We had our own version of Doc Baker right here in Michigan! And what a fascinating character he was - a true Victorian doctor in every sense of the word.
The posting you are about to read is not only about Dr. Howard, but it is also about the office he practiced out of, which guests can now visit inside Greenfield Village.
I should like to present here a bit about this amazing man and his practice.
I think you will enjoy it:
Dr. Howard's Office
|A visit to the Dr.'s office|
|Dr. Alonson Howard|
|Entering the front door|
of Dr. Howard's office
From those that remembered him, a physical description of the man comes to light: he was large yet not fat, his hair was sandy and he had blue eyes. He was almost never seen without his clay pipe, even on one of the very few occasions he sat for a tintype, where it remained in his pocket. His young niece, Rita, loved to watch him mix his powders and medicines and said that his hands would just fly. For such a ponderous man, he was amazingly quick in movement.
It was in 1855, when Tekonsha built a new school, that Dr. Howard, who already owned the farmland in which the old school house sat upon, bought the building as well.
He remodeled it and created a reception room, a laboratory, and a personal office. While most doctors of the 19th century worked out of their homes, Dr. Howard had his own doctor's office.
|The waiting area|
|Doc Howard's office in its original location - - see it there? Yep, right there on the bottom left.|
The doctor eventually built a hitching post a quarter mile long along his property and it was not unusual to see horse-drawn vehicles hitched along its entire length while patients waited to see him.Howard treated everything from a toothache to consumption and all ailments in between, and would perform surgery if needed. In other words, he combined the attributes of a chemist, apothecary, dentist, physician, and surgeon. He charged a standard twenty five cents for a normal housecall, but staying the night with a patient would cost two dollars. He also accepted grain or tallow, or even labor on his farm for pay. The cost of medicine was included in the fee. There are numerous entries of financial transactions: 12 cents for pulling a tooth, 25 cents for filling a tooth, $2 for sitting all night with a patient, which he did frequently.
|The sick bed in the waiting area of Dr. Howard's office|
|Looking toward the front entrance in the waiting area|
|Doc Howard medicine|
But there is a story from a magazine I found in the Benson Ford Research Center collection of the Henry Ford, written by Rae S. Corliss in 1955 that I would like to share here:
Mal, the white stallion, raced through the blackness of the stormy night, jolting the doctor's buggy over rutted mud roads toward the home of Jake Newton.
|After the office was moved into Greenfield Village, a white horse and doctor's carriage was used to accent the appearance of the building.|
"Git up, you blasted white imp, " Dr. Alanson B. Howard had shouted into the cold dripping atmosphere so many times he was becoming hoarse. At long last, he abandoned Mal in the Newton drive and stamped in through the side door of the farm house.
"Well, how's the patient?" he roared as he slammed the door, pulled off an old felt hat and in the act dumped a pint of water on the dining room floor. "Speak up, child, speak up---how's your ma?" he demanded of ten-year-old Lizzie Newton, who had come into the room at the sound of his footsteps on the porch.
"She's feelin' a mite better, Doctor Howard," answered the child, and then as the physician threw his soaked great coat over a chair and started for the bedroom, came the voice of her mother, exhausted from the long wait: "Guess Jake brung you on a wide goose's chase, Doc. I don't feel no mite of pain now. The wee stranger must've dozed off for a spell."
Doc Howard dropped his huge frame into the biggest chair in the room, wiped the rain from his face with a red checkered handkerchief and began to fumble in his saddlebag. He was on the case, and here he would remain until the baby arrived. It was an old story---ever new---and he loved the life of a country doctor.
"Put a pot of coffee on the stove, Lizzie. " he called out into the kitchen, and then added gruffly, I don't want none of that warmed up brew left from supper."
It was 18 minutes before midnight on the night of November 2, 1853, that Doctor Howard reached the Newton home. He drank black coffee, catnapped, ate heartily at meal time, and played checkers with Jake in the interim before a baby son was born to Sylvia Newton at 10 pm., November 4. He had been on the case for a total of 44 hours. Jake Newton was charged $5 for the delivery---ultimately paying the billwith a slab of pork and a dozen fat hens for the doctir's table.
This embellished but true story was rural medicine over a century and a half ago.
|Looking toward the medicine room|
Shortly after his death in 1883, his wife, Cynthia, sent the medical instruments to their son in Arkansas, who was also a physician. Mrs. Howard promptly padlocked the building, which her husband had used as his office for 28 years, and it remained mostly untouched as Doctor Howard left it until 1956 when their great grandson donated it and its contents to Greenfield Village.
|Any doctor who keeps medicine in wooden barrels is all right by me!|
The family tried placing the office with a historical group that would preserve it, to no avail.
"I tried Greenfield Village, but with no success. Henry Ford had died and they were very slow about additions." After numerous tried elsewhere, "Mother made a stop-over visit in Dearborn and she started things in the right direction. They (Greenfield Village) finally got the idea that we were interested in giving, not selling, and from then on things moved. It was accepted by the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in 1956, which probably puts our family in the group of the very few that have given something to the Fords' in recent years."
Dr. Howard's Office was open to the public in 1962.
|This is not your CVS or Rite Aid pharmacy.|
But that is an original sign of the good doctor's...
|The photographs herein show the office not only as it looks in its restored condition today, but pretty much as it looked in the 19th century.|
This building - Doc Howard's Office - is a living testament to not only this Michigan physician, but to all 19th century practitioners.
I like to think of this posting as another chapter to help bring the past to life for those of us who enjoy studying history. And Greenfield Village has more of the past than practically any place I know.
I hope you enjoyed it.
Black and white photographs courtesy of The Henry Ford Collection