Dr. Blodgett
Old Time Tales of Warren County


Dr. Blodgett

As a splendid type of doctor of a day that is past, none could be more thoroughly characteristic than good old Dr. Blodgett of Youngsville who spent a long life practicing in Warren County. The region is full of memories of this plain, blunt, honest kind-hearted man who for so many years traveled the hills and valleys on missions of mercy, accepting his work where he found it, treating rich and poor alike, sacrificing himself without hesitation when necessity called.

Dr. A. C. Blodgett came to the little, growing town of Youngsville with a small satchel and a big ambition in the fall of 1847; he was then twenty-six years of age, and twenty-six was much "older" then than it is today. Dr. Blodgett was born in Busti, N. Y., of English-American parents, within sight of the birthplace of Warren's famous banker, A. J. Hazeltine, proving that two good and prominent men may be produced on adjoining farms. Previous to his arrival in Youngsville, the youthful Doctor Blodgett had practiced for a little time at Wrightsville, but decided the pasture was better farther down the creek.

Dr. Blodgett had been graduated in medicine at a time when study under a preceptor was required, the diploma being granted after one or two terms spent in a medical college licensed to issue degrees. He was of the stern, puritanic type, with a fine sense of honor and fairness. But belying the stern countenance was a nature full of sympathy for every living thing, especially dogs, which he loved, but never made a fuss over.

In his early practice the young Doctor Blodgett, rapidly rising in the community, rode a horse to make his country calls, as did most of the physicians of his day. He often made trips as far as Titusville, twenty-eight miles up the valley and over the hills. He carried large, leather saddle bags on his horse's withers and in winter wore gray, knitted stockings of the heaviest woolen yarn, pulled on over his shoes and coming well up above his knees. These thick stockings, covering shoe and all, were commonly worn by country doctors of the day, who ploughed the drifts on horseback through woodland roads on many a night when trees cracked and split with the frost.

In his later years Dr. Blodgett, his name then established as a family by-word throughout the region, settled gently into the characterful figure of the fine old country doctor ; perhaps as fine a type of man as the developing country produced. He wore a bushy beard, as nearly all men, especially professional men did in his day. A deep set pair of eyes, clear as a bird's, looked out from under stern brows above a rather acquiline nose. His forehead was high, with no great amount of hair on the top of his well-shaped head but a heavy bush of it behind, which came down to the collar of his black frock coat. He wore comfortably low white collars and a narrow, black cravat, which he tied in various fashions, according to the time he might have, or the patience. He was a man no stranger would address loosely, he was not the sort half-acquaintances slap on the back. Yet he was gentle, a man of sympathy and great understanding of his fellow human beings.

As Dr. Blodgett grew older he graduated finally to the horse and buggy. He liked a good horse and always drove an animal that could "step" when occasion demanded, and occasion frequently did demand Dr. Blodgett to get there as soon as possible. Many a resident of Youngsville in the years along 1875-80 was wakened from midnight slumber by the sharp rattle of Dr. Blodgett's buggy wheels as he drove rapidly along the stony street, hying away to some far hilltop home in the lonely hours of darkness.

"There goes Blodgett," some sleepy citizen would say to his wife, lying warmly in bed by his side.

"Wonder where he's off to?"

"I dunno; mebby up to Ben Holliday's, on Holden Hill. I heard today Ben was pretty bad off with rheumatism."

"I don't b'lieve it's Ben Holliday's he going to."

"Why don't you ?"

"Because Prince was goin' too fast. It's something urgent. Mayby Becky Allison's bady's coming sooner'n they expected !"

"Shouldn't wonder."

"My, it's a cold night to be out driving on the roads. I hope he's got his lantern under the laprobe. I wouldn't want to be a doctor."

"Me neither. Blodgett's getting on, too."

The townsfolk knew the step of the good old Doctor's horse, knew who was sick in the countryside and who was likely to be. They knew he would have his small brass lantern, lighted, under the brown buffalo robe, unless he'd been in too much of a hurry getting off. They knew the bare December road was frozen in iron ruts, knew the night was bitter cold and the distance to Becky Allison's, far back on Ray Hill, not less than twelve long miles, They were sorry for good old Doctor Blodgett this cold night, they felt a little guilty, lying in the comfortable warmth of a soft bed while Doctor Blodgett, so much older than they, was out on his lonely drive. "Older than they",rather, he'd brought both of them into the world, thirty odd years before.

