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–On Labor Day: Remembering Those Who Died While Building the Conowingo Dam

Workers at the Conowingo Dam. source: Conowingo Visitors Center

Workers at the Conowingo Dam.
source: Conowingo Visitor’s Center

On this Labor Day, a holiday that honors American Workers and remembers the struggle to acquire better employment conditions, it’s a good time to share some research I have been doing on men who paid a high price erecting the Conowingo Dam.  An untold number were killed, injured or disabled while toiling away at the dangerous construction job in the late 1920s.

Some 5,000 people flocked to the rural northeastern Maryland area, seeking to earn good pay as the construction got underway.  About 3,500 personnel erected the hydroelectric plant for Stone & Webster and the Arundel Corporation, and the project generated associated employment opportunities.  There were laborers relocating tracks and building new stations for the Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad, contractors paving new highways, and crews erecting 1,000 steel towers to stretch mighty transmission lines toward Philadelphia for Day & Zimmerman.

It was nearly fifty years before Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which guaranteed the right to a safe job.   Regulations adopted in the early 1970s, made safety practices, such as fall protection, machine guarding, and personal protective equipment a standard part of the job.  But this engineering feat took place long before there was much concern for occupational safety.

While these men struggled to earn a living wage to support the family, many of them suffered disabling injuries handing high voltage electric lines, tumbling from high elevations, managing explosives, and much more.  A number died while performing their duties.  Construction work is a dangerous business today, but in that era workplace safety wasn’t a high priority and broken bones, fractured skulls, amputations and other trauma was common.

While people often talk about worker fatalities at the Dam, a census or registry has never been compiled to give us some idea of the magnitude of the risk and to remember those who fell on the job.  So I have done some data-mining, making  an initial survey to identify those who lost their lives at Conowingo.  It was a dangerous work, and newspaper accounts of men in the hard-driving industry suffering serious occupational mishaps are frequent, once work on the project starts.

The first shovelful of earth was turned on the Cecil County side of the Susquehanna River and the first nail driven on the Harford County side on March 8, 1926, newspapers observed.  “Twenty carloads of lumber passed Port Deposit on the way to Conowingo, and carpenters and mechanis were rushed on the job on Monday by the early train.”  The clearing of dense woodland had already began, and steam shovels were starting to operate.

Sometimes a man unsecured by a safety harness or net fell into swirling flood waters or rocks a distance or there was an automobile accident.  For example, thirty workmen suffered trauma when a bus operated by the United Railroads between Baltimore and Conowingo skidded on an icy hill at the Dam and was upset.  The injured were rushed to the company hospital.

Other accounts involved single casualties.  Irvin McDowell was confined to his home near Calvert in serious condition, the results of running a nail in his foot, the Baltimore Sun reported March 25, 1927.  Alvan Prather, 25, of Inwood WV. was crushed while firing the engine drawing cars on the Stone & Webster Company’s railroad, running from Havre de Grace to Shure’s Landing.  In critical condition, he was rushed to the company hospital where physicians determined he had a double fracture of the left leg.  The right one was smashed so it was amputated, the Havre de Grace Republican wrote on October 15, 1927.

For this article, I focused on identifying occupational fatalites.  Here is the registry as it stands on Labor Day, 2015.  I will add names to it as others are identified.


March 20, 1926  — Alphonso Fortier, 21, Philadelphia; killed at Port Deposit three-hours after accepting employment with contractor building the hydroelectric plant;  helping to unload a derrick and other machinery from freight car; a heavy piece struck him, causing an internal hemorrhage from which he died an hour later.  Source:  Baltimore Sun, March 21, 1926.

August 8, 1926 — John G. Shelor, 21, Calvert, Cecil County; tractor used in pulling stumps turned over backwards; broken neck at the dam; Remains shipped to Christiansburg, VA for burial.  Source:  Baltimore Sun, Aug. 12, 1926.

