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History of Medicine In Beaver County

Milestones Vol 26. No. 3

The first recorded information pertaining to medical practice in Beaver County refers to a woman, Mrs. Dungan, who with her husband, children and two slaves migrated from Philadelphia in 1772 to settle at a point in the southern border of Beaver County, now known as Frankfort Springs.

Mrs. Dungan's maiden name was Mary Davis. As a young woman, she lived in the home of a relative, the celebrated Doctor Benjamin Rush, with whom she studied medicine. When Doctor Rush went to Edinburg to complete his medical education, the jointly accumulated library became her property. This collection of books she brought with her to Beaver County in 1772. While she did not have a medical diploma, she had acquired very considerable knowledge from her study with Doctor Rush and from her medical books. These books were badly damaged by a year's storage in a hiding place when there was danger of Indian attacks.

Her surgical knowledge is well illustrated by her treatment and care of two neighbors, William Langfitt and Isaac Wiseman. Returning home from the mill where they had some corn ground, they were attacked by Indians. Wiseman was instantly killed; a!though Langfitt had been shot several times, he kept seated on his horse and was carried to Mrs. Dungan's home, where she treated his many wounds, controlling the severe hemorrage and applying dressings. He recovered and lived to be ninety-six years of age. Doctor Langfitt, a member of the Beaver County Medical Society, who built St. John's Hospital in Pittsburgh, was a grandson.

The first graduate physician to locate in Beaver County was Doctor Samuel Adams who, with his wife and children, came from Massachusetts, locating first in Washington County. In 1792 he moved to Beaver County, selecting a tract of land of four hundred acres, part of which Beaver Falls now occupies. He built a dam in the Beaver River at a point approximately where the Beaver Falls-Eastvale bridge is at present. The dam furnished power for a grist and saw mill which he also built and operated.

His son, Milo Adams, later became a physician, and he and his father were the only physicians west of Pittsburgh. Frequently they made professional calls as distant as thirty to fifty miles and would be away from home several days at a time. During their absence Mrs. Adams prescribed for patients, treated wounds and fractures. John Adams in later years became a minister in the Methodist Church, and his son, Milo, held several positions of trust in the community, at one time sheriff of Beaver County.

In 1.807 Doctor Bernard Dustin came from Boston, Massachusetts, and located at Greersburg, now Darlington. He achieved considerable fame as a physician and surgeon, had a large and paying practice and was at the same time the "poor man's friend." Dustin was immense of body and eccentric in manner. He died suddenly in 1842. He built the famous many-storied house often referred to as the Shot Tower or as the old silk mill. This peculiar structure stood for about seventy-eight years and suddenly collapsed.

The year following Dr. Dustin's arrival, 1808, Doctor James Cochran came from Adams County, Pennsylvania, and began practice in Darlington but found the work too strenuous and went into another business.

Another of the noted early physicians of Beaver County was Doctor Joseph Frazier, who was educated in Edinburg, Scotland. Coming to America, he also settled at Darlington. He became one of the most noted physicians between Pittsburgh and the western boundary of the State. He taught medicine to more students than did any other physician in Western Pennsylvania. He was called to all parts of Western Pennsylvania for consultations. Many children in Beaver County were named after him. One of his medical students was Daniel Leasure, Colonel of the famous Roundhead Regiment.

Doctor Milton Lawrence located at Hookstown in 1826, where he practiced until 1839, when he was elected prothonotary of Beaver County in which capacity he served till 1848. Returning to Hookstown and resuming his medical practice, he became eminent in the profession and enjoyed the confidence of all who knew him. In 1862 he was commissioned by the Governor to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge John Scott and was elected his own successor the. same year, re-elected in 1867, and again in 1872, serving as a judge in Beaver County for fifteen years.

Dr. E. K. Chamberlin practiced in New Brighton during the first part of the nineteenth century and was very active in the Cholera epidemic of 1834. He served as surgeon in Taylor's Army during the Mexican War and was nicknamed by the soldiers "Old Medicine." After the war he located in California, Pennsylvania, and was elected State Senator.

Among the very first settlers of Beaver County was the Kerr family. Among the descendants of this family were several physicians: namely, Doctor Prestley J. Kerr, who practiced in Raccoon Township, was a surgeon in the Civil War and at the close of the war, was appointed to attend the inmates of the County Hospital, which position he held till his death in 1884; Doctor Alvin H. Kerr, who practiced in Monaca and Shippingport, and later moved to Pittsburgh; and Doctor Frank David Kerr, who practiced in Hookstown. During the Civil War, Doctor Frank Kerr took part in the Battle of Gettysburg, and after the battle, was commissioned a lieutenant in the Maryland Cavalry. He participated in a number of major battles and many minor ones. He had several im portant commissions among which was Aide-de-Camp to General W. H. Seward, the last as a judge Advocate. He was one of the most noted and wellknown of the early physicians of Beaver County.

Dr. John C. Levis was a well-known and skillful surgeon of the early days. He was a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War and was with McClellan during the Peninsular Campaign. He was captured by the Rebel, General E. B. Stewart, but was later released on parole and served with Grant during the Seige of Vicksburg. After the war, President Grant offered him the post as Counselor of Mexico, but, because of ill health, he did not accept the appointment.

Beaver County is, all things considered, a remarkably healthful region. Whether from climatic conditions, inherently strong constitutions, from strict observance of the laws of health or from skillful medical practice, is not material; but the fact remains that Beaver County has produced more cases of longevity than any other equal territory of population in the land.

