30 institutes, centers and departments.