Friday, November 16, 2012

In Lincoln's Hand

With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in full swing there are myriad ways to relive and learn more about that tumultuous time for our United States. One such way I am excited about is going to see the recent Spielberg film "Lincoln" which, somewhat surprisingly, covers only the final four months of President Abraham Lincoln's life. Here at The Alice we have an exhibit that highlights collection items related to that tragically bloody chapter in our young nation's history. It includes carte-de-visite photographs of many things from that era including soldiers from the 16th New York Infantry Regiment, ironclad ships, and famous generals of the time. Also on view are engravings of Lincoln and other then-current objects.

The museum collection includes some very unique pieces, such as letters written by three of William Miner's uncles who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, along with other letters included on our website for your perusal. This website letter archive was written by a Plattsburgh soldier named Charles Moore. Read them here, by clicking the button made from a photo of President Lincoln. Or go directly to the letters by following this link,

What may surprise you is that we have two documents in this exhibit that were signed by Lincoln himself! Like the new Spielberg movie, both date from the final months of his life. I will tell you more, but you owe it to yourself to come to the Lincoln Library and view them in person.

On Tuesday, November 8, 1864 President Lincoln was elected for his second term in office. The following Monday he wrote one of the simplest and smallest job recommendations I have ever seen. This little note is in the collection and on display in our Lincoln Library. It is about the same size as a business card. Hand written and signed by the president the card reads, "I shall be glad if any Department or Bureau can give this woman employment. A. Lincoln Nov. 14, 1864". We will likely never know who she was or why Lincoln wrote the recommendation, he apparently wrote many over the years. Hopefully, it was enough to land her a job! 

Two weeks after the recommendation was written a young Union Captain named George E. Gouraud (1841-1912), along with 5,000 troops under the command of Maj. Gen. John P. Hatch, entered into the Battle of Honey Hill, SC. Further details can be found by searching the internet, but I will say that it was not a positive outcome for the Union troops. 89 Union soldiers were killed, 629 were wounded, and 28 men went missing, while the Confederate casualties amounted to 8 killed and 39 wounded during the battle, which took place on November 30, 1864.

Gouraud was awarded the rank of Major, "by brevet... for gallant conduct on the field of battle in the engagement at Honey Hill, South Carolina..." His military rank certificate is in the Civil War exhibit here at The Alice. The document was signed by Secretary of War, E.M. Stanton and by Abraham Lincoln, President, and dated March 22, 1865. Gouraud was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Honey Hill. (Incidentally, George Gouraud became famous in 1888 for introducing the Edison Phonograph Cylinder to England.)

Just days after the Battle of Honey Hill, on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude. On March 4, 1865 Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term as President. A few weeks later, on March 22nd, he and Edwin M. Stanton signed the military rank certificate for George Gouraud. Less than a month later Lincoln lay dead from the assassin's bullet. It was Stanton at the president's bedside who uttered the famous quote, "Now he belongs to the ages."

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Making of a Country Doctor

When Dr. George W. Clark III (George Warren) was born in Chazy in 1920, he was quickly and happily swept up into a large extended family of hard-working locals - many of whom did not have children of their own. George Warren’s aunts, uncles, grandparents and parents were fixtures in Chazy and Mooers, New York. Familiar faces one would see daily – like the Postman, the Schoolteacher, the Builder and Telegraph Operator. Many of them were born in the area and spent their entire lives here, just like George Warren. Dr. Clark’s father, George W. Clark II (1882-1934), was a rural mail carrier for Chazy and his mother, Harriet McDowell Clark (1891-1960), was a schoolteacher in Mooers, Chazy, Champlain and Altona – all part of rural school district #1 during her years of teaching. George Warren was passed around between loving aunts and uncles at gatherings, one of very few offspring in his generation. The two families united by the marriage of George Warren’s parents were the Clark family of Chazy and the McDowell family of Mooers.

George Warren Clark II - your local Postman

Clark Family
By the time George Warren was born the Clark family had been a part of Chazy life for over 80 years. Dr. Clark’s great, great grandfather Henry owned the Fillmore Hotel in Chazy, selling it to his son, Harry S. Clark (1809-1885) in 1866. Harry lost his leg in the Civil War before returning to Chazy and buying his father’s business. He soon changed the name to Clark’s Hotel. Eventually Harry’s son, George W. Clark I (1834-1908), ran the hotel and raised his children there, including George W. Clark II, George Warren’s father.

