Wellsville Daily Reporter - January 26, 1895 -- Transcribed by Mary Rhodes
Reminiscences of Wellsville - Part IV
THE TWO SMALL POX SCARES IN 1861 AND 1862
ONLY TWO PERSONS DIED
Owing to the Stringent Measures Adopted by The Health Board
One of the saddest experiences of Wellsville was the fight with small pox.
In the year 1861 in the month of March it was reported that this horrible and by every one feared disease had invaded our quiet town. The Trustees of the village promptly appointed a Board of Health consisting of the following named persons: L. M. Purple, MD, Harvey Alger, Frank Russell, H. M. Sheerar, Daniel Dobbins.
At their first meeting, March 15th, 1861, Dr. Purple was chosen President and H. M. Sheerar secretary. At this meeting, D. H. H. Nye was appointed Health Officer, and requested to ascertain immediately the truth of this alarming rumor, and report to this Board at its next meeting. The Board met on the evening of the same day and Dr. Nye reported that “Small Pox exhibits itself and exists in the families of Messrs Slough and Bray, and is infectious and contagious.” Opinions had been expressed by some of our people that this rumor was a scare. Dr. Nye was then asked if he was sure that it was small pox, might it not be something else? With a curl of the lip, that spoke volumes, he said: “Gentlemen, people may say what they please, this is not a scare, I know what I am talking about, and upon my reputation as a physician I aver that at this moment the genuine old fashioned SMALL POX is in the families I have named and the sooner we understand this matter and the quicker we adopt the most stringent measures to stop or confine it to its present limits the better for all around.”
Of course we were dumb with astonishment. We knew if the truth of the matter was made public, Wellsville would be a place that no one would care to visit. Many would not believe what we said. We knew also that we would be obliged to blockade some of the streets, close up the residences of our friends, upon suspicion of their having been exposed, and great would be the complaints. Dr. Nye’s practice would be spoiled for the present. His friends and enemies like the Priest and Levite, would pass by on the side when they met him. All these things and many more were earnestly talked over and carefully weighed. But the law pointed out very clearly the duty of the Board, and at their meeting the next day at H. M. Sheerar’s Dental office, it was resolved that public notice be given that small pox prevailed in Wellsville.
The President, Dr. L. M. Purple, was instructed to command persons who had the disease or had been exposed to confine themselves to their dwellings until the Health Officer declared them free from danger.
Dr. Nye later reported to us that small pox existed also in the families of F. Wack,
W. C. Whitney, and Steven Dayton. Meetings of the Board were held every day and often twice a day to hear reports from the Health Officer. On the 18th he reported that one child of Mr. Wack and four persons in the family of Dr. Whitney were sick with small pox. All doing well, but Mrs. Whitney who was dangerously sick, he feared would not recover, and one sick in the family of Mr. Dayton. An ordinance was passed at this meeting of the Board, prohibiting everyone from having communications with persons of families exposed to having this disease.
On the 20th, Mrs. Whitney died of the disease. The family lived in the upper room in the building now occupied by Frank Fisher & Co. This building then stood where the old engine house now is.
One of the saddest sights I ever saw was when Dr. Whitney, aided by Dr. Nye, carried the remains of his dear wife, a mass of corruption in a tight plain coffin, down those stairs placed it upon a dray cart when it was taken away without a sympathizing friend or a clergyman present. Two or three members of the Board stood as sentinels to keep curiosity seekers and uninformed persons at a proper distance.
On the 26th, the health officers reported that all the cases were doing well, there having been 23 cases in all and only one death. Doubtful ones were convinced of the existence of this horrid plague, and when they met those in after days that Dr. Nye had reported, the stern and rigid measures the Board of Health had enforced were warmly approved.
The expenses of this scourge were $120.84 to the village. But the stagnation of business, the anxiety of the people cannot be easily estimated.
To our surprise and horror on Nov 10, 1862 it was reported that small pox was again in our village, in the family of Joseph J. Raymond residing near the lower terminus of Mill street on the western side. Measures were promptly taken to confine the scourge to the narrowest limits possible. Another Board of Health was appointed and the following notice printed and served upon every one that was thought had been exposed.
BOARD OF HEALTH
VILLAGE OF WELLSVILLE
Take notice that you and the members of your family or persons in your employment or under your care, are by the Board of Health of this village strictly prohibited from having any intercourse, communication or conversation with any person or persons, except your physician and members of your family, or inmates of the house in which you abide, and also from appearing in any of the streets or places of business in this village without the permission of the President of this Board, or the Health Officer of this village, until further notice.
The grounds of this order is that you have been exposed to Small Pox
Dated Wellsville, NY 1862,
Daniel D. Dobbins, President
H. M. Sheerer Secretary,
Dr. H. H. Nye Health Officer
E.E. Higgins, J.P. Beecher, D. D. Dobbins, L. M. Purple MD, Z. H. Jones, H. M. Sheerar,
Board of Health
Printed notices like above were served upon the following named persons E. W. Benton, Henry Rathbun, Dr. E. Meriam, Robt. Day, Francis Van Volkenburg, G. B. Gordon, J. Dimon, J. J. Raymond.
Mr. Raymond was ordered to close his doors and windows permanently until further notice. By this prompt action, but one persons died, a colored man whose name I cannot recall. Mr. Dobbins and myself went at midnight and engaged the proper person to bury the unfortunate man.
Those were gloomy times for Wellsville. Fear and apprehension took possession of every heart. As we met each other, the silent inquiry came up. “are you the next one?” “I wonder if you have been exposed?” We did not know upon whom that iron clad notice would be served next, and a loved one’s home be turned into a loathsome pest house and prison, which all were sternly commanded to avoid and its occupants forbidden to leave.
This stern and decisive action of the Board of Health stayed the progress of this loathsome disease and in a short time the embargo was raised, quiet and confidence was restored, business and trade was renewed and Wellsville once more was a healthy and happy town. The cost of this second visitation was $146.26
H. M. Sheerar Jan 1895