Dr. Blodgett's horse and buggy was a very familiar figure on the Warren County roads for some forty years. He loved dogs, especially hounds, and usually had several of them following along with his buggy, galloping ahead and trailing at the rear. Old settlers have said they have counted nine dogs in his train, and if the canines got into trouble with other dogs on the road, as they often did, the good doctor never so much as glanced back when the fight started, knowing full well that his dogs could take care of themselves, as they always outnumbered all opponents.

Although he carried saddle bags on horseback in his earlier days, and a small satchel at intervals afterward, Dr. Blodgett never owned a medicine case. His remedies each year contracted in number, so that for years he dispensed little but bicarbonate of soda, calomel and morphine, the calomel to "stir the liver", as he expressed it, the soda to neutralize acidity and the morphine to relieve pain when necessary. And Dr. Blodgett was closer to the truth than most of the physicians of his time.

He finally dispensed with any sort of bag or satchel in making his calls. His calomel, his morphine and his soda were done up in neatly folded papers in his coat tail pockets, making the tails of his coat stick out behind and swing gently in the breeze as he walked with his slow gait up and down the street.

To make his individual powders he tore or cut up pieces of newspaper, made the powders with great deliberation, and left them with minute directions for use. His bedside manner was no different from his ordinary manner, he inspired tremendous confidence in his patients and pulled through many a seemingly hopeless case. He had a distinct presence, which immediately made itself felt wherever he went. Most of his patients had such confidence in Dr. Blodgett, they would have died on any day he might have told them they would die, which of course he never did, but used suggestion to aid those under his care with the best of effects. Slowly putting on his gloves and moving toward the door of the sick room he would remark, with an air of certainty, "She will be much better by Thursday," and usually she was.

Dr. Blodgett maintained the usual skeleton, nicely articulated with brass wire and carefully stored in the attic of his office in the little business block he had built in his later life. A skull would not do in those days, a doctor must have a complete skeleton, just as the druggist must have jars of green water in his windows. When the disastrous flood of 1892 swept Dr. Blodbtt's block largely away, the building careened at a dangerous angle, allowing the skeleton to hang grotesquely from the open window of the closet, in full view of the public. Just following this the skeleton mysteriously disappeared and was never again seen by anyone.

No night was too stormy, no trip too long, by day or night, so long as he was in his prime. But age limited his activities for a number of years before his death, and he grew somewhat testy on night calls.

Lee Andrews used to tell of one night, when he drove to Youngsville from Pittsfield, to arouse Dr. Blodgett for a night call at the little town four miles up the creek. He approached the doctor's house with considerable misgiving, fully aware that it might not be a pleasant task to get the old doctor out of bed. His ring was answered from an upstairs window by the aged doctor himself, who wished to know what in hell was wanted. When made to understand that a prominent merchant of Pittsfield was seriously ill, he consented to go, so Lee waited what seemed to him an unreasonable time for the doctor to appear. After his preparations were so far completed as to allow him to appear, he announced he would have to go to his office for the necessary drugs and instruments, so Lee accompanied him there and waited outside for his appearance.

As time passed Lee, knowing the dire predicament of the patient at Pittsfield and the extreme urgency of the case, dared stick his head in the office door and remind the doctor that this man was desperately ill. Dr. Blodgett, assorting some pills under the shade of an oil lamp was annoyed by the suggestion, and continuing his deliberate inspection of the pills said, "Oh well-oh well, if he is so sick as all that he's probably dead by now and I'm wasting time going to see him." He went, however, as he always did and ministered to the patient who was soon recovered. The good old doctor was acquainted with his patient's condition and knew the man was more in panic than in peril.

Dr, Blodgett was famous for his apt retorts to any unusual remark, and always took plenty of time to think it over before he spoke. There are stories without number of his brusque replies. He was not always patient with stupidity and sometimes handed out bits of advice more famous for their brevity than their conventionality.

A man and woman once visited the doctor with their daughter, a girl of eighteen. They were a little worried about her condition. Dr. Blodgett examined the young lady and very soon diagnosed the case. The patient was dismissed to the waiting room. Parents and doctor sat in private consultation. Blodgett sat for full two minutes in absolute silence, the stupidity of these people shocked him, he said afterward it "sort of discouraged me with the human race."

It was the father who broke the silence, he said, "Well Doctor, what do you think we had better do for her?"

"I think you had better get her a marriage license," replied the Doctor, "as soon as possible!"

As the years wore on Dr. Blodgett became more and more indifferent concerning his personal appearance, a thing he had never considered worth any great amount of time. He wore the same ill-fitting black clothes year after year so that his family was often ashamed of his appearance. But he always met their objections to his faulty attire with the remark: "Hell, everyone knows me here."

