The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter XVIII
Early Physicians & Medical Societies

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton

 

CHAPTER XVIII

EARLY PHYSICIANS AND MEDICAL SOCIETIES.

The life of a medical practitioner in these days of antiseptic hospitals, proprietary remedies and visits facilitated by twelve-cylinder touring cars and perfect roads, does not mean quite the arduous existence that I meant one hundred, or eighty, or even fifty years ago, when the disciples of Aesulapius labored patiently and untiringly for the good of their fellow-man. The greatest of English historians, Macaulay, has said, "The history of a country is best told in a record of the settling of the lives of its people," and possible no truer of the lives of these sturdy pioneers, the country doctors. They should be accorded the deference of the historian.

When Genesee county was still partly covered with forests, and the villages were tiny hamlets, came the first doctor, Cyrus Baldwin, who removed from Onondaga County, New York, and came to Grand Blanc in the spring of 1833. He was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church in that locality. In 1837 he went to Atlas, was the pioneer physician in that township and practiced there for a number of years. the second physician to settle in the vicinity of Grand Blanc was Dr. John W. King, who came in 1834. After the removal of Doctor Baldwin, Doctor King remained as the only physician of the settlement until the spring of 1848, when Dr. H. C. Fairbank became his partner in the profession. This partnership continued until the winter of 1849-50 when Doctor King withdrew entirely from practice and soon afterward removed to the village of Flint, where he engaged in the foundry business. After some two years, however, he returned to Grand Blanc, or Whigville, to pass his remaining years in comparative retirement upon his farm. In 1873 he suffered an attack of paralysis, from which he never fully recovered, and died in November, 1876.

Another of the early physicians to migrate to the new country was Dr. Samuel W. Pattison, who came in 1836 to make his home in Fenton. Dr. Thomas Steere was the next to locate in the same village, coming from Norwich, Chenango County, New York, in 1838. He died in1860, being much beloved, and in accordance with his last wishes, was buried just at sunset in a black walnut coffin in the little cemetery just outside the town. He enjoyed an enviable reputation as a worthy citizen and an excellent practitioner. Dr. John C. Gallup was in Fenton during Doctor Steere's last years and was associated with him for some time. But the work was arduous, the remuneration difficult to secure and the early physicians who pioneered in virgin territory did not enjoy the most desirable comforts of life; so, tiring of the difficulties to be surmounted, Doctor Gallup finally gave up his practice in Fenton and subsequently removed to Clinton, New York, where he became the principal of the well-known seminary for young ladies.

Dr. Isaac Wixom, of Fenton, who practiced his profession for half a century in Michigan, was born near Hector, Tompkins County, New York, in 1803. He studied for a time in the office of a country physician near his home and subsequently attended lectures and graduated at Fairfield, Herkimer County, New York. Being at that time under age, he could not be granted a diploma, although his standing entitled him to one. In 1824 he attained his majority and received his diploma from the Medical Society of Pen Yan, Yates County, New York. In the spring of 1829 he emigrated to Michigan, his father having preceded him, and settled near the latter's home, in the township of Farmington, Oakland County. During his stay there he engaged in practice and also "kept tavern." fifteen years of constant labor in his profession, however, together with his other duties, wearied him and in 1844 he removed to the township of Argentine, Genesee county, where, thinking to avoid the hardships which lay in the path of the country doctor, he engaged in the mercantile and milling business. But he had been very successful and had become too great a necessity as a physician and also as a surgeon for his wishes to be realized. So, through charity for his neighbor, he again took up the life of hard rides and long hours, in a community which had no other doctor to minister to the needs of the inhabitants. Doctor Wixom purchased land in Argentine and moved his family there the year following. For fifteen years he enjoyed a large practice in and around Argentine and also built up a greater portion of the village, which was for some years a point of greater commercial interest than Fenton. In 1838 he was elected to the lower house of the Legislature, then convened in Detroit, and was for two years a member of the house committee on education. While in that capacity he took an active part in measures relating to the founding of the University of Michigan. In 1841 he was elected to the state Senate. During his term, in company with Hon. James Kingsley, he drew up one of the first railroad charters granted in Michigan. In 1861, Doctor Wixom aided in raising "Stockton's Independent Regiment," afterwards known as the sixteenth Infantry, and accompanied it to the field as its surgeon. For two years he remained with it, participating in twenty-two engagements. Owing to his failing health, he found it necessary to resign and in 1863 he returned to Argentine. He afterwards removed to Fenton in 1869.

Dr. George W. Fish, one of the early physicians of Genesee county, located in the township of Genesee in 1836. A little later he removed to Flint, where he practiced until 1846. His health failing about this time, he went to Central American and stayed for some time, identifying himself with the Panama Railroad Company. A few years later he went to China, where he remained for seven years in the interests of the board of missions as head of the medical department. while in china, he was appointed United States consul to fill a vacancy at Hong Kong. At the beginning of the war Doctor Fish returned to American and entered the army as brigade surgeon, and when he had fulfilled his duty to his country returned to Flint and resumed his active professional life. He was later appointed United States consul at Tunis, Africa. His death occurred in 1871.