The Clark Sisters

George W. Clark II was the youngest of seven children, and a favorite of his four surviving sisters - Caroline (Carrie 1863-1953), Marion (Mame 1866-1948), Helen (Nell 1867-1953), and Martha (Mattie 1881-1960). Their sister Alice (1871-1880) died at the age of nine. Nell married James A. Yale (1865-1936), head of Customs & Immigration in Rouses Point for many years. Carrie’s husband John H. North (d.1929) was a prison guard, Mame married Orrin E. Minkler (1864-1929), and Mattie was married to Henry Swenson, a bank employee in Wellesley, Massachusetts. They also had a brother who was a telegraph operator, William H. Clark (Will 1876-1944) who married Jessie Boyd (d. 1941).

Harriet McDowell (in carriage) with her parents and sister Leona

McDowell Family
Harriet McDowell Clark had six siblings. Her father, Julius McDowell  (d. 1908), was born in Canada and settled in Mooers – making his living as a builder. Harriet had two sisters she kept in touch with and who lived in Clinton County - Leone and Kate (d. 1945).

Kate McDowell Oliver

Harriet was very close with her sister Kate, who lived in Plattsburgh. Kate married Grover C. Oliver. Grover owned Oliver Lumber Company, a building and roofing material business in Plattsburgh. The Olivers owned the lighthouse on Point au Roche Road in Beekmantown. Kate and Grover often wintered in Florida, taking Harriet along with them after her husband, George W. Clark II passed away in 1934.

In 1915 these two families became intertwined when George and Harriet married and settled down in Chazy, New York. They were overjoyed when their son George Warren Clark III was born in 1920. This story continues! 

To learn more about Dr. George Clark and his family stay tuned to this blog. We are also preparing an exhibit, "The Making of a Country Doctor" that will open at The Alice in October 2012.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making House Calls

In 1948 young Dr. George W. Clark returned from a stint in the Army in California (checking in military men before their discharge from the Army) and then in Europe (working for the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service - caring for deceased military personnel interred outside the continental limits of the United States) and his physician's residency in Stamford, Connecticut to start his Chazy practice in the old Fisk tannery. The tannery was a stone building next door to his family home, where the Little Chazy River flows between the office and Route 9. His mother and uncle had spent hours renovating and cleaning up the interior to make it suitable for the new doctor in town.

George Clark with his uncle Henry in 1945

In those days Dr. Clark's daily schedule consisted of office visits in the old tannery from his patients in the morning. After attending to them he would usually set out on his house call rounds. Remember, during this era there were very few nursing homes, so most people were being cared for at home by their families. 

Dr. Clark brought along everything he might need for these house calls, including the medicines for patients of all ages. First, he would visit the homes in Chazy, then, depending on the day of the week, the towns beyond - Chazy Landing, Coopersville, Rouses Point, Champlain, Mooers, Mooers Forks, Ellenberg, Altona, West Chazy, then on to Plattsburgh to care for his patients in the hospital. Every two weeks or so he would also be the attending physician in the emergency rooms there, finding Saturday to be the roughest night to work!

The practice of making house calls has virtually disappeared for many reasons, not the least of which is modern medicine's increasing reliance on sophisticated technology to assist doctors in diagnosing illness. Large machines simply don't fit in the doctor's bag - consequently, if the physicians have not been trained to diagnose problems without the use of this technology, they are frequently unable to help a patient at home. For George Clark,  and most doctors of his generation however, visiting one's patients in their own home was an important part of their practice. In fact Dr. Clark regularly put approximately 38,000 miles on his cars each year. He said that no one ever taught him how to do house calls, so when he first started his practice he did not know what to bring with him on the first house call! He soon figured it out:

~ a stethoscope
~ sphygmomanometer (blood pressure meter)
~ an otoscope to examine ears
~ thermometers
~ tongue depressors
~ sutures, bandages
~ alcohol, eye wash, local anesthetic
~ myriad bottles of tinctures and drugs for all ages

The bottom of the bag held the medicines, plus all the little envelopes to put them in for each patient. His nurse would keep the bag filled and in the same place always, so he could grab it quickly when a call came. Dr. Clark cared for each patient until they recovered, frequently returning to their homes several times to treat the same malady.