At one time he was drawn as witness on a suit in Erie, and on preparing for the trip by train, an unusual event for him, he was not making any changes in his attire. His wife, who was most punctilious about appearances herself, remonstrated with him, telling him that in Erie he would meet many people in court or on the street, and that he should put on his best clothes. But the old Doctor couldn't be bothered : he retorted, "Hell, nobody knows me there."

The counsellors whom Dr. Blodgett met at the bedside always had the greatest respect for his judgment, as he was very well read and independent in thought. It was difficult to meet him successfully in argument and he would always adhere to his views in spite of the most learned dissertations on the case advanced by younger men, of whom he always evinced great distrust, believing them to be inexperienced experimenters as a rule. He had long ago learned that old mother nature will take care of nearly all the ills that human flesh is heir to, and he was content to assist her in the little ways his vast experience had taught him were harmless yet effective.

When good old Dr. Blodgett had made his last call and gone to reap the good rewards of a long life spent in honest endeavor to relieve the bodily sufferings of his fellow men, among his effects were found a number of cards setting forth his charges which were fifty cents for a call about town, and twenty-five cents per mile for calls outside the borough of Youngsville. There were also a set of discounts that were truly remarkable and mirrored both the generosity of the man and the easy-. going manners of the times. There was a fifty percent discount for cash within one month after service was rendered, twenty-five percent discount if the bill was paid before the end of six months, fifteen percent off if settled before the end of the first year, and ten percent off if paid before the end of the second year, after which proponent sayeth not.

Yet with this extremely small scale of prices and unheard of discounts Dr. Blodgett accumulated considerable money for his time and was rated at seventy-five thousand dollars, every one of which must have been thoroughly well earned. How many miles he covered during his long years of practice, how many office calls he attended, how many sick people he must have ministered to can only be surmised. Undoubtedly he collected but little more than half his fees, modest as they were. There were always so many poor people needing a doctor, so many poor families with a lot of babies having more, the fees good old Doctor Blodgett didn't collect must surely have almost equalled those he did for he was inclined to be over lenient in the matter of collections where he knew that money was scarce. When his bills were sent out, at long intervals, he would say, "Don't bother with that bill for the Browns,-cross it off the books, they've got enough to do feeding their babies after they've got them, without paying delivery expenses."

Dr. Blodgett served as commissioner in Warren County one or more terms and acquired the reputation of being rigidly on the square. He was no office holder by nature and bluntly denounced the usual pettiness of officials, whom he considered swayed by desire for money or the plaudits of the crowd, neither of which he cared for in the least. He might have held more than one office but persistently refused to run.

He hated shams of any sort worse than the devil hates holy water, and never hesitated to expose these ruthlessly, and in doing so made many enemies. He was thoroughly honest, though rough and blunt, his worst enemies could never say he used subterfuge or deceit. He cared nothing for the opinion of others, but pursued his own way through a long and busy life to his own satisfaction.

As the years took their toll, as they must of even the most rugged constitution, the elderly doctor developed a falling sickness, when he would entirely lose consciousness for several minutes, and following the attack would lie prostrated for weeks. During one of these he was carried to his sofa and laid out, under the impression that he was dead. When he finally aroused from the coma he looked about him and said : "Well, I've had another of those damned attacks, have I?"

When assured that he had he commented: "Well, I'm pretty old, and don't amount to much any more, so it's all right if I pass out this way."

When Dr. Blodgett died the whole north of Warren County realized its loss, and something of what this sincere, upright character had done for the region. The good old virtues, which will always be virtues, Dr. Blodgett possessed in abundance. He practiced in an era that is all but closed. When the horse and buggy and the oil lamp, both of which linger in rapidly disappearing remnants, shall have gone, the chapter will have been finished. Dr. Blodgett was not one of the pioneers, he arrived in the early days of the County's development: Candles and whale-oil lamps were still the only light used in Youngsville when he came there, and candles were used fifteen to twenty years after his arrival in 1847.

He was one of a number of fine men who practiced medicine in Warren County when the rafts were riding the rivers and the humming song of the sawmill was everywhere. He saw the coming and the going of the oil excitement, the arrival of railroads and, in his late years, the advent of some modern changes. Near the time of his going went other splendid men of his profession who left, like Dr. Alanson Clark Blodgett of Youngsville, the influence and inspiration of useful, honorable lives.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 249-259: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


Return to Warren County Homepage

© Warren County Genealogy Project