The founding of the first hospital in Fallbrook was set into motion by the actions of a Fallbrook nurse, Louise Shipley, and a rich Englishwoman, Alice Appleford.  Here is their story gleaned from back issues of The Fallbrook Enterprise, census data, and Fallbrook Historical Society archives.

In Fallbrook’s early years, emergency medical care was typically obtained by rushing the seriously injured or critically ill by horseback or horse drawn wagon to the closest local doctor’s home office.  Model T Fords began appearing on Fallbrook’ dirt roads after 1910.

The first San Diego County hospital had opened in Old Town, San Diego in 1869[1],  but it would be several decades before hospitals would open in the nearest cities of Oceanside or Escondido.  San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino each had several hospitals to choose from.  All of these were a long rough trip from Fallbrook on mostly dirt roads.  The first attempt at a Fallbrook hospital came in 1916.  Dr. John C. Graffin M.D. was advertising his Fallbrook Sanitorium on N. Main Ave for surgical and medical patients in his home in May 1916, but with limited office hours.  Then World War One began, and young Dr. Graffin departed the following year to accept an army commission.  

Twenty years later in 1936, Louise ‘Tiny’ Shipley, a registered nurse, opened a 6 bed Maternity and convalescent home in her and her husband Mark Shipley’s rural home off Olive Hill Rd, just south of Burma Rd.  Her business was called Tiny’s Maternity Home.  According to Mrs. Shipley, they handled about 15 babies a year until December 1937, when the Shipley’s home and the maternity home burned down[2].

 Needing a place to live and to re-start their Maternity Home business, the Shipley’s relocated to a new building in town on South Main Ave that had been built by an English couple, Alice and Henry Appleford. The Applefords owned considerable property around Fallbrook.  The Shipley’s resettled into their new home, and re-started the Maternity Home. However, their landlady Alice Shipley wanted to see the maternity home grow into a small hospital in this location, and she was willing to invest in the necessary equipment.  It took almost two years, but the Fallbrook Hospital was founded and opened on this site in October 1939.  The Fallbrook Enterprise reported that “Although it is rather small, it is well equipped to handle general hospital cases…. any licensed practitioner of the healing art is welcome to use.”  Mrs. Delia Ford, also a registered nurse, was hired to be the 1st Fallbrook hospital superintendent[3].  Today’s address of this historic building is 331 S. Main.

Alice Appleford donated much of her own funds to the hospital as it gradually grew and developed.  It was her stated hope that one day the town of Fallbrook would be able to buy it from her and then build a larger facility[4].  Eventually this did happen.

In the year 1948, the Fallbrook hospital had 80 babies born here and had 304 bed patients[5].  The hospital was being used, but it was losing money, about $250 per month.  In April 1949, the Applefords informed the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce that they could no longer afford this and would have to close immediately[6].  The town didn’t want to lose the only hospital in town and sprang into action.  Led by George and Josephine Kelsey*, the Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s Club, and other civic organizations banded together.  The Fallbrook Hospital Association was quickly organized in less than a month, incorporated with a board of directors, and began raising money.  By May 15th, 1949, the Hospital Association with George Kersey as chairman took over operation of the Fallbrook Hospital[7].  A year later, in May 1950, Fallbrook residents voted 344 to 140 to form the Fallbrook Hospital District.  The Fallbrook Hospital District was incorporated on June 12, 1950.  Now called the Fallbrook Regional Health District, they recently celebrated their 70th anniversary.

The Hospital Association did purchase the old hospital building on Main Ave from the Applefords in 1951[8].  The hospital would continue to operate at this location for 10 more years while a new hospital was being built on Elder Street from a $2 million bond.  The Fallbrook hospital moved into the new 20 bed facility on Elder St. in December 1960.  The hospital later expanded to a 50 bed facility in 1972, but it suffered from financial problems from the start.  By 2014 the Fallbrook hospital was losing $2 million dollars a year and in December 2015 it closed permanently[9]

Fallbrook Hospital on Elder Street circa 1990


    *  A quarter of a century later, in 1976, George and Josephine Kelsey would be instrumental in founding the Fallbrook Historical Society.


      1) San Diego History Center, Hospital Based Nursing Schools in San Diego by Donna Fosbinder, MSN, RN 1988.

      2) Fallbrook Enterprise news reports, multiple, 1935-1937

      3) Fallbrook Enterprise October 20, 1939

      4) Fallbrook Enterprise September 7, 1943 and June 16, 1944

      5) Fallbrook Enterprise January 1949

      6) Fallbrook Enterprise April 8, 1949

      7) Fallbrook Enterprise May 6, 1949 and June, 1950

      8)  Fallbrook Enterprise August 3, 1951

      9)  Village News June 11, 2020

      Tom Frew
      Fallbrook Historical Society