A doctor at your door making a "house call" was a common enough sight just a few short decades ago. He came to check on you and maybe give a shot when you were too sick to go out for an office visit. Some older local residents may recall one particular doctor who, when making these house calls, almost always had a cigar and put it in an ashtray near the door when he visited. These must have been the days when insurance wasn't even an issue and you paid his simple fees on an "as needed" basis. This was without hidden and multi-layered administrative costs and regulations far removed from the doctor. It was truly a more personal and practical doctor-patient relationship. Imagine what insurance would want to charge for this today, not to mention the legalities and rules that would make it impossible.
It may be difficult to recall when house calls ended, but they were a practice at least up until the 1960s. As far as our county's history is concerned, our first doctors came as early as 1808 before we were officially incorporated in 1811. According to the book "History of Chautauqua County and its People," dated 1921, Dr. Squire White was the first licensed physician in the county. Born in Vermont in 1785, he came to what is now Fredonia (formerly Canadaway) in 1809. One old physician, knowing White for 40 years later noted that, "He was esteemed by the pioneer settlers as a good physician, humane, attentive to their calls, extremely lenient to his patrons and never avaricious." As a side note related to Fredonia's history, White's first wife was the daughter of well-known founder Hezekiah Barker. His second wife was the daughter of the well-known pioneer Judge Zattu Cushing. It was Dr. White's son who built the historic White Inn on Main Street.
A few other notable early doctor names in the county, and part of early Medical Societies were Foote, Bemus, and Hazeltine of Jamestown, Prendergast and Holmes of Mayville, Simons of Brocton, Rodgers and Smith of Dunkirk, Spencer of Stockton, and Bennett of Ripley. Dr. Charles Washburn of Fredonia died in the Army after three years of service as a Civil War surgeon of the 112th New York Volunteers. Other county doctors did serve during the War of 1812 as well as the "War of Rebellion."
The Horatio Brooks House was donated to the city of Dunkirk in 1898 for use as one of the first hospitals in the county. It was demolished in 1944 to build the new hospital.
A look into the 1924 book tells of the first hospitals of the county. In 1887 the Woman's Christian Association Hospital was opened in Jamestown. The Orsino E. Jones Memorial Hospital, also of Jamestown followed. Brooks Memorial Hospital of Dunkirk, through the donation of Horatio G. Brooks of his home property, was established in 1899. At the time, modern x-ray equipment was made available through funding from the American Locomotive Company. A walk back in time would make this technology seem archaic to us, but the same must have held true for them when comparing medical practices to the early 1800s. As stated in the 1924 book, the early Medical Society of the county required that "no member thereof should receive into his office as a student anyone who had not an elementary education sufficient to pass the Regents' examination, and enough Latin to intelligently read and write prescriptions. Physicians of even earlier years mostly prescribed calomel or quinine and used a lancet in bleeding. In time, anesthetics were given, but books as late as the 1840s apparently gave directions on the best ways to tie patients for such things as amputations. Antiseptic dressings and tools also came later.
Today we all go to the doctor's office or hospital, but such was not the case in yesteryears. A house call was made by horse and later by car. In the pioneer days however, this doctor may not have been available for weeks or months. It was the housewife who performed many medical type duties. Many were taught at any early age by older women what we would call "first aid." Some of these "old wives' tales" came to be proven as invalid as time passed, while others were true curatives. Indeed, some practices thrown out as old-time remedies have been revisited and are being used again such as various herbs and roots provided by nature. Perhaps that is another fascinating and nostalgic column.
Make it a good week and eat from the healthy bounty at this time of year, Mary and Rosamond
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