No longer standing, the Sheppard-Watts Hospital served the health and medical needs of Marshall's African American community for more than 40 years. East Texas native James R. Sheppard, M.D., opened the Sheppard Sanitarium, as the hospital was first known, in 1925 when black physicians were not permitted to practice in hospitals with white patients.
Born in 1871, Dr. Sheppard was raised by his mother and a stepfather who opposed the young man's educational pursuits. According to a brief autobiographical account, Dr. Sheppard attended school only two months during the year but after turning 17, he moved to Texarkana to receive a more extensive education. He taught for a while and then pursued his medical studies at Flint Medical College in New Orleans, graduating in 1904. Dr. Sheppard furthered his medical education and particularly his surgical knowledge at institutions in Chicago.
Dr. Sheppard moved to Marshall in 1908 and opened his first sanitarium, located outside of the city, in 1911. A fire in 1920 destroyed that facility, a loss Dr. Sheppard estimated at $20,000. He later built a new three-story hospital, the Sheppard Santiarium, at 606 South Carter Street. There Dr. Sheppard treated patients, performed surgeries and also trained nurses. Dr. Sheppard regularly attended medical conferences and provided demonstrations of his surgical techniques to other physicians. He served as vice-president of the Texas chapter of the National Medical Association, the professional organization for African American physicians who were not allowed to join the all white American Medical Association.
Dr. Sheppard had two younger half-brothers who followed him into the medical field. Perry N. Watts, born in 1877, became a pharmacist and worked for most of his career in Houston. Born in 1885, William Watts enrolled at Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1911, graduated in 1915 and obtained his Texas medical license that same year. Dr. Watts initially practiced in Houston and opening the Watts Sanitarium, a 40-bed facility, on Canal Street around 1920. There he treated and operated on African American patients as well as those of Mexican descent.
Dr. Watts moved to California, practicing in Fresno before opening Oakland's first hospital for African Americans in 1926. It closed the next year and by 1929, Dr. Watts had returned to East Texas due to the illness and then death of his half-brother, Dr. Sheppard. Dr. Watts assumed operation of the hospital and nursing school in Marshall, which was described in 1936 as having the "very finest of equipment, careful nursing and the most able professional services," as well as the "most modernly equipped" clinic and kitchen. Other Marshall physicians, like George T. Coleman, also practiced there.
Dr. Watts later renamed it the Sheppard-Watts Hospital and continued practicing into the late 1960s. He sold the property a year before his death in 1980. The former medical building was demolished after 1996 and today steps from the sidewalk lead to overgrowth and rubble where the hospital once stood.