The new owners of St. Ignatius Hospital are aiming for a balance between community and spooky with the long abandoned building in Colfax. Is it possible ?

COLFAX – On a modest square plaque outside the Saint-Ignace hospital in Colfax, a Latin inscription recalls the mission of the abandoned building of 1893: CHARITAS CHRISTI URGET NOS, or, roughly speaking, “The love of Christ we grows. “

It is also an expression used in exorcisms.

Austin Storm, who bought the long-abandoned brick structure on the Palouse this spring with his wife, Laura, is quick to point out the dual significance, given that the former Catholic hospital has become a hotspot for paranormal tourism. .

“I don’t think they wanted that resonance,” Storm said, standing near the stone slab.

The competing symbolism also aligns with the Storms vision for St. Ignatius: to renovate the sagging building into a mixed-use commercial facility, but retain some of the spooky factor that attracted social media influencers and paranormal TV shows. on campus at the cul-de-sac on Mill Street South.

“They said, ‘You’re going to keep the historical tours and the paranormal, aren’t you?’ “Whitman County Historical Society director Valoree Gregory, who leads these tours, said of the organization.” (Austin) and Laura, they said, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to spoil a good thing . ‘ “

But the building is in need of major repair, with a gaping roof, chipped lead paint and puddles on the floor. The Storms partnered with the Whitman County Historical Society on an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for the renovation, with an anonymous donation of $ 50,000 to inspire potential donors.

“All the fans of the building have seen it get worse, so everyone understands very well that unless we start working to improve it, preserve it, it will ultimately not be there anymore,” Storm said.

While some are skeptical of the ability – or adequacy – of the upgrades, the Storms and their supporters see the hospital as some sort of gruesome economic lightning rod for Colfax that also honors its past.

“There is room for both,” Storm said. “It’s our hope is to see the beautiful architecture and… all the amazing things it could do for this community and the Palouse as a whole.”

“A common loss”

Built for $ 40,000 in the last decade of the 19th century, St. Ignatius was the tallest building in eastern Washington at the time.

A pioneer who moved to Washington in 1862. A once wealthy moneylender who died as a “poor man” and ward of the county. A young boy who was struck down by a sudden illness after a camping trip. These are some of the patients whose lives ended inside the walls of Saint-Ignace, according to newspaper archives.

Designed by Mother Joseph Pariseau, a renowned architect and missionary whose birthday is a public holiday in Washington, St. Ignatius ceased operations as a hospital in the 1960s and eventually turned into a nursing home. long-lived, closing shortly after the turn of the millennium. . It was once owned by Derrick Fincher, who was convicted of fraud in 2018.

“You have a strong feeling that is not how it is supposed to be,” Storm said of the building’s derelict state. “Something has really gone wrong. Like, it’s a community loss.

Storm unlocked the south door of the old hospital and entered on a blustery fall morning to assess the damage after a night of heavy rain.

“This is the hot spot,” he said, stepping over an indoor puddle, guided by his phone’s flashlight.

The Storms, who own a vintage clothing store in town, were first drawn to the hospital about seven years ago because of their mutual love for old things.

“We had a day off and we were rafting the Palouse River, and (Laura) was like, we should go to Colfax and see if we could find this place,” Storm recalls. “We were really blown away by this.”

It’s not the couple’s only connection to a historic hospital. They were both born in the same Maryland apartment building that has since been demolished, but only met after living in the Northwest. The long saga of trying to integrate Saint Ignatius into their history began on this spring day.

“I think back then we were like… we’re going to move in there and we’ll invite our friends to move in while we fix it. It was very bohemian, ”Storm said of the couple’s initial plan for the building. “It’s still bohemian, but maybe less crazy.”

On the third floor, Storm looked out the glass window of an enclosed balcony built for tuberculosis patients (doctors prescribed plenty of sun and fresh air for them). There are several of these sunny hiding places in the building, overlooking a “very Gothic” strip of spindly trees, and Storm sees their modern potential for something very different.

“They would make the nicest little artist studios,” he said, or maybe a lounge area filled with greenery for a hotel.

Below, an abandoned outbuilding is scrawled inside with black graffiti that reads “BLEED”.