August 11, 1926 – George D. Whiteside, 22, pipefitter’s helper; run over by a train at the plant; remains shipped to his home in Champlain, NY.  He was a college student employed at the dam for the summer.  Source:  Baltimore Sun, Aug 12, 1926

August 3, 1926 (date is estimated).  An unidentified African-American laborer was bitten by a copperhead snake while clearing ground for the new dam.  Source:  Cecil Whig, August 7, 1926

December 21, 1926 — William J. Elliott, 46; killed at Conowingo Dam when he fell from a stone conveyor.  Funeral was held at Havre de Grace and services were in charge of Harford Klan.  Source:  Cecil Democrat, December 25, 1926

February 18  1927 —  Soon after reporting to work, George Graybeal, 35, became sick and went to the office of Dr. Mohr, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company’s physician at Conowingo.  where he died.  He and his father and a brother came from North Carolina to Cecil County to work on the project.

March 8, 1927 — Adam Gelensky, 42, an employee of the Arundel Corporation was found on the Octoraro Creek Railroad Bridge with both legs severed after begun run over by a train.  He died about four hours later in Richards’ Hospital.  The body was turned over to undertaker Patterson of Aikin.  An effort was being made to locate relatives at Brockville, PA.

June 29, 1927 — Frank McCann, 27, sustained injured by falling a distance of nearly a hundred feet while at work on the Dam died.  He was from Detroit, MI and his body was shipped home.

July 18, 1927 — Stephen Collins, 28, Baltimore; killed instantly when he fell from the crest of the dam to rocks beneath.  Source:  Baltimore Sun, July 18, 1927

July 18, 1927 — O. P. Shelton, 32, Florida; killed instantly when he fell 140-feet from the crest of the dam to rocks below.  Source:  Baltimore Sun:  July 18, 1927

November 14, 1926 — Joseph Damfamete; employed by the Arundel Corporation; died of a fracture skull at Havre de Grace Hospital; struck on head by falling plank.  Source:  Cecil Whig, November 20, 1926

November 21, 1927 — Hunter H. Bettis, 17, son of Lonnie Bettis, Havre de Grace; employed by Stone & Webster; drowned while walking along the edge of coffer dam, carrying a heavy bay of rivets.  He lost his balance and fell into thirty-five feet of water.  Source:  Nov. 26, 1927, Cecil Democrat


This is the census I have developed thus far.  However, Corner William B. Selse of Darlington, commented that more than twenty men had lost their lives on the project, while investigating the death of Hunter H. Bettis.  He added, “the number is low considering the fact that on average of 3,500 employees have been employed there for nearly two years,” he informed the Baltimore Sun.

Curtis S. Poist of Port Deposit once wrote a Baltimore Sun article called “Helping Build Conowingo Dam.”  “There was no way telling how many men were killed on the job,” he wrote.  “Often the word would go around that a man had been killed, but I never saw a fatal accident.”   The workmen spoke so many languages, came from so many parts of the world, nobody knew much about anybody else.  Usually a man was known only by the number on his badge.   So if he fell into an excavation along with several tons of wet concrete who was to miss him let along mourn his passing?”

The registry probably represents a significant undercount as the primary sources for this preliminary registry are newspapers.  I’m planning a visit to the Maryland Archives soon for another investigation and will pull death certificates for these men and others I am able to locate.

Still on this Labor Day it is appropriate to remember the fallen workers thus far identified.  I will update this registry as more workers are identified.

Remembering the Service of Sheriff Sam du Pont

Sam du Pont established the K-9 corps at the Sheriffs Office source: Baltimore Sun, July 6, 1969

Sam du Pont established the K-9 corps at the Sheriffs Office
source: Baltimore Sun, July 6, 1969

Headlines across the nation put a favorable spotlight on Cecil County in the autumn of 1970, following the local election.  A member of the Du Pont family, Samuel Francis du Pont, had become sheriff and curious journalist from some of the nation’s largest dailies sensed that there was a unique story here.

He certainly wasn’t after the $125-a-week salary or the free room and board in living quarters on the 2nd floor of 19th century jail.  Samuel Francis du Pont, great-great grandson of Eleuthere Irenee du Pont, the founder of the family chemical empire, preferred to live at his spacious estate, Hexton, overlooking the Sassafras River.

