Exhibit gives a look into local medical profession in 1800s
Cobblestone Museum has straight edges, house call bag, and numerous other items from era
GAINES – If you think going to the doctor’s office gets a little frustrating now, sometimes having to wait an hour, imagine what it was like in the 1800s.
It could take days for doctors’ to make a house call. They had to be fetched and would then travel by horse through the wilderness of Orleans County.
“When the county started there were one or two doctors to cycle around and miles and miles of open space,” said Matt Ballard, co-director of the Cobblestone Society Museum.
He put together an exhibit – “Medicine at the Museum” – about medical care in the 1800s. The museum had an extensive collection of artifacts, and many were also donated from community members for the exhibit, which runs until Oct. 12.
“Medicine at the Museum” features photos and write-ups on many of the pioneer physicians and pharmacists in the county.
Some of the doctors and pharmacists had influences that stretched beyond Orleans County. Henry C. Lawrence of Knowlesville was a mentor to Col. Eli Lilly. Silas Mainville Burroughs of Medina was a founding partner of Burroughs, Welcomme and Co., which helped to develop compression power in medicine that was used in tablets and pills. Francis E. Stewart, M.D., worked in the research department at Parke, Davis & Co.
For medicine, pharmacists would mix concoctions. There were a lot of herbal and natural treatments, tinctures, tonics and syrups.
Doctors used straight edges for surgeries, with a barber sometimes doing a lot of the work.
Ballard consulted with local historians, reviewed local history books and used Internet research to compile the biographies of many physicians who worked in the county in the 1800s.
“Our physician history is not very well known,” Ballard. “Those doctors had to do a little bit of everything.”
Ballard also has arranged for four lectures to be given about Orleans and WNY medical history. Those lectures will be 4 p.m. on Sundays on Aug. 17, Aug. 31, Sept. 14 and Sept. 28.
Ballard said the medical exhibit and lectures should be a draw for the museum, which is a National Historic Landmark with many structures located near the intersection of routes 98 and 104.
“Every time you go here you see something new and learn something new,” he said. “It’s not a one and done museum.”
For more on the museum and its upcoming events, click here.