At the April 21 sneak-peek preview of South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City, Carol Mathis spots a 1950s photo of her aunt Molly, a nurse working with babies. (Photo credit: Linda Chion.)

BayCare’s South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City, a landmark for seven decades off Alexander Street, was set to close and reopen in a $326 million facility at the corner of Sam Allen and Park roads, off Interstate 4 at Exit 22.

The 424,000-square-foot facility built on 50 acres, set to employ 800 team members and 250 physicians, broke ground in October 2021 and opened to the public for a sneak-peek preview on April 21. Set for its grand opening in mid-May, the hospital sports 146 private patient rooms, 26 rooms for intensive care, eight operating rooms and seven labor and delivery suites. Highlights also include a medical arts building comprised of roughly 85,000 square feet, a cardiac rehabilitation gymnasium and the Sweet Life Farms Strawberry Café.

Beyond receiving and showing care for an ailing loved one, there’s another strong reason to visit the shiny new footprint in the not-for-profit BayCare Health System.

That would be the walls of history that have been carefully added to the progressive acute care facility that offers a full range of diagnostic, rehabilitative, surgical, therapeutic and women’s services, including obstetrics. Included in nostalgic look back is a wall that showcases the stained-glass window that was painstakingly removed from the old hospital’s chapel, where patients and visitors found comfort and some people exchanged wedding vows.

The Patterson Companies Heritage Hallway leads into a viewing of the Kerr Family History Wall, which features old photos with historical descriptors, starting with the grand opening of South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City on December 29, 1953. The hospital joined the BayCare Health System in 1997. Photos and historical notes are presented by decade, with room to grow for the years ahead. One photo in particular, of nurses caring for babies in the hospital’s labor and delivery nursery, caught the eye of Carol Mathis during her visit April 21.

“My aunt Molly’s in that picture right there,” Mathis said, happy to happen upon the photo which included a note saying nurses at the time wore caps that designated where they went to school, as well as their nursing degree. “She loved working with babies.”

Jana Butler is the executive director of the foundation that provides philanthropic support only to South Florida Baptist Hospital. From hundreds of photos, team members and physicians selected photos to display “to bring as much heritage with us as possible,” Butler said.

Wall exhibits give thanks to hospital ‘legacy leaders,’ duly noting Sam and Buffy Astin, Pete Beaty, Charles and Betty Grimes, Steve and Krista Howard, Jim and Ruby Jean Redman as well as Ed and Myrtle Lou Swindle.

“Since we can’t put their names on the outside of the building, like we did with our original, this is our way to honor them,” Butler said.

The Alexander Street legacy exhibit features watermarked photos of the building and its various locations, as well as the respective names of donors engraved on plaques at the replaced hospital.

“We couldn’t bring the plaques with us, so we brought the names,” Butler said. “The names are etched by campaign and by location, and now they will live here with us.”

That so much care was taken to preserve history is to be expected, Butler said.

“The people of Plant City really treasure their hospital and what it’s done for the community, and this [new facility] expands our opportunity to serve our community,” Butler said. “The foundation’s charge is to raise money to support our departments and to buy more equipment. We had a capital campaign that raised just under $5 million, and so we want to show off all the folks that supported us.”

In the main lobby to the left, she added, there’s a wall of honor, “where we honor everybody who has lifetime giving with us.”

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