In 1846 Dr. Joseph W. Graham came from Owosso to Fenton and remained there in practice until about 1851,. When he removed to Flint. About two years later, he left Flint and located in New Albany, Indiana, from which place he afterwards removed to Chicago, where he died. In 1850 Dr. William B. Cole came to Fenton. After a few years he retired from practice and held several township offices. He finally went to Pontiac, Oakland County, where, in 1871, he purchased a half interest in the Pontiac Jacksonian from the widow the its former proprietor, D. H. Solis. He soon became the sole proprietor of the paper, but in May, 1872, he sold an interest to Mr. Sheridan and in the fall of the same year the firm moved the office and material to Ludington, Michigan, where the publication became known as the Ludington Appeal.

Tom Davisonville in 1844 came Dr. Elbridge G. Gale, a native of Massachusetts and a graduate of the medical college of Castleton, Vermont. He practiced there with success until 1851, after which he became interested in politics. He was elected to the Legislature for several terms and was a delegate to the constitutional convention in 1850. Soon after this he entirely withdrew from the practice of medicine and devoted hi efforts to t farming and sheep raising. His successor in practice was Doctor R. N. Murray, of Atlas.

At Goodrich, in 1846, Dr. Joseph Eastman entered the practice of medicine. He afterwards removed to a farm in Davison township and still later removed to the city of Flint, where he died in 1878. About 1842 flushing welcomed a resident physician in Doctor Miller, who practiced there for many years, afterwards going to Springfield, Oakland County, and still later to Winona, Michigan.

In 1847 Dr. H. C. Fairbank, who was born in Wayne County, New York, and was a graduate of the Willoughby University and of the Western Reserve College, of Cleveland, Ohio, commenced practice in the village of Flint with Dr. R. D. Lamond. In 1848 Doctor Fairbanks went to Grand Bland and entered practice there, being associated with the veteran Doctor King. This professional partner ship continued for a year and a half, when Doctor King retired to his farm. Doctor Fairbank remaining in Grand Blanc until November, 1864, when he removed to Flint.

All of these men were practitioners of the "old school" of allopathy. Later came exponents of homeopathy, the pioneer of this branch of the profession being Dr. I. N. Eldridge, of Flint. Doctor Eldridge was a graduate of the Homeopathic Medical College of new York and also of Cleveland, Ohio, and was one of the oldest homeopathic practitioners in the state. In 1847 he was one of the eight physicians present at the formation of the first Michigan Institute of Homeopathy. He came to Michigan from Livingston County, New York, in 1847, locating first in Ann Arbor, coming to Flint in a professional way in 1850 and settling here permanently a little later. He had a business partner in Dr. E. F. Olds, who, however, only remained in Flint for a short time, going later to South Lyon, Oakland County, and later to Howell. Dr. William S. Cornelius came to Flint a short time after Doctor Eldridge, but removed after a few years of practice. About this time came Dr. Lewis Taylor, who located in Flushing. Dr. Charles M. Putnam established himself in Flint about 1864. Dr. C. S. Eldridge practiced in Flint in 1865. Dr. J. G. Malcolm next came in 1866, remained a number of years and then removed to Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. A. J. Adams commenced to practice in Flint in 1873. The list of homeopathic physicians in Genesee County, as given in the "Annual (homeopathic Directory" for 1878 is as follows: I. N. Eldridge, C. M. Putnam, A. J. Adams, C. A. Hughes, and M. E. Hughes, Flint; Lewis Taylor, Flushing; R. F. Knapp, Fenton; A. Austin, Argentine; J. Parks, Gaines.

Dr. Robert D. Lamond, a graduate of the medical college of Castleton, Vermont, came to Flint in 1838 from Pontiac, where he commenced practice soon after 1830. In 1835 he was a member of the Oakland County Medical Society and was afterward elected its secretary. he resided in Flint the remainder of his life and took an active part in social, professional and educational life. He represented Genesee County in the Legislature in 1844 and died in 1871. Doctor Richardson was another of the early physicians, coming to Flint in 1837, but he remained only a few years,. removing about 1840 to the West.

Among the most interesting men engaged in the medical profession in Flint was Dr. S. M. Axford, who came to the city in 1858 from Detroit. So great was his success that many humorous tales were related of him, to the effect that it was once said of him that there was not a home in the town that he has not visited and that his fellow practitioners were all a bit resentful because of his advent into their midst. He built what was known as the Axford House in Flint, which was primarily intended for a private hospital, being an edifice which in those days was considered quite elegant and very expensive; but, for some reason, Doctor Axford altered his plans and the fine house was occupied by him as a place of residence. His death occurred in 1873 and he was greatly mourned by all of the physicians in the city who had grown to admire his personality and professional attainments. He had been in his youth a resident of Oakland County, where his father owned extensive land, and he received his medical education at the University of Michigan.

