It all began in the fall of 1941 when Neil Martin was searching for property on which to establish a rural sanitarium and medical missionary institution for the training of lay workers. He had hopes that W. D. Frazee and George McClure would join him in the establishment of such an institution
Through one of God’s divine appointments Neil Martin met with Dr. Hayward who was practicing medicine in Chattanooga and who also had a heart for the medical missionary based work in the country. Dr. Hayward offered his 500 acre farm to accomplish this dream. Brs. Martin and McClure also enlisted the counsel and approval of the Southern Union and Georgia-Cumberland Conference presidents. They desired to work closely with denominational leaders and organization.
The deal was closed. Wildwood Sanitarium was born just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor—January, 1942. Dr. Hayward turned the property over to Wildwood’s founders with only a $3000 note of indebtedness. The balance was a gift of love for a work he whole-heartedly believed in. Wildwood was on its way to becoming a lighthouse of truth for more than the Chattanooga area. Its rays of light were destined to reach out across the United States, Canada, and Mexico; jump the oceans; and send their beams into Puerto Rico, Belize, Honduras, Japan, Korea and Zambia.
With the erection of a whole new physical plant ahead of them the Wildwood leaders realized their skills were inadequate to do all the building required. This began a saga of Christian faith, earnest prayer and hard work which has thrilled hearts around the world.
Wildwood leaders trace their roots back to larger and older institutions—Loma Linda and Madison who trained some of the staff and faculty. Elder Frazee, himself took his medical missionary training at Loma Linda.
Soon after the founders took over their new property, they felt the need for erecting a modest sanitarium building in which they could carry on the medical missionary work from the Lord’s instruction. One morning soon after their arrival at Wildwood, Elder Frazee, Brother Martin, and Brother McClure led their little company of fellow workers out to the chosen spot. The service was very simple. They had prayer, put down a shovel, and turned over a spade full of earth, took a picture of the fifteen or twenty workers and that was it. The resources and skilled labor would be the result of prayer.
The band of workers who had been assembled by this time had a busy program ahead. Houses must be erected for workers. Firewood had to be cut. Later, gardens were to be planted, trees and grapevines set out. Grounds must be readied to care for enlarged programs. Where houses were not available, workers lived in tents. Endless duties demanded their attention during those early challenging months.
To help financially with the project, nurses went out into the Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain areas to work. All their income went into a general fund to help keep the project viable. There was no delay in pursuing the missionary work they had come to Wildwood to do. Staff members were busy giving health lectures and Bible studies, and some found themselves teaching Sunday Schools in nearby churches.
Willing minds, busy hands and tireless feet were the standard tools. They had no bulldozers, no tractors, or other modern machinery. Firm faith, persevering prayer, dogged determination, and a few ordinary tools made up the lack. There was a dream to be realized, a sanitarium to be built. So one day the men hitched up their one team of mules and went to work by faith. An old plow, a worn scraper, a few handpicks and shovels were soon throwing out earth, excavating for the basement of the new building. They had no lumber, no bricks, no cement, no plumbing, no light fixtures—in fact “no nothing” to erect the structure. There was not even a carpenter to lead out in the construction work. This little group prayed. God heard and answered. Dan Brown, an experienced carpenter, offered his services to the Wildwood staff. After he helped them complete a barn, he was ready to tackle the excavation site for the new sanitarium.
An excursion into Chattanooga to buy materials proved fruitless since it was wartime. They returned home disappointed but not discouraged. They knew God would not disappoint them. They prayed and God responded with a newspaper ad offering some old buildings for sale from an abandoned construction camp about 70 miles away. For $1000 (mostly donated money), they harvested the wood and supplies that would be re-cycled into a “new” sanitarium.
The next daunting task was how to dismantle, organize, and transport thousands of feet of lumber, nails, windows, etc. In answer to this prayer, the Holy Spirit moved upon the hearts of those who were attending a self-supporting conference hosted by Wildwood near this site. The attendees volunteered to raze the 14 buildings and collect the materials. The next miracle God answered was providing the money to purchase the old truck that hauled everything back to Wildwood.
But some months later this lumber was still sitting under the trees awaiting the skilled workers who were hard to find. By faith the available men cleaned off the site and poured footings. God’s response was on its way when a skilled mason arrived. He arranged to colporteur during the week and lay brick on Sundays. Soon the walls and roof were finished.
What did God do in answer to the need for a plumber that would work for nothing? He sent two plumbers on Thanksgiving Day, 1944! They offered their services during their week’s vacation. The one plumber even dug down into his pocket to help pay for a good share of the scarce plumbing supplies purchased in town.
“Every floor and room in the old san has a story of providence and answered prayer,” reflected Elder Frazee years later.
During the late 60’s , Wildwood leaders earnestly pursued the plan to erect a 36 bed lifestyle center. As usual the funds were short but faith was strong and enthusiasm ran high. Some $400,000 would be required to complete this project. However with only $10,000 cash in hand, they began to build. It was June 11, 1967. Thousands of hours of free labor were given and donations poured in, some small and some large. The work proceeded only as funds were available. The Lord worked an exceptional miracle for the men who laid the special conductive tile required in the operating room. It required very skilled professionals who were not affordable. But nothing is too hard for God. He endowed His workers with the needed skill so that the government inspector marveled at how well the job had been done. It was the best he’d seen in all his years of inspecting.
So it was through sweat, tears, and miracles that the new facility was completed and dedicated in August, 1971. This is the story of Wildwood’s early days—power in prayer, miles of miracles, gallons of perspiration, and the fullness of praise for what God has done.