Sam started in policing in the late 1960s, a period characterized by much civil unrest across the nation.  A presidential commission investigating the riots had determined that law enforcement should be more professional and to implement the reforms in the Old Line State, the Maryland Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice was created.   Governor Spiro T. Agnew appointed him to the agency charged with  implementing uniform training standards, supporting college programs in criminal justice, and providing better equipment in 1968.

To get some practical experience, he joined the Elkton Police Department.  Working as a K-9 officer, providing his own German Shepherd and a specially equipped station wagon, he started patrolling the streets of the county seat that year.  He also attended the Maryland Police Academy, becoming one of two locally certified officers to graduate from the new program.

A formally trained local officer was something of a rarity at that time.  Rookies were typically given a stick, handcuffs, badge, and gun and told to hit the road.

Moving to the sheriff’s department in May of 1969, he became one of eight men policing the county and taking care of the other duties, such as jail and court security.  But this deputy differed from the other men in two special ways, the Baltimore Sun noted. “He’s the only one who works with a police dog. Sam, his year old station wagon, and a 4-1/2-year-old German shepherd made up the K-9 corps for the sheriff’s force. The other difference is that he is the only deputy who catches night shift every work day. Police dogs are most effective at night so the K-9 corps is on hand when it is needed most.”

Seeing firsthand the need to provide leadership and strengthen law enforcement locally, he campaigned for the top job in 1970.  (One of the issues centered around where the sheriff was going to reside.)  The Republican defeated former sheriff and state trooper Juicy Kaplan in an area where Democrats held a 2 to 1 majority.

“Perhaps I had a little different approach. . . ,” he explained to the Washington Post. We needed “a more professional approach and so we won better salaries” for the deputies and improved jail conditions. The inmates appreciated their new keeper. One man serving time for assaulting his wife told the Washington post. “He’s just like another guy. Most of the prisoners like him. He’s fair.”

Du Pont didn’t like to talk about his family history, reporters often observed, preferring instead to discuss what he was doing to protect and serve the citizens. The most serious problem was living down his name, the New York Times thought. Many county residents feared that the Wilmington Du Ponts were trying to take over. Others worried that he was going to use the office as a platform to climb higher in politics. “But he didn’t want to write laws like his cousin (Rep. Pierre du Pont).”

He implemented critically needed enhancements for county law enforcement.  Hiring standards and training were strengthened, as he wrangled a pay raise of from $600 to $1,400 for the men, with a salary topping out at $8,300. Circuit Court Judge J. Albert Rooney, noted that relation with the court had improved markedly, remarking that the officers that came before the bench were better qualified and more prepared.  Staffing was increased and improvements were made in the 19th century jail.

No du Pont had considered this line of work before, according to the Washington Post. They had enacted laws as U.S. Senators, administered them as commissioners of various agencies, interpreted them as judges, but this wasn’t for Sam. “I never really wanted a desk job. Never had a lot of desire to go with the company. I’m proud of my heritage, but it’s not my bag,” he told the reporter.

Sheriff du Pont served the citizens of Cecil County during a period when the criminal justice system had to evolve to deal with the challenges of a troubled decade, the 1960s.  He worked hard fighting crime and fighting for a few thousand more dollars at budget time.  He could have spent leisure time on his estate on the Sassafras River, flown his plane, piloted his tug and other boats, worked with thoroughbred horses, or looked after business in about anyway he wanted.

Instead he preferred to be a public servant, getting his start pulling lonely graveyard shift with his K-9 partner. As the lights when down in Cecil County, they started their workday, prowling the outlying country roads, from Bald Friar and the Lancaster County Line to Crystal Beach and the Sassafras River, while searching for trouble. Along the way he worked his way up to the top cop’s job.

He was directly responsible for bringing county policing into the modern era as he professionalized the work.