While tours stopped in 2018, the Storms restarted them shortly after purchasing the campus, although some areas are blocked for security reasons.

Gregory has been touring there since they started about seven years ago. The city agreed with the idea, she recalled, but with reservations – an official warned the building was “abandoned and disgusting”.

“I’m going, ‘I know, it’s wonderful,’” Gregory said with a laugh.

She created a website advertising the tours and posted them on Facebook. By eight hours, Gregory said, all tickets sold out.

“It really made a huge difference in our community,” said Gregory, who also owns Colfax Mercantile Downtown. “It really brought a little spark back to Colfax.”

Businesses have even started using the Scary Hospital as a marketing tool. They put stickers with her in their windows that said, “Ghost towns happen when you don’t buy local. “

Storm admits he’s never had a whiff of the paranormal during his considerable time renovating the building, but it’s “something I’m totally ready to believe in.”

“I’m not saying this to dismiss the experiences of others,” said Storm, who asked her Anglican priest to bless the building. “I like that it’s a point of contact that people have for the building. And I think for a lot of people it serves as proof that there is more to the world than we can see. “

It might just be practical.

“I think it’s possible that you get what you put in it, and that because I have to spend a lot of time working in the building, I usually try not to open myself up to fear,” he said. he declared.

But for others, that’s the point.

‘Just a part of Colfax’

One of the first signs greeting visitors who drive the winding country to Colfax reminds them: “We’re still here. “

A little further in the city is the district surrounding Saint-Ignace. Well prepared for Halloween one recent morning, a modest white house had an inflatable purple haunted castle up front marked with an “Enter if you dare” sign.

A block or two away, Saint-Ignace is guarded by similar signs all year round.



For Pasha Rudenko, who lives and works nearby, these messages carry considerable weight. But he sees a lot of people ignoring them.

“Right now it’s an environmental concern for everyone, and the people who live here closest should be most concerned,” he said.

Rudenko said he was removing the shrubs from the embankment leading to the main building in St. Ignatius because he had seen children sliding there for fun. Then there are the people who really want to come in.

“I hope something good goes with this, and I would be really upset if there is a dumping ground left,” Rudenko said of the building.

Yet he is skeptical.

“As a dumping ground,” Rudenko said, “he makes more money than anything else.”

But Rachelle Marshall welcomes the spooky tourism in the neighborhood – “people like to be scared,” she said.

Marshall lives in a house she says is haunted, and her family owns a house next door that she says was occupied by the unmarried nurses of St. Ignatius. She and her husband were hoping to buy Saint-Ignace themselves, but now they want to turn the white-and-blue nursing home into a spooky Airbnb for hospital visitors, complete with Victorian furnishings.

“We’re trying to be a nice neighborhood again,” Marshall said during a break after raking the leaves.

Although she never saw any ghosts in her house, Marshall noted that she told them to stay away.

“There is a lot of original wallpaper in there, when I touch it you can feel the sadness. I know it sounds strange, ”said Marshall, who claims her husband and son saw ghosts there. “And then you can touch other wallpapers and it’s not sad. So it’s almost like it’s overwhelming you.

Rudenko, who works nights from his home office, is not convinced.

“I’m the only ghost here,” he said.

A lot of people are ready to buy in the scary, however – with tickets. One of Gregory’s recent tour groups was from Boston, while the next day’s was from Texas, and she said the two had come just to see the hospital.

Long before leading tours there, the Colfax native said that Saint-Ignace was already serving as the city’s de facto haunted house.

“We used to go there and it was terrifying,” she said. “I think it’s part of Colfax.”

Gregory also saw the heart of the hospital. After all, she was born there and raised while using it.

“The people who lived there were really part of our community. They came to basketball and volleyball games. It was right there, ”Gregory said. “It’s always been a part of our lives.”

While Gregory wants Colfax to exploit its full potential, she acknowledged that some residents fear this will change the character of the city.

“The neighbors are all like, ‘Oh, we don’t want fancy apartments or anything, because this is our neighborhood,'” she said.

Still, she believes there is room for improvement without sacrificing the spirit of Colfax.

“If a haunted hospital can bring a city back,” she said, “people can do anything, can’t they?”

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