As Dr. Clark aged so did his patients. After delivering babies for the first 25 years of his practice insurance became too expensive and this role was taken over by specialists. He said he missed delivering and caring for the newborn, but did not miss the disruption of the usual doctor routine while attending to births! Eventually the majority of his patients were of the geriatric variety, whom he always seemed to enjoy. He often found himself visiting over 100 patients in nursing homes throughout the area. 

One of Dr. Clark's bags

Finally, after 56 years of service to the local community, Doctor Clark retired in 2003. He felt 'sinful' for the first six months of retirement not having the responsibilities and ties that had precluded him from doing the travel he had always longed to do. After an adjustment period, however, he settled into a comfortable and relatively care-free retirement. After providing care to so many families and delivering so many of their babies into this world, and gently ushering many back out, time had come for George to just be himself and enjoy his golden years. 

Dr. George Warren Clark passed away in May 2009 - leaving hundreds of wonderful photographs and family documents to The Alice for safe keeping. We are currently preparing an exhibit about his life that will document the more than 100 years his family lived and worked in Chazy and surrounding areas. The exhibit will open in late October. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Old Country Doctor

While passing through Chazy recently I saw something that caused my thoughts to turn to a dwindling breed of individual. I'd passed the Riverview Cemetery and had spotted a large headstone with the name FAIRBANK carved in the face. I was moved to research Dr. Alexander Fairbank and found he had served the community of Chazy as a family physician for many generations - beginning to do so directly upon graduation in 1874 from Albany Medical College. Not only did Dr. Fairbank care for and heal many of his neighbors, he also helped inspire at least one youngster, George W. Clark III, to pursue the medical arts.

A young George Warren with his father George Clark II, ca. 1930

George W. Clark III was the son of a rural mail carrier and a school teacher, but he had dreamed from an early age of becoming a doctor. George Warren (as they called him in his youth - probably to distinguish him from his father and grandfather) wrote an essay in his last year of high school about his desire to become a doctor. Even as a teen he knew about the different disciplines from which a medical student could choose. He knew he could make more money as a surgeon or specialist, but George Warren wanted to help his community by becoming a Country Doctor like Alexander Fairbank. In the essay about his future he states that he chose this profession "long before" he entered high school.

After graduating from Chazy Central Rural School in 1938 he went on to Union College in Albany, eventually transferring to McGill University to study medicine. In college he began signing his name as George W. Clark. His father had passed away years before and George was now becoming a man.

He did very well in college, all the while keeping in close touch with the Chazy community and his mother Harriet. There were likely influences other than Dr. Fairbank that inspired the young George Warren to become a family doctor. After all, he had lost his father to an un-named illness when he was just a teen. But what young person in a small town does not dream of being admired by all? In his high school essay George Warren states, "In our own town Dr. Fairbank will always be remembered as a good citizen; always helping, always encouraging, always working for the good of the town."

Dr. Alexander Fairbank was an admirable citizen - aside from serving as healer, Dr. Fairbank did much for his community. In Nell Sullivan's A History of the Town of Chazy, she says he "contributed to the success of many organizations in Chazy, including the school and the library." Young George Warren Clark wanted to be admired, and he really wanted to help his neighbors.

George Warren with his mother Harriet McDowell Clark, ca. 1933

These days it is becoming more and more difficult to convince medical students to study family medicine. With huge debt accruing, most choose more lucrative specialities like surgery, oncology, or dentistry, etc. One study asserts that only twenty percent of medical students choose to enter into family medicine. Chazy itself is no longer home to a practice specializing in family medicine. This is true of many communities.

Whether in his little office, or through the virtually lost act of making house calls, Dr. George W. Clark was, for the time being, the last of the breed of community servants who healed generations of Chazy families through a general family practice. Let us hope others come along to revive this legacy. Hail to Dr. Clark and Dr. Fairbank!