The police force, commanded by Chief Thomas N. McIntire, Jr. stands in front of headquarters in 1968. Office Purner is in the 2nd row, 4th from left. Photo Credit: Veasey

The police force, commanded by Chief Thomas N. McIntire, Jr. stands in front of headquarters in 1968. Officer du Pont is on the right with the K-9. Photo Credit: Veasey

A gentleman sheriff named Du Pont source: Washington Post, May 27 1971

A gentleman sheriff named Du Pont
source: Washington Post, May 27 1971

Hack’s Point: A Natural Spot for Summer Visitors

While Cecil County has always been an attractive spot for vacationers, the arrival of the automobile age after World War I accelerated that trend as new waterfront communities started popping up.  Desiring to escape, the oppressive heat and humidity of July and August, visitors from Philadelphia, Wilmington, Lancaster and other nearby urban areas motored here, seeking to spend long summer weekends in breezy cottages on the shores of the rivers.

As more and more visitors discovered the attractive beauty of the easy to reach county with five rivers, developers started buying up farmland and erecting cottages at desirable locations.  One of those communities was Hack’s Point with its excellent waterfront beaches on the Bohemia River.

In the middle of the roaring ’20s a Baltimore developer, Miller-Nelson, Inc., spotted the potential for the seasonal draw  and began putting in cottages.  In 1926, John Wallace Scott sold 50 acres of ground on his Hack’s Point Farm, adjoining Scotchman’s Creek, to the corporation for $20,000.  This place, with its broad waterways on several sides and the Creek was sure to catch refreshing  breezes and the attention of city dwellers seeking relief in those days before air conditioning.

The new owners had the property laid out in lots, a number of which had already been sold to people who were to erecting cottages, the Cecil County News reported.  On those sultry days of summer, lots of people were eager to get away, and Miller-Nelson had recognized the business opportunity.

This attractively situated point’s  history, however, goes back to the earliest days of the colony.  Stephen Hack was granted the first patent in 1658 and the name for the place has been carried down through the centuries.

A ferry operated from the point, helping ease the trip across the river, in the first half of the 19th century.   But In January 1853, the Legislature incorporated the Bohemia Bridge Company, authorizing the enterprise to build a bridge over the waterway at or near the ferry.  This would enhance the value of a considerable portion of the property of the county, as well as be a convenience a large number of citizens.

At that time the county was paying an annual sum of eighty dollars to keep up the ferry and if the commissioners desired they could contribute that amount annually to help cover the cost of operating the toll bridge.  It took a number of years before the span was built, but in July 1867 David Palmer was awarded a contract for $20,700.  The bridge opened in November 1867

Hacks Point was always a choice spot so as automobiles roared into the 1920s, increasing mobility, the alluring point, an ideal place for fishing, bathing, and boating, found many Delaware residents seeking summer cottages here.  In July 1940, the Wilmington Sunday Star observed that the “place was mostly populated by people who want quiet and colonial back home refinement.”

An advertisement in the Sunday Star in 1940 said that the fine shaded beach and boating facilities made an ideal place to build or buy a summer cottage.  And it was “easily accessible to Wilmington. “

The gossipy social columns in newspapers were soon filled with seasonal news about vacationing on the Bohemia.  A group from the Norwood Methodist Church enjoyed camping at Hack’s Point in August 1933.  The trip was made by motor and boat, the Chester Times reported.

More developments were platted after World War II   Hacks Point Manor was recorded in September 1946.  An advertisement in the Sunday start noted that Hacks’ Point was “Wilmington’s newest summer vacationland.”   It had exceptionally fine water front homes with every modern convenience for part-time or year round use.  A cottage on the water was available from J. Reese Short, Cecilton ,for $8,500 and one just off the water could be hand for $6,400 in 1950.

This clean, restricted, highly desirable community offered a wide choice of fine locations, an excellent community beach, fine bathing, boating and fishing facilities, the newspaper continued.  Other developers submitted plans for Hack’s Point in July 1951 and August 1963.

Today this tiny Cecil County resort continues to thrive.

For additional images click here.

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At the confluence of the Bohemia River and Scotchman Creek in Hack’s Point.

