- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s post was submitted by St. Charles History Museum Director Lindsay Judd. All photos are courtesy of the St. Charles History Museum.
Doctors have always played an important role in our society concerning the development and success of communities. St. Charles is no exception concerning its impact by the medical profession.
Through the years, the family physician or pharmacist often played dual roles as healer, civic leader and friend to the community that supported them.
In 1836, Dr. Nathan Collins traveled from the hills of New Hampshire to the small river town of Charleston (St. Charles.) He saw the potential for business in the area and settled in a brick home, with office, on Walnut Street.
For 30 years, Collins served not only as the town doctor and druggist but also worked in construction. After his death in the early 1840s, Drs. Thomas Whipple and Abiel DeWolf became the town physicians.
DeWolf studied at the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati, graduating in 1838 at the age of 21. Although he occasionally traveled throughout the community on horseback, he was famous for his newfangled buggy with “springs” that brought him from Ohio.
The horse-and-buggy doctor’s practice increased, and he traveled throughout both Kane and DuPage counties visiting his patients. DeWolf served the community for nearly half a century both as a druggist and a physician.
Perhaps the most famous of St. Charles’ physicians was Dr. George W. Richards. In 1842, Richards founded the Franklin Medical College, which was located on the corner of First Avenue and Main Street.
In 1849, Richards and the medical school became notorious. Two students, too poor to continue their medical education at the college, robbed a newlywed bride’s body from her early grave in Sycamore for the purposes of dissection and study.
(This was during a time when cadavers were not available for medical research and education.)
After the bride’s family found the empty grave, a wrathful mob headed for the St. Charles school. Arriving at Dr. Richard’s home, the angry citizens fired shots through the front door of his home which hit both Dr. Richards and one of the medical students.
They killed the student, they wounded Dr. Richards, and the school was closed.
Although the grave-robbing incident affected the future of Dr. Richards — who was forced to relocate — it was not a setback for the practicing physicians of the community.
In 1855, records indicate that Dr. DeWolf was caring for the sickly of St. Charles with an Irish surgeon by the name of Crawford. Dr. Crawford was described in an 1855 St. Charles Directory as “a disciple of the old school of medicine … following no rule but his own judgment.”
Crawford was responsible for developing the Swedish Cholera Hospital that helped prevent the spread of cholera throughout St. Charles in 1852.
The 1850s proved to be a time of growth for the community, as the arrival of several new physicians testifies. Included in this honorable profession were Drs. Tilotson and Goodhue and Dr. Vanderhoof, described as “a promising young student of the eclectic persuasion” from Cold Water, MI.
Settling in an office over the Stewart Bank Building in 1896 was Dr. William Johnson Calhoun. Calhoun, an 1891 graduate of the Western University of Pennsylvania Medical College also had completed post graduate course in the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Dr. Calhoun prospered and became a community leader, influencing the Progressive movements throughout St. Charles.
As history entered a new century, the medical profession in the river town continued to flourish. Perhaps the most significant group of doctors in the community was Dr. R. J. Lambert and his wife, Dr. Edith Bell Lowery.
Lambert, born in Hawaii in 1874, attended school in Salt Lake City, UT. Several years after Lambert and Lowery were married, they opened the first medical convalescence center in St. Charles, in a red brick building set back along Main Street west of the river.
Edith Lowery operated a summer health camp north of St. Charles. Dr. Lambert served the community through the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, and Dr. Lowery founded the St. Charles Mother’s Club.
One doctor still remembered today by many residents was Dr. Ival G. Langum, and native of Eau Claire, WI. Dr. Langum attended Bennet College of Medicine and graduated from the National University of Medicine in Chicago.
After serving in the Army Medical Corop during World War I, he settled in St. Charles and became the city’s first health officer. Not only was he a compassionate physician, but he served the community for 28 years as mayor of St. Charles.
Throughout the history of St. Charles, many outstanding physicians have provided the medical stability and leadership to the community. Since its early settlement through present day, St. Charles has benefitted from these individuals who served as doctor, pharmacist, mentor, and friend.
This is especially true in 2020 as we battle COVID-19. Thank you to all our healthcare workers, doctors, nurses and everyone on the front line!
About The St. Charles History Museum
The St. Charles History Museum is a 501©3, non-profit organization operating the St. Charles History Museum and historic archive. The museum holds more than 10,000 photographs in its archive and 15,000 artifacts in its collection.
Located in the 1928 McCornack Oil Company building at 215 East Main St., the St. Charles History Museum houses permanent and temporary exhibits, the Colonial Anderson Room, photo and research archives, the Curious Fox Gift Shop, administrative offices, and the storage-preservation repository for the museum’s collections.
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