A look back at Aurora's early physicians

John Kudley Jr.
Special to the Aurora Advocate
Dr. John Hatch’s pill case.

Imagine living in Aurora in the 1800s and waking up with a sore throat, fever and chills, or other symptoms which leave you wondering what’s wrong and how serious. Today you might quickly search the web trying self-diagnose your condition. You could go to a “minute clinic” or an urgent care center for treatment. There’s the ability to arrange a “virtual visit” with a doctor or in the case of a dire emergency you can call EMS. In my childhood I actually remember our family doctor making a house call at all hours of the day and night.

The earliest record of someone tending to the medical needs of Aurora’s settlers can be found in the diary of the Rev. Joseph Badger, an itinerant minister with the Connecticut Missionary Society. He wrote that he was “often called upon to care for the sick” ministering to both the “needs of the body as well as the soul.” Badger was followed by 20 different doctors who between 1810 and 1896 attended to the medical needs of the Aurora community.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the accepted belief in the western world was that most illnesses were the result of an imbalance within the body brought on by disease, evil spirits or other stresses. “Miasma,” defined as a highly unhealthy odor in the air, was the likely cause of the imbalance. Treatment focused on removing the offending substance from the body. Bloodletting was the common practice, although drugs were used that were designed to remove the imbalance through the mouth, nose, rectum, or the skin. The idea that illnesses were caused by germs was yet to be understood.

On the frontier, settlers relied on home remedies and herbal medicines that they had learned from Native Americans. The most trusted medical provider was the midwife, who not only assisted in the delivery of babies, but was also a source of support for the ill. Laura Cochran Cannon, tenderly referred to as “Aunt Laura,” was one of Aurora’s first settlers to attend to the community. Born in 1792, Laura travelled from Blandford, Massachusetts, arriving in Aurora in 1805. During the journey her father became seriously ill and stayed behind in Buffalo, New York with her mother until his untimely death. Laura and her sister, Rhoda, continued on with another family who mistreated the girls. Rhoda suffered from rheumatism and had to be carried, while Laura was made to walk the entire way. Eventually, the family was reunited in Aurora, with her brothers John Jr. and Solomon who had arrived earlier.

The family soon fell upon hard financial times. In 1806, just a year after arriving in Aurora, Rhoda died. On Christmas Day her “homemade coffin was carried by four young men through deep snow to the village green and placed in the town’s “burying ground” on land that would eventually be adjacent to the “Old Brick” church. Her body was later moved to its current location in the Aurora Cemetery. At age 17, Laura married Stephen Cannon. She died in 1880 at the age of 88 having spent her entire life healing the people of Aurora with herbs, roots and medicine. Even after the arrival of trained physicians, “Aunt Laura” continued to provide her services attending to over 500 births during her lifetime.

Aurora’s first trained physician was Dr. Ezekiel Squires, who moved to Aurora from Becket, Massachusetts in 1810 with his wife, Clara, and two children. Squires lived and practiced in Aurora for eight years before moving to Mantua. However, he continued to serve the community until his untimely death in 1821 when he left his own sick bed to attend to the needs of one of his patients.

Caroline Lacey Eggleston, the daughter of Isaac and Prudence Lacey, attended to the community’s needs during its early years. Affectionately called “Aunt Carrie,” she was known to care for the sick and dying. She “shrouded” the in preparation for burial and providing flowers for her funeral services.

Dr. John Hatch's blood-letting kit.

Dr. John Hatch was one of Aurora’s longest practitioners serving the community for 17 years from 1825 dying in 1842 at the age of 54. Hatch met a tragic death when he was thrown from his horse and suffered internal bleeding from a fracture. The Congregational Church’s Rev. John Seward noted Hatch’s passing in the church’s records writing, “Death, apoplexy (massive hemorrhage) occasioned by the fracture of the thigh by being thrown from a cutter.”

Dr. John Hatch’s medical ledger

Not all of Aurora’s early doctors focused solely on attending to the community’s medical needs. Dr. Simon Birge, while a trained physician, did not spend much time attending to his profession. His primary occupation was keeper of a hotel. A member of the Congregational Church in Aurora, in 1847 Birge was called before the congregation for having violated the church’s resolution regarding “vain amusements” which tempted people from proper Christian behavior. He was charged with having opened “his house three times … for parties of pleasure, whose amusement consisted of … promiscuous dancing of the sexes, at the sound of the violin to very unreasonable hours of the night.” Called upon to acknowledge his sin of ignoring his “covenant obligations,” Birge claimed that since he had opened his tavern he had observed a considerable “improvement in the manners of the youth.” A committee of elders recommended that he be suspended from communion with the church until he “shall give evidence of repentance …”

Dr. Worthy Streator was an associate of Dr. John Hatch. He married Sarah Stirling and conducted his practice from his home in the residence south of Harmon’s cheese warehouse (The Secret Garden). The house is now the location of Mad Jack’s Grill & Pub. He left Aurora in 1847 and became involved in the development of the Atlantic & Great Western Railway in Ohio. He later became president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. In 1869 he served as an Ohio state senator, was the first mayor of East Cleveland and was an original endower of Case Institute of Technology.

Also associated with Hatch and Streator was Dr. Fowler. Fowler advocated the healthy effects of drinking goat’s milk. Keeping a nanny goat as part of his collection of remedies, he maintained a “moveable drug store,” taking the goat to the home of his patient and supplying the “fresh pure article at the door.”

Aurora’s “beloved physician” Dr. Sidney Walker circa 1895.

Dr. Sidney Walker was Aurora’s “beloved physician” as the community entered into the 1900s. While there are no known records of his practice the photo shows him behind a building at the corner of Routes 306 and 82.

On July 4, 1901, Rev. James McKee of the Congregational Church presented a report to the Aurora Historical Society. McKee wrote, “Among the deprivations of the early settlers resulting in doubtless suffering and often in the loss of life was the want of skilled physicians … It must have been one of the things to have awakened anxious thought in the minds of the fathers and anxious forebodings in the minds of the mothers to know that in the new surroundings they would be almost beyond the reach of medical help.”

While we are in the midst of a global pandemic we are not living in a wilderness where we have to rely on home remedies. We have a massive collection of medical and scientific knowledge that has enabled the rapid development of vaccines that will hopefully allow us to return to what we know will be a new normal. More importantly, as in the era when doctors made house calls, medical professionals and first responders are ready to provide care at all hours of the day and night.

Printed with the permission of the Aurora Historical Society which retains rights to all content and photos.