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Some topics, overlooked in the preparation of the chapter on Medicine and Surgery, can be but briefly treated here.


During nearly ten years after the settlement at Grand Rapids there was no professional dentist here. The family doctor usually attended to the business of tooth pulling. In that part of his trade he ordinarily stood outside the mouth of his patient, where he could have plenty of elbow and muscle room, and with an instrument constructed somewhat upon the principle of a lumberman's cant-hook, commonly called a tooth-key or turn-key, managed to twist out an aching tooth with neatness and dispatch--though it must be confessed that it would also sometimes bring a portion of the jaw. This first advertising dentist in Grand Rapids was Dr. J. T. Collier, in May, 1843, announcing a newly discovered compound for filling the teeth, called "Odontalgicus." He was here but a short time. In July, 1848, Ezra D. Burr advertised his services as a dentist, with an office in Mechanics Hall but did not stay there long. In November of that year S. B. Noble opened dental rooms in the same place. He removed soon after to Irving Hall, and in 1854 was succeeded by Augustus B. Winslow.

The first dentist to permanently establish his office and business here was Joel C. Parker, who came in 1854, and has since remained in the practice of dentistry. Dr. Parker is still at his work, with a  large practice, and among the most respected of our citizens, not only on account of their confidence in his professional skill, but as a man taking great interest in educational affairs. He is an enthusiast in natural history, has contributed much to the founding and prosperity of the Kent Scientific Institute, is an expert in ichthyology, and has been a member of the State Board of Fish Commissioners some twelve years or more and still holds that position.

In 1854 also came Lester A. Rogers and opened rooms for dentistry, which profession he has practiced assiduously ever since. He is besides a dealer in goods and instruments pertaining to the craft. Mr. Rogers is a well-respected citizen and a prominent and active member of the Masonic fraternity.

Ezra S. Holmes came into the place from Lockport, N. Y., in 1865, and is still an operative dentist here, occupying a position in the front rank of the profession. He is a member of the Michigan Dental Association; also takes great interest in natural science, is President of the Kent County Sportsmen's Club and of the Kent Scientific Institute, also belongs to several piscicultural, pomological and other kindred associations.

John C. Buchanan, who was a gunsmith in the earlier part of his life, gave honorable service to his country during the War of the Rebellion, afterward studied dentistry, began the practice of that profession in Grand Rapids in 1866, and is still actively at work.

In 1859 there were five dentists in the city, among them E. R. E. Carpenter, B. R. Pierce, and James H. Morgan. The latter remained in practice here some twenty years.

Charles S. Allen was an operating dentist here during a dozen years after the war, and removed to the north part of the State about 1880.

Ransom Button has been an operative dentist since 1850. He came to Grand Rapids about 1870, and has since been continuously engaged at his profession on Canal street.

John M. Bridgman  has been in practice here since about 1876.

It is useless to go further into details as to doctors of dental surgery. In 1875 they numbered fourteen in the city; in 1880, thirteen; in 1885, nineteen; and in 1890 it would seem that troublesome teeth have grown so numerous in the community as to require the services of thirty-one experts in the craft, that being the number of dentists set down in the City Directory.


The Dental Society of Grand Rapids was organized Dec. 17, 1888--President, C. H. Dyer; Vice President, L. F. Owen; Secretary, J. Ward House; Treasurer, W. A. Dorland. Its object is the promotion of the art and practice of dentistry and social and fraternal feeling among its members. It has a membership of seventeen representative men of the profession, who endorse the code of ethics adopted by the American Dental Association, and are eligible for membership in the State Dental Association. The society holds regular meetings, to which dentists from outside of town are invited, and subjects relating to the good of the profession are topics of discussion. Since its organization the society has met with the loss of its President, Dr. C. H. Dryer, who stood among the foremost in the profession, and Dr. E. S. Holmes has been chosen to fill that position.


