There’s never been a shortage of capable doctors in Mason County, and in this article, I want to tell you about perhaps some of the most important people from our early history. The antebellum physician was a busy person. They were primarily tasked with preventing any number of diseases that could easily become epidemics. Cholera, the flu, smallpox, typhoid fever, and other illnesses that are now preventable thanks to vaccines could wipe out a small town if left untreated. However, the doctor was also the pharmacist, coroner, and well-respected citizen that was usually called on for advice. They had to be ready to rush across town at a moment’s notice, no matter the time or weather. Often, their patients were also friends and neighbors, and doctors were welcomed into the home like family. Indeed, the town doctor was one of the few people in town that the town couldn’t do without.
Among the early doctors in the Bend Area were Drs. Thomas Barton of Syracuse, Archibald Crary of Hartford, James Meeks of Hartford, C.W. Petty of Hartford, and Aquilla Knight of West Columbia. That is by no means a complete list, just those that make frequent appearances in our records.
Dr. Barton in particular was one of the first regular doctors at this end of the county. He was from Meigs County, where he practiced at Pageville, Chester, and Syracuse. It was while practicing in Syracuse, in 1860, that he began taking patients in New Haven and Hartford. This was less than five years after both towns were founded. He left for a short time to serve in the 4th West Virginia Infantry as a surgeon but returned following the end of the Civil War to continue his practice until his retirement in the 1890s.
At roughly the same time, Drs. Crary and Petty began their practices in Hartford. They were not the first, that was James Meeks, but they were the most well-known. Dr. Petty in particular treated patients in Hartford from the 1880s until the 1950s. He was one of those doctors who had seen and treated everything. A quick search of death certificates bearing his signature reveal causes of death such as the deadly diseases mentioned above, industrial accidents at the local salt furnaces, and murder.
Dr. Meeks, as was mentioned before, was the first doctor in Hartford. He came to the area after studying under Dr. Knight of West Columbia. I don’t have much on Knight’s early history, but we do know that he studied medicine in Cincinnati before coming back to the Bend Area. We also know that upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Dr. Knight voted for secession, was ran out of town, and joined the Confederate Army. He served in the 36th Virginia Infantry under Mason County’s own General McCausland. After the war, as far as I can tell, he was welcomed back with open arms and went back to practicing medicine. He continued seeing patients in West Columbia, Clifton, and Mason until his death in 1897.
Now, I’ve told you a bit about some of our early doctors and their work in their respective towns. However, there’s one event that had them all working together. It’s one I’ve wrote about before, though from a different perspective.
In 1892, a young man named Peter Roseberry of Mason came down with a sickness that was originally diagnosed by Pomeroy doctors as either chickenpox or measles. Of course, his friends all came to see him, and they too became sick. This went on for nearly a week as the doctors from Pomeroy continued to insist that it was only a case of the measles. That all changed when Peter died, and doctors from the Bend Area examined his body. Drs. Crary, Knight, and Petty, among others, agreed that it was none other than the dreaded smallpox and ordered an immediate quarantine. For weeks, the Bend Area was cut off from the outside world, but the quarantine worked. By the end of everything, 5 people were dead, but they had stopped the disease from spreading and killing more.
Next week, I’ll be writing about some of the early doctors from Point Pleasant and other regions of the county.
Information from Barton’s autobiography and the writings of Mildred Chapman Gibbs. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be at 6 p.m., Monday, June 11 at the Mason County Library in Point Pleasant.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.