Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Timothy Woodbridge

old log cabin

Old Log Cabin, Photo by James D’Angelo, [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

I walked, biked, and drove by here many times. In college, we had picnics and planning retreats here for a student group I was part of. Little did I realize that the Old Log Cabin served as the home and office of Dr. Timothy Woodbridge, the first doctor born in Youngstown, who was recognized for his distinction as a physician by local peers, Governor David Tod, and even President Rutherford B. Hayes.

His father, John E. Woodbridge, a native of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, settled in Youngstown in 1807, just eleven years after John Young surveyed the town. One of John’s grandfathers was the great American preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards. John established a tannery on the west end of the small town, near the Mahoning River. Timothy, one of ten children, was born in Youngstown in 1810. When he and his brother John were young, they were swimming in the Mahoning River and got into deep water. Timothy barely survived; John drowned. No one knows but perhaps that was part of what informed his decision to study and practice medicine. As in many professions, he began his training with a local doctor, Dr. Henry Manning, one of the first doctors in Youngstown. Subsequently, he continued his medical training at the Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, probably the center of medical training in the U.S. at the time, graduating with his M.D. in 1833.

Woodbridge returned to the area, living briefly in North Lima before settling in Youngstown. In 1847, when fellow Youngstown resident David Tod (later governor) was appointed by President James K. Polk as minister to Brazil, Woodbridge was asked to come along as the family’s physician. He returned to his Youngstown practice in 1848. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, he was appointed as a surgeon with the Army and was stationed at Johnson’s Island on Lake Erie, where he served until the end of the war. Johnson Island eventually served as a prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers.

He had a second stint with the Army, being appointed in 1879 by fellow Ohioan, President Rutherford B. Hayes, as surgeon at Fort Peck, Montana, where he served for three years. He returned to Youngstown and continued to practice until he suffered a stroke in 1892, dying in the city hospital in 1893, the first area doctor to die in the hospital. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

It was during the Civil War, in 1862 that Dr. Woodbridge purchased what we call the Old Log Cabin and moved it to its current location beside Mill Creek near present day Lake Glacier (the lake had not yet been dammed and created). The cabin had been built in 1816 in the Bears Den area and was disassembled and move to its current location by Dr. Woodbridge.

Howard C. Aley, citing John C. Melnick, M.D.’s A History of Medicine in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley notes that Woodbridge had his own eccentricities when it came to business practices. In his day books, he would often list patients as “the fat woman in Brier Hill,” the “man on Coitsville Road,” or “the old man at Crab Creek.” When patients came to settle fees, he often told them that 75% or even 50% would settle their accounts (in a day when an office visit cost 25 cents and a house call 50 cents). He preferred a mule to a horse, and a rig to a buggy, often binding loose tires to the rims with strands of wire.

He and a group of Mahoning County physicians organized the Mahoning County Medical Society in 1872 and he served as its first president for seven years. Governor David Tod, and other physicians around the state had high regard for his skills. Tod recognized his efforts with a gift of beautiful surgical instruments which soon showed the signs of extensive use. In the 1880’s, he tested the water of the sulphur spring and recommended it to his patients for rheumatism as “spa water.”

He was know for his study of medicine throughout his life and tireless efforts, going on four to six hours of sleep most nights. The History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, published during his life in 1882, paid this tribute to him:

“He is eminent, both as a physician and a surgeon. He is noted not only for his professional skill but for his kindness and benevolence, never refusing to attend a professional call on account of the poverty of the patient, and many a poor sufferer on a bed of sickness has had occasion to be grateful to him for other than professional aid.”

He represented what is noblest in the medical profession and set high standards for his peers in the area. The Old Log Cabin is an enduring tribute to his contribution to the health of Youngstown area residents during the early years of the city’s history.

Sources:

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, pp. 39-40.

Online Sources:

Medicine in a Log Cabin,” Blog of the Melnick Medical (History) Museum.

Old Log Cabin,” Ohio Memory Collection, Ohio History Connection.

History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, pp. 406-407, via Google Digital Archives.

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