In 1857 a partnership existed between Dr. r. D. Lamond and Dr. James C. Willson. Doctor Willson was born of Scotch-Irish parentage in the township of Fitzroy, Ontario, in 1833, and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1857. He established his practice in Flint soon after his graduation. In spite of the fact that the young doctor had a delicate constitution, riding long distances on horseback, through mud and mire, over corduroy roads, day and night, summer and winter, he developed a robust constitution which carried him through long years of usefulness and helpfulness to mankind. Doctor Willson had only commenced his active professional life when, in 1861, the country of his adoption faced a crises and he placed his life and his skill at the service of the government. Appointed surgeon of the Tenth Michigan Infantry, he left his practice and went to the front. In 1862 he was transferred to the Eighth Michigan, called the "Flint Regiment" because it was recruited largely from Flint and vicinity and had at its head col. William M. Fenton of this city. Doctor Willson joined the eighth at Beaufort, South Carolina, and was on the field in every battle fought by that hard-hit and hard-hitting regiment. Broken down in health by the hardships of campaigning, he was forced to surrender his commission, receiving an honorable discharge. His military service was recognized when, in 1864, after he had resumed his practice in Flint, he was appointed by the governor of the state to the post of Michigan military representative at Washington.

In 1865 Doctor Willson was married to Miss Rhoda M. Crapo, daughter of Henry H. Crapo, then governor of Michigan. Doctor Willson was for many years conspicuous in the life of the community. He was a member for some time of the board of trustees of the Michigan School for the Deaf, and was one of the organizers of the Genesee County Savings Bank, succeeding the late William A. Atwood, as president. Doctor Willson was one of the patriarchal figures of Flint and his death, in 1912, removed one of the best known residents of Genesee County. After his death his home and extensive grounds, formerly the old Governor Crapo homestead, was acquired by the city of Flint for a public park.

In 1860 Dr. M. M. Smith took up the practice of Medicine in Flint, remaining for about eight years, coming to Michigan from Buffalo, New York. He died in 1868 at his residence on First Street, directly across the street from The Green, as the half of the block now bounded by South Saginaw Street, First Street and Beach Street was then called.

In 1866 was formed the Genesee County medical Association. On Saturday, May 26, a number of physicians of the county held a preliminary meeting at the Irving House, in Flint, to take measure of its formation. R. d. Lamond was chosen chairman and J. B. F. Curtis, secretary of the meeting. A. B. Chapin, M. F. Baldwin and C. W. Tyler were chosen as a committee to draft a constitution and by -laws, and S. M. Axford, C. V. Tyler, S. Lathrop, L. N. Beagle, A. B. Chapin, M. F. Baldwin and J. B. F. Curtis were chosen delegates to the State Medical Convention to be held at Detroit on June 5. The meeting then adjourned to July 14. At the adjourned meeting the committee reported a constitution, which was adopted and signed by the physicians present, namely: R. D. Lamond, H. C. Fairbank, A. B. Chapin, S. M. Axford, James B. F. Curtis, Flint: S. Lathrop, Pine Run; M. F., Baldwin, Genesee; Lewis S. Pilcher, Clayton. The name adopted for the organization was "The Genesee County medical Association," which had for its declared abject "to promote medical and general science, and in every way to advance the interests of the medical profession." The following were chosen its first officers: President, R. D. Lamond; vice president, H. C. Fairbank; secretary, J. B. F. Curtis; treasurer, A. B. Chapin.

A number of physicians were admitted as members of the association at different times subsequent to its organization. But several did not sign the constitution and by-laws and several others withdrew afterwards. Dissatisfaction crept into the association and it was finally dissolved about 1873. Its last recorded meeting was held on May 17, of that year.

On August 18, 1871, the Flint Academy of Medicine was organized at a meeting of the physicians and surgeons of the county held at the Scientific Institute rooms in Flint. Dr. Daniel Clarke, of Flint, as chairman, appointed a committee, composed of Drs. A. B. Chapin and Henry P. Seymour of Flint, and Dr. Adelbert F. Coupe, of Flushing, to draft a constitution and by-laws. By the first article of the constitution as reported, the name and style of the association was to be "The Society of Physicians and Surgeons of Genesee County." On motion of Dr. J. C. Willson, of Flint, this article was amended by the substitution of the name above given. The several articles and the entire constitution and by-laws were then adopted. The article having reference to eligibility for membership was as follows: "any physician in good standing, and who is a graduate of a regular school of medicine recognized by the American Medical Association, may become a member of this academy."

 

The members of the academy at its organization were:

Daniel Clarke

H. C. Fairbank

James C. Willson

George W. Fish

Thomas R. Buckham

William Bullock

A. B. Chapin

Orson Millard

Henry P. Seymour

P. G. Wartman

Adelbert F. Coupe

Newcomb A. Smith

Hiram H. Bardwell

C. W. Pengra

.

 

History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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