History of Three Rivers Health

Public health has a rich tradition in Virginia since colonial times and has been an integral part of local government in this area since the early 1950s. An example of this is Major Walter Reed MD who was born in Gloucester County and used epidemiology to link the Aedes aegypti mosquito to Yellow Fever at the turn of the last century.

Local public health in Virginia dates back 5 centuries to the early 1600s in response to sanitation needs and contagious disease in the new colonies. In 1780, the first permanent city board of health in the United States was created in Petersburg, Virginia. The State Board of Health was created in 1872. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that “modern” local health departments began. The first was Richmond City health department in 1906, followed by Norfolk health department in 1907.

Unfortunately much of rural Virginia did not have access to basic public health services. Cities continued to have more established, better funded public health services; whereas rural areas had a limited tax base and could not afford to establish more comprehensive public health. In 1932 the Bureau of Rural Health was created to address this problem. Those early years were especially concerned with the polio epidemic, persistent tuberculosis and syphilis, and areas of poor sanitation.

In 1954, the General Assembly authorized the creation of cooperative local health departments. Under this new law, the State would pay its share for a local health department with a local government match based on the value of taxable real estate. This began today’s statewide system of local public health service.

The chronological history of Three Rivers is as follows:

  • 1947 Northern Neck public health offices begin
  • 1952 Middle Peninsula public health offices begin in Essex, King and Queen, and Middlesex counties. A combined Gloucester/Matthews health department is added in 1956. King William health department is transferred from Hanover district in 1973.
  • 1990 Northern Neck and Middle Penninsula districts are combined to form the Three Rivers district.