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The Gainsboro History Project

Dr. Isaac D. Burrell

Dr. Isaac David Burrell (1865-1914) was a physician and pharmacist who operated a Gainsboro clinic and the Burrell Pharmacy until his death in 1914. Burrell Memorial Hospital was named in his memory.

Dr. Isaac Burrell was born in Amelia County, Virginia, on March 10, 1865. After attending Lincoln University, Burrell received his M.D. from Leonard Medical School of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1893 he moved to Gainsboro to begin practicing as a physician and opened a pharmacy in the same year. In 1897, after moving his pharmacy to the neighboring Davis Hotel, Burrell married Margaret H. Barnette from Lynchburg, Virginia, on December 28.

Burrell was an active member of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and was the president of the Magic City Medical Society. In addition to being involved with Gainsboro’s chapter of the Freemasons, Burrell was a member of the Knights of Pythias Lodge 51, and the Odd Fellows Lodge 3935, with both groups meeting twice a month at his space in Davis Hotel.

Burrell was also part of a committee of local physicians who worked to open a hospital for the Black residents of Roanoke. This group included John B. Claytor Sr., Jerry S. Cooper, Shadrach F. Williman, Lylburn C. Downing, and James H. Roberts.

Death and Legacy

In 1914, at the age 49, Burrell developed severe gallstones. Facing inadequate medical services for African Americans in Roanoke, Burrell’s fellow physicians suggested he receive an operation at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, DC. Burrell was forced to travel the 240 miles to Washington on a cot in the back of a train’s baggage car. He died at Freedmen’s after his surgery. His tragic death marked the need for a hospital in Roanoke that would serve African Americans. The next year, the committee of Gainsboro physicians opened Burrell Memorial Hospital, named in Dr. Burrell’s memory, which was the only hospital facility that served African Americans in Southwest Virginia during segregation.

On March 4, 2019, Roanoke mayor Sherman Lea declared March 10 of that year Dr. Isaac D. Burrell Day.

See Also


Barrata, E. (1999). Gainsboro neighborhood, 1890-1940. History Museum & Historical Society of Western Virginia Journal, 14(1), 40–49.

Blanton, A. & Ferrance, D.  (2003). Burrell Memorial Hospital. National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form. Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Roanoke, VA, National Register, VDHR #128-5863.

Chittum, M. (2017, August). Death of doctor led to hospital. Discover, The Roanoke Times.

Cox, Ray. (2016, April 11). WOYM: Phone call opens window on a century of medical service to Roanoke Valley. The Roanoke Times.

Cox, Ray. (2016, May 2). Readers share memories and an old photo. The Roanoke Times

Lea, Sherman. (2019, March 4). Dr. Isaac D. Burrell Day. [Proclamation]. Office of the Mayor, City of Roanoke. Gainsboro Branch Library Vertical Files, Roanoke, VA, United States.

Shareef, R. (1996). The Roanoke Valley’s African American Heritage: A Pictorial History. The Donning Company Publishers.