The Boulden Ford Building Hummed With Activity of Auto Trade For Most of the 20th Century

An early advertisement in the Cecil Democrat.

An early advertisement in the Cecil Democrat.

The appearance of the first “locomobile on Main Street in 1900 heralded the beginning of a new era, which would dramatically change Elkton, an old colonial town.  On a Friday in April at the top of a new century, “the sight of the strange machine proved too much for ‘Poor Excuse’ Dr. B. M. Wells’ horse, and a wild dash resulted.  Dr. Wells was also the Railway Express Agent in town and the animal was used to the routine of well-traveled route.

“Poor Excuse” wasn’t the only one appalled by the automobile.   The town council posted large signs on the outskirts of the municipality giving notice to automobilists not to run faster than eight miles per hour in 1911.

From its beginning, Elkton has depended on transportation to drive its development.  Its role as a place on one of the most important commercial corridors on the Eastern seaboard has continually shaped its development.  But, now the pattern of growth and change would accelerate because of cars and trucks.

As the auto industry was progressing through its tentative phase locally and nationally, Henry Ford organized the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, MI in 1903.  He began producing the Model T Ford car  in 1908, which initially sold for $850.  The windshield, top, and headlights were extras.

In 1911 the automobile was here to stay, the Cecil Democrat declared.  That same year Warren W. Boulden Sr. started an independent dealership, the Elkton garage.  He erected a roomy structure on Main Street at the foot of Bow St.  It offered a full line of automobile supplies and services and there were vehicles for hire.  Boulden had given this business a careful study and was a ”competent mechnician,” the Cecil Democrat reported.  In 1913, he signed an exclusive contract with Henry Ford, opening the first Ford dealership in the county.

Business was growing rapidly and sometime prior to the summer of 1915, Harry R. Boulden acquired a lot next to the Howard House on North Street.  As warm months got underway, newspapers reported that significant improvement was being made on North Street for Boulden had hired a contractor, William Stephens, to build a new garage.

Ground on the lot between the Howard House and Edward W. Taylor’s livery office was broken Monday, July 12.  The one and two-story brick building with concrete floor and a large arched entrance for vehicles contained a garage, sales room, and parts department for the agency on the first floor and five offices on the second floor.

With the roaring ‘20s underway, the Cecil Democrat reported tin 1924 hat the agency had the “finest garage building – fully 10,000 square feet given over for the storage of cars, repair department, Etc.”  Throughout most of the 20th century this fine old structure in the center of Elkton hummed with the activity of the trade, served as the headquarters for the growing family auto dealership.

By the end of the 1970s, Warren W. Boulden & Sons stopped using the structure for its business.  In June of 1986, the Mayor and Commissioners of Elkton acquired the space as its municipal building.  In October 1988 a new town hall was dedicated in the former automobile sales and service shop.  In 2001, the building was sold to the Cecil County Commissioners.

In time, the county built a new facility at the edge of town and in recent years the building has been on the market.  But this month the Cecil Whig reported that restauranteur Denis Minihane plans to open a brewpub in the vacant building.

The historic building at 107 North Street, a valuable cultural resource in the community, is a relic from the time the automobile was in its infancy.  Built just as Cecil roared into the age of modern transportation, it was designed to house a commercial car dealership and garage.

As the automobile age exploded and horses and carriages faded from the streets of the old colonial town, Warren W. Boulden & sons put more and more customers on wheels and the family business prospered.  It now appears that there will be once again another historic use for this interesting structure, which helps anchor the central business district and contributes significantly to the town’s cultural heritage.

A more detailed structural history was published on the Historical Society of Cecil County Website in 2006

Boulden Ford on North Street son after it opened.  Source;  Historical Society of Cecil County

Boulden Ford on North Street soon after it opened. Source; Historical Society of Cecil County

Stately Building Anchors Part of Downtown Elkton

The Elkton Odd Fellows Hall, 1867

The Elkton Odd Fellows Hall, 1867

Before the Civil War distracted everyone, it was widely noted that Elkton needed a large public hall, a place to hold public and social events.  So in 1863 the Odd Fellows Lodge developed a plan to provide the town with such a convenience.  The entire community had an interest in such a structure, which could be supported by renting commercial and retail space, the group remarked.

