Exhibit gives a look into local medical profession in 1800s

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 August 2014 at 12:00 am

Cobblestone Museum has straight edges, house call bag, and numerous other items from era

Photo by Tom Rivers  – Matt Ballard, co-director of the Cobblestone Society Museum, stands in the Danolds Room in the Cobblestone Universalist Church where artifacts, portraits and other information about the medical profession from more than a century ago are on display. The portrait in back shows Orson Nicholson, M.D. Nicholson, who lived from 1795 to 1870, was a pioneer physician in Orleans County. The portrait was donated by his grandson, Francis E. Stewart, M.D.

The display includes a collection of medicines and medical equipment, including a 1913 fully intact syringe with the Diptheria Antitoxin.

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.

The display includes the sign for Dr. Eugene Everett Barnum, a doctor who grew up in Kendall. He earned medical degree from UB Medical School in 1881. He was born 1854 and died in 1904 at age 50. He worked out of Waterport and also was a farmer. The crutches are from the Civil War era.

This house call bag belonged to Dr. Dorothy Ollswang Cooper.

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.

The museum received this collection of pharmacology items from a former Rexall store in Albion. They were donated to the museum about 40 years ago.

One of the bottles included aqua ammonia.

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.

Doctors often teamed with barbers for surgeries, using straight edges.

“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.