Dr. Alvah Whitman is taking a moment of ease in his waiting room on Broadway, about l870. Note the bookshelves, the heater in the middle of the room, a screen behind which one might remove clothing as needed, and the bottles of medicines on the shelf. An identical wicker rocker can be found in the ‘sunken bedroom’ at the Washburn-Zittleman House museum.
Dr. Alvah Whitman is taking a moment of ease in his waiting room on Broadway, about l870. Note the bookshelves, the heater in the middle of the room, a screen behind which one might remove clothing as needed, and the bottles of medicines on the shelf. An identical wicker rocker can be found in the ‘sunken bedroom’ at the Washburn-Zittleman House museum.
The current media frenzy about health care, H1N1, etc., led me to the historical society files on l800-era doctors. In l952, a gift to the society was a copy of "Notes on the History of Medicine in Fillmore County Prior to l900." This treasury of information was compiled and written by Nora Guthrey at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, and is amazing in its detail.

She wrote of the county being settled in the l850s and the coming of physicians, as needed by the growing populace. Minnesota, first as a territory, then as a state in l858, boasted its "salubrity of climate" and that "qualified physicians walk among us harmless as doves in this horribly healthy county!"

She reported that some of the early practitioners were undoubtedly men of little knowledge and less training, along with vendors of patent medicines, hydro-therapists, bonesetters, and herb doctors. However, there were several from universities and medical schools and Spring Valley seemed to be blessed with mostly good physicians and surgeons who cared for our local citizens, weathering "epidemics, accidents, difficult obstetrical cases and the general field of medical and surgical attention."

As early as l853, Dr. Wallace Belden came with his father, also a physician, to the Spring Valley-Hamilton area. Of English descent and with more financial resources than most, he invested $3,000 in surveying, platting and developing a tract of land in Section 9 by Deer Creek in the vicinity west of the lime kiln, about three miles north of Spring Valley on County Road 1. The "settlement" was to be named Beldena, a dam was constructed for waterpower, and several enterprises were planned. A small group of settlers was attracted but area rival villages proved to be too much competition, Beldena was never "recorded," and the project faded away. The dam pond was a favorite fishing hole until it "went out" in the spring flood of l858.

Dr. Belden moved to Hamilton and practiced there until he sold his home to Dr. Albert Plummer in l869. Plummer's son, Henry, who graduated from Spring Valley in l892, went on to fame and fortune with the Mayo brothers in Rochester. Did you ever hear of the Clinic's Plummer Building and the Plummer Estate? That was Henry. His brother William also became a physician. Dr. Belden served in the Civil War and later returned to Spring Valley from Oregon to purchase the Valley Hotel, located where the Community Center is today. He practiced his profession until l886, and then managed the hotel until his death in l89l.

Dr. Alvah Fancher Whitman came in l868 and continued his practice for 15 years. His life's dream was to be a physician and he experienced a trying youth, relying on his thrift, self-reliance and caring for others as he took jobs to earn college money. He taught school, joined a surveying party, tried real estate and farming before earning his degree in medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He loved children and became very proficient in treating children's diseases. Always interested in education, he is given credit for establishing the first public library here, setting aside a small room at his office for books and other reading material to attract readers. His hobby was flower gardening, with beds set in formal geometric designs greatly admired by the viewing public.

Whitman and other local doctors were active in the Fillmore County Medical Society and later the state society, always cooperating faithfully in their tenets. He eventually moved to St. Paul and died there at age 82.

Dr. Russell Moore, a native of Ohio, was severely injured while serving in the Civil War. After a lengthy hospitalization, he took up the study of medicine, receiving his degree at Rush College. He moved to Forestville, then to Spring Valley in l87l. The office of county coroner had been filled by laymen in earlier years, but in l862 it became a function of a physician and Dr. Moore served as a coroner from l870 - l872.

These pioneer physicians braved hazardous roads and inclement weather at all hours in all seasons. During a nighttime drive in the Forestville area to make a house call, he rounded a bluff and met another team that crowded him off the road. He, his team and buggy rolled over and down a steep 25 foot incline. He was seriously injured and died in l902.

A remarkable woman was Dr. Isabel M. Albro. She studied medicine in the l830s in New York (before women were admitted to medical schools?) and came to Forestville in l856. A married woman with two children, she moved to Spring Valley in the l880s and "doctored" here, making house calls on her pony. Dearly loved by all as "Aunt Isabel," she continued her practice for many years. At the Methodist Church Museum, visitors can see her l862 license, issued in Fillmore County, as well as her small leather dispensing kit with tiny glass vials from which she blended medicines for her ailing patients. Dean Butler, noted actor and producer, plans to do a documentary on women doctors, and on his recent visit here commented he may return for her full story.

Doctors sometimes met tragic deaths themselves, as was the story on Dr. William Henry Dean. Just out of medical school at Ann Arbor in l857, he came to Spring Valley eager to establish a practice here. Shortly thereafter, he and some friends, as a lark, were being weighed on the scale in the Stevens Mill, which stood on South Broadway just south of the creek. Unnoticed in the dusk, a revolving shaft caught the shawl Dr. Dean had secured around his shoulders; it dashed him again and again against the scales at each revolution until the machinery could be stopped. Severely injured, he died a few days later at age 25.

Dr. H. Gilbert was one of five settlers from Pennsylvania who arrived with their families in l857. A man of many talents, his interests benefited many local citizens, as well as others in the county. Doctors often engaged in other enterprises to earn income in those days when they were sometimes paid in produce or meats. He ran for county auditor and was one of the organizers of the Mower & Fillmore County Agricultural Society. He also was the "instigator" of the Lyceum, which was enjoyed by young and old. A lyceum is an association that provides public lectures, concerts and entertainments and we can guess many were held in Allen's Hall, circa l875, on the corner of Section and Park streets, and later in Andersen's Opera House, circa l885, on Section Avenue.

We'll continue other stories of local doctors of this fascinating era, and in the meantime wish you happy holidays as we work our way through December.