The specifications called for a brick, three story structure with basement.  On the lower level there would be offices for the Mutual Insurance Company of Cecil County and the Post Office.   The first floor was to be rented to merchants.  On the 2nd floor there was a large public hall, an auditorium, and the third floor would be reserved for the lodge.  This would be the most commodious hall beyond the limits of Baltimore, the Cecil Democrat proudly reported.

Construction started in 1863, but stalled after the foundation and cellar were dug.  However, once the distraction of the Civil War was removed, the work kicked off again in 1867.  The contract for the brick work went to Mr. Flinn of Wilmington and P. C. Strickland of Elkton was the successful bidder for the carpentry work.

Workmen started clearing the foundation, in preparation for the setting of stone and the laying of brick.  By summer, this section of North Street was “busy with activity rarely witnessed” in the “quiet town,” the Cecil Democrat observed.  A number of workmen were hammering, digging, hauling and doing everything necessary for erection of the large building.

The laying of the cornerstone took place at the Odd Fellows’ Hall in August 1867.  Members of Cecil Lodge No. 62, I.O.O.F. hosted a grand ceremony, placing various lodge records, along with newspapers and coins of the day in the tin-box, which was sealed in the cavity of the stone.

By September this important symbol of “art and evidence of enterprise” was assuming the form of a building.  Its walls were towering upward in a commanding height and were still rising, the Democrat told readers.

The “New Hall” was nearly complete as the holidays approached and W. C. Rambo rushed to finish the installation of two large furnaces.  The community held a Christmas Fair in the new structure, which had cost about $23,000 to complete

The building proved too costly for the fraternal group, and by May of 1869 the Odd Fellows negotiated with Cecil County to purchase it as a courthouse.    The Cecil Whig remarked that the editor regretted that the sale had to occur, but still it was a prudent measure for the county to secure a court-house at a very low price, $30,000 on easy terms.  The terms were so convenient, as the county only had to pay $5,000 down and the residue as its pleasure.

Soon the building became more commonly known as the Opera House.  On the second floor, Charles G. Wells installed his soundless moving picture equipment in 1908, Rodney Frazer wrote in Parts of Elkton as I Remember it in 1918.  On the stage of the second floor auditorium many visiting performers and local students played to audiences.   “But the movies from 1908 on packed the house night after night even though the reels often broke and darkness was broken by catcalls, whistles, and stamping feet,” Frazer wrote.

In the later years, various offices occupied the grand downtown structure, which the Maryland Historical Trust said “is one of the most vigorous Victorian structures in Elkton . . . . It provides evidence of the growth that Elkton experienced nearly a century after its founding.”  Today it is known as the Clayton Building.

Additional Photo

Today it is known as the Clayton Building.

Today it is known as the Clayton Building.

“Operation of 1865 – 1912” by Stella Graves, R.N.

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A poem: “Operation of 1865-1912” by Stella Graves, R.N. Source: in the collection of the Historical Society of Cecil County. Donated from the estate of Dorothy Robinson.

Thoroughly Modern Early 20th Century Nurses Meet the Old Civil War Surgeon

It wasn’t exactly the most daring escape, but on a Friday evening in November 1912 four young jailbirds charged with illegally hitching a ride on a freight train decided they weren’t waiting around for the trail.  Opting instead for “leg bail,” they carried bedsteads from cells and tied the frame together with strips of blankets.  This wobbly, makeshift ladder, the county’s bed linen being turned into ropes to serve as steps, was placed against the 30-foot stone wall surrounding the jail.  Three prisoners hurriedly scaled the barrier, sprinting to liberty.  But the improvised frame fell as the fourth one reached the top of the wall.