Dr. Charles Shepard was probably the first in Grand Rapids to open a shop for the sale of the cure-alls and kill-alls popularly called medicines. He began the trade in drugs in a small way, but sufficiently large for the small town, soon after his coming in 1835. Francis J. Higginson was doubtless the next in the drug trade. Their small stores were on the north side of Monroe street below Ottawa. After some years Dr. Shepard sold his interest in the trade to Lemuel D. Putnam, who continued it steadily until 1887, when it was transferred to F. J. Wurzburg. In 1857 the building and stock were totally destroyed by fire, but the business was immediately re-established in a new building on the south side of Monroe street. For a time in 1844, Lovell Moore operated as a druggist and chemist on Monroe street. In 1845 Samuel R. Sanford had a drug store in Irving Hall, which afterward passed into the hands of Barker & Almy, and again was carried on for some time by Wm. G. Henry. A drug house of long standing is that at No. 8 Canal street, in the Mills & Clancy block, which in the last thirty years has been carried on successively by E. A. Truax, Henry Escott, James Gallup, Mills & Lacy, C. E. Westlake, and J. C. West & Co. Within the years between 1855 and 1875 among others in the drug business are remembered C. H. Johnson, W. H. DeCamp, E. B. Escott, Charles N. Shepard, Lorenzo Buell, L. B. Brewer, S. R. Wooster, E. R. Wilson, and John Harvey. Among later prominent ones, most of them still in the trade, have been: Wm. Thum and his two sons, Hugo and Ferdinand, George G. Steketee, F. H. Escott, G. T. Haan, W. E. White, M. B. Kimm, J. D. Muir, W. H. Tibbs, Thomas M. and John E. Peck, Charles G. Perkins, Charles S. Hazeltine, W. H. Van Leeuwen, and many more.

In 1859 there were five drug stores in town; in 1867, nine; in 1875, eighteen; in 1885, thirty-four; and in 1890, five wholesaling and fifty-seven retailing establishments for the trade in pills and other apothecary stuffs.


Under this head are included some practitioners of the healing art not recognized by the "Regulars" of the medical schools, and which by some of them are usually denominated "empirical."

Early in the village days of Grand Rapids the botanic practitioner of medicine appeared here. Among early settlers were some who depended more upon their own judgment in the use of herbs, roots and barks, in the treatment of both acute and chronic diseases, than upon the aid of the school-graduated physician.

Dr. Bliss Sexton, now retired from active practice and living in the northern part of Kent County, came here in the early part of 1847. He was a physician of the Thomasonian botanic school, and practiced here several years with good success. He had a small store stocked with botanic medicines, near the junction of Canal and Bridge streets. He removed to a place near the south line of Sparta, in this county, which he named Sextonville, and followed his profession, with a large patronage, until about 1880. Dr. Sexton was born July 18, 1805, in Lewis County, New York.

Constantly since 1847 one or more, sometimes several, botanic physicians have been in practice in this city. Dr. Elmer Woodruff came here in 1861 and practiced as a botanic physician until his death, which occurred Aug. 15,1882. He was a man of but little education in the schools, but had a fondness for minerological and natural history study, and collected an interesting cabinet of specimens. He kept a supply of both vegetable and mineral medicines or drugs.

Moses Robens posed as an "Indian doctor" for some ten years at the foot of Monroe street, and obtained considerable practice.

Nathaniel G. Smith, on Canal street, has had a busy practice as a botanic doctor for several years.

In 1849 Dr. H. T. Seely, Hydropathist, established a water-cure hospital near the corner of Division and Fountain streets, which he conducted for a year or two, acquiring considerable practice, and then removed to Kenosha, Wis. Specialists of the Water-Cure school have not been numerous in this city.

Nearly all the time since about 1860 a few, mostly women, professing to be clairvoyant physicians or "healers," or mediums able to diagnose and prescribe remedies for diseases through the aid of communication with spirits of the departed, have plied their vocation in this city, and in some cases have secured much custom. Prominent among these was Mrs. Mary J. Squiers, from 1863 until her death, Dec. 1, 1883.

Animal magnetism, so-called, galvanism,electricity, and galvanic, medicated and Turkish baths, have been among the appliances used as healing agents, and electricity in various methods of application has been used by both the "regular" and "irregular" physicians, during many years. Dr. J. C. Kennedy in 1889, established at the corner of Bridge and Canal streets an office or hospital for what he names "The New Method Cure---by Electo-Ozone and Electro-chemical Machinery." His electic machinery for generating and administering ozone is intricate and novel.

Whether or not in this part of Michigan the proportion of cures to failures by these "irregulars" has been less or greater than by those of the other or drug schools, is problematical, in the absence of authentic vital statistics upon that point.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcribers: Ronnie Aungst
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/63dentists.html
Created: 8 October 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]