The Ohio River, affording by its drainage a certain protection against disease, has also been the thoroughfare along which certain contagious diseases have crept northward from infected districts on the lower Mississippi. Notable was the scourge of cholera of 1834. The disease began injuly 1834, the first cases were of steamboat employees returning from a trip to the lower Mississippi. In August of 1834 the full impact of the infection was manifest in the town of Fallston near the junction of the Beaver and Ohio Rivers. The village was nearly depopulated during the scourge, only one family remaining. Several deaths occurred in the other parts of the county. Again in 1849 and 1851 cholera crept up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, causing the death of many people in Beaver County.

In March, 1845, a disease broke out which was currently known as Hookstown Fever, because of its severe prevalence in the region of that village. It created such a panic that even ministers were afraid to come to the town to bury the dead. There were 350 inhabitants in Hookstown and every family, save three, was attacked by the disease. There were eighty-six cases of the disease, with many deaths, among which were two physicians, Doctors Samuel Wallace and Alexander Coburn. At that time, the disease was thought by the physicians to be an entirely unknown affliction, but later, from a study of the symptoms described, it has been decided that it was a severe outbreak of typhoid fever, then known by the professions as enteric fever.

Influenza became an epidemic in 1843 and was called Tyler's Fever, as Tyler was then President of the United States; it occurred again in 1889-1890. In the most severe form that it has ever visited our nation, influenza appeared in 1918 and 1919, when the mortality rate was appalling. Many cases died in less than one hundred hours after the first symptoms. In the town of New Brighton alone, there were 110 deaths and relatively the same proportion in all sections of the County.

Prior to 1907 typhoid fever was prevalent in the County but not more marked than in other sections of the State. Small Pox visited the County in 1901-1902-1903, but did not become an epidemic.

The Beaver County Medical Society was organized on November 23, 185 5 by a group of physicians gathered in the office of Oliver and Smith Cunningham in Beaver, the County Seat.

The first few years, the meetings were held in the offices or homes of physicians of the different towns of Beaver Valley, later in hotels and, finally, Rochester was chosen as the regular meeting place. Except for the three summer months of June, July and August, meetings were held monthly. Recently, the monthly meetings have been in Beaver Falls at the Brodhead Hotel. Physicians of national reputation discuss current developments before dinner is served.

Many names and events of importance must of necessity be omitted because the general medical history of the State is allocated a limited amount of space. A few of the early prominent physicians in Beaver County during the last century are listed here with some outstanding characteristics.

Oliver Cunningham, the first President of the Beaver County Medical Society, practiced general medicine in Beaver for many years. He was one of the first settlers of the town and was regarded as a very able and conscientious physician.

Smith Cunningham practiced medicine in Beaver for forty years where he obtained a high rank in the profession and at one time was President of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the only physician in Beaver County to attain that enviable position. He exerted a great influence upon people and was active in all public affairs.

Isaac Winans practiced in New Brighton from 1844 until his death in 1877. He was graduated from the Cincinnati Medical College and was a close student all his life.

David Minis, Jr., a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania about 1842, practiced medicine in Beaver until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he enlisted in the 48th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and was appointed surgeon of the Regiment. From exertion and exposure on the fields of battle, particularly the Battle of Roanoke Island, he died on February 14, 18 62. A Confederate epitaph: patriot, gentleman and scholar.

George W. Allison received his medical education at the University of Maryland and began practice in Beaver in 1829. In 1841 he married a daughter of James Lyon. His father-in-law, when a young boy, had been a captive of the Indians for several years. Doctor Allison was prominent in the medical profession of that period and at one time was Vice President of the Pennsylvania State Medical Society. His death occurred in 1863.

David Stanton was born in Salem, Ohio, the son of Doctor Benjamin Stanton, a prominent physician of that place. He was a cousin of Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War.

He was graduated from Western Reserve Medical College in 1850 and located in New Brighton, where he had a very large practice and was well known as an able physician. He was a strong opponent of slavery and at the outbreak of the Rebellion promptly offered his services. He was appointed surgeon with the rank of major in the Pennsylvania Reserve Cavalry. He served eighteen months in the fields and participated in nearly every engagement in which his company took part. A good soldier as well as a competent surgeon, he was appointed in 1863 by President Lincoln surgeon of the United States Volunteers and assigned to duty as superintendent of hospitals at Columbus, Ohio. In 1864 he became Assistant Medical Director and later acting Medical Director with offices in Detroit, Michigan. He resigned from the Army in November, 1865, but was subsequently twice breveted by the President: Lieutenant Colonel, 1865 and Colonel, 1866. In 1871 he was elected Auditor General of Pennsylvania but died before taking office.

Joseph Linnenbrink was born in Paterborn, Germany. He was graduated from the University of Paterborn, the University of Munste, the University of Gunsen, and the University of Berlin with high honors. He was appointed a surgeon in the German Army, where he served for three years. He became a surgeon in the Army of Holland for three more years. After this he came to American in 1834, locating at Zelienople, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, where he practiced until 1848, when he moved to Economy and was physician to the Economite Society. He moved to Rochester in 1864, where he practiced until his death in 1871.

Joseph H. Dickson practiced in Rochester for several years and then moved to Pittsburgh, where he was associated in practice with his brother, John. Their offices were located at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Ninth Street. He became a very eminent physician of the time.