Hearing noise and painful cries in the exercise yard, Sheriff J. Will Perkins rushed outside and discovered that three inmates had broken for freedom.  But the battered inmate on the ground, the fourth detainee, urgently needed medical help so he sent for the jail physician, Dr. John H. Jamar.  The old Civil War surgeon assessed his patient, determining that a finger had been caught in the frame as the man tumbled downward.  Badly mangled, it was bleeding uncontrollably so he advised the sheriff that the finger had to be cuff off.

Dr. Jamar, the jail physician for nearly 35 years, received his initial medical education, apprenticing under Dr. H. H. Mitchell of Elkton.  He finished his training, earning a degree from the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in March 1861.  Immediately, the surgeon’s services were needed so he entered government practice as an assistant surgeon, serving at one of the largest federal military hospitals during the Civil War, the Mower General Hospital in Chestnut Hill, Pa.

The once youthful practitioner had plenty of opportunities to gain practical knowledge about the human body and develop professional skills as each day the railroads delivered fresh train loads of severely injured troops.  Chloroform was standard issue by this time, so patients could be anesthetized.  When Dr. Jamar put the maimed men under the knife,  he used the tools of his practice, sharp hooks, handsaws, knives and forceps.  Widespread use of antiseptic (clean) surgical methods emerged a few years after the Civil War, and there was only a limited understanding of the risk of infection.  After the war, Dr. Jamar followed the profession until he died in July 1923.

union hospital 697Nearly fifty years later, Union Hospital opened in 1908 with one registered nurse, Maida Campbell, on the staff.  In 1912, the hospital established a nursing school and six bright, eager young ladies enrolled in the first class. These women were in their second year of a three year program when the accident occurred.

When Mary King answered the phone at the hospital that Friday, she heard the chief bark, “I intend to operate right away.”  So with a mixture of excitement and nervousness the pupils, under Miss Campbell’s supervision, hustled, preparing the surgical suite for the emergency arrival.  Everything had to be perfect as the chief intended to operate without delay.

Here was their chance to watch the Civil War surgeon operate on the patient, an experience they wouldn’t soon forget.  It was a time to see the lessons they studied in physiology, bacteriology, hygiene, anesthetics, surgical technique, sterilization, and operating room practices, applied by the famous old  physician, the chief of the staff.

Soon the aging surgeon marched through the door, along with the sheriff and the emergency case.  Dr. Morrison joined them, preparing to administer ether.  And then the doctor, who had trained in war, learning about battlefield medicine, came forth with pride, preparing to do wonders while the audience sighted.  “But who was scared.”

What the girls saw made a lasting impression as the doctor amputated the finger.  It inspired one of them, Stella Graves, to pen a poem, “Operation of 1865-1912.” In the poetic, eyewitness account, she describes the procedure and expressed some of her feelings, as the modern, early 20th century nurse observed technique from another era.

“Asepsis to him was a term unknown and his knowledge of cleanliness he must have left home,” she wrote.  “The instruments, once sterile were scattered about and when his glassed slipped out down on his noise, he pushed them back into place with bloody hands. . . .  When a thread adhered to his finger fast, he would lick it off and resume his task.  Once or twice, the nurses were sent below for some bandages (and maybe a germ or so).

Stella and three of her classmates graduated next year, in June 1914.  In October, she married Dr. Victor L. Glover of Inwood. WV and they honeymooned in Penn-Mar.   The certified nurse died three years later, at her home in Imrod, WV on the Nov. 14, 1917, from tuberculosis.

Stella’s original stained and wrinkled hand-written copy of the poem has survived, being passed down through time.  The estate of Dorothy Robinson donated many items to the Society, including the poem.

Alice Denver Trenholma

Alice Denver was a classmate of Stella’s. After graduating, she became a nurse in World War I. We have one more installment planned in this series, as we look into the story of the first four young nurses to graduate from Union Hospital. Source: John McDaniel.

First nursing class graduates.  L to R:  Mary King, Alice Denver, Stella Graves, Georgia Miller.  Source:  Union Hospital: Celebrating the first 100 years.

First nursing class graduates. L to R: Mary King, Alice Denver (photo above), Stella Graves, Georgia Miller. Source: Union Hospital: Celebrating the first 100 years.