Early Physicians in Passaic County

From the Bulletin of the PCHS, June 1956

carriageThe villages and hamlets of the county had their beginnings in the latter part of the 17th and the first quarter of the 18th centuries.  Acquackanonk (Passaic) was the first settlement.  Here a few Dutch settlers came between the years 1680 and 1683 and within a few years the village became a trading post and the port of entry for the northern section of Essex County as well as for Orange and Sullivan Counties in New York.  After Acquackanonk, Pompton was settled.  This was in 1695-1697 to be followed by the “Stony Road Neighborhood,” Little Falls, Preakness, Wesel and several other small communities.

Historical records are very meager regarding the physicians who ministered to these early communities and it seems probable that there were no practicing physicians within the county for more than half a century after the first settlement was made.  However, Jacob Arents practiced medicine in the Delawanna area and later in Acquackanonk about 1707 but it seems unlikely that he resided in the county.  The village Dominies and a few housewives ministered to the sick – the latter being very proficient in their knowledge of the healing powers of certain common herbs.

The first resident physician is accredited to a Frenchman, Dr. John De Vausnee who came to Acquackanonk in 1738, married Hester Vreeland and practiced medicine from his home on River Drive.  He remained here until his death in 1760.

After Dr. Vausnee’s death, Abiarha Millard, M.D., purchased Dr. Vausnee’s home at 716 River Drive and practiced medicine from there for about six years when he moved to Newark.  He later enlisted in the Continental Army as a Surgeon.

After Dr. Millard left the county, Dr. John Garritse came and settled in a stone house in what is now known as Garfield and Dr. Nicholas Roche settled at Wesel.  Dr. Roche was a staunch patriot and enlisted in the American Army as a Surgeon.  Being wounded at the Battle of Princeton, he returned to his home along the Passaic River.  On September 13, 1777, he learned that the “Red Coats” were approaching the river on the Bergen County side and he with a neighbor rode throughout the county spreading the alarm.

Perhaps the best known of all the physicians administering to the needs of the first settlers was Dr. Benjamin R. Scudder who arrived in this area about 1769 and practiced here until his death in 1819.

Shortly after the death of Dr. Scudder, Dr. Lambert Sythoff came to Acquackanonk.  He soon acquired a high reputation as a physician.  In addition to the practice of medicine, Dr. Sythoff taught school and in 1825 became head master of the Paterson Academy.  During the spring of 1826, he devoted eight hours daily to teaching and was so well liked as a teacher that the Academy was filled.  In the Academy, instruction was given “from the first rudiments of knowledge to the higher classics and to every species of literary acquirement that may qualify them (scholars) for admission into college” or fit them for the various stations of life.  Shortly after 1826, Dr. Sythoff moved to Pompton.

Meanwhile, Dr. William Colfax was living in Acquackanonk and was practicing medicinemortar there.  But his young wife died in 1823 and he decided to return to his native Pompton shortly afterward.  Here he practiced medicine for many years.

Dr. Colfax was succeeded in the lower section of the county by Samuel Pratt, M.D., in 1824.  Although he had a good practice, he left after about five years when he was followed by Garret Terhune a native of Hackensack.

Dr. Terhune had been an understudy in medicine of Dr. Lambert Sythoff but he also studied medicine in Queens College (Rutgers) and graduated from that institution in medicine.

The first resident physician in Paterson was Dr. William Ellison.  Born in Belfast, Ireland and graduated from Edinburgh University, Dr. Ellison came to Paterson about 1791 where he remained and practiced his profession until his death in 1829.  He was not only an eminent physician but an outstanding citizen of the community.  For many years, he was active in the affairs of the First Presbyterian Church and united with it in the fall of 1824.

Dr. Ellison was one of the early prominent Freemasons in New Jersey.  The first lodge constituted in the province of New Jersey was St. John’s, No. 1 of Newark.  This took place in 1761.  Although the population of the Totowa area was small in 1793, there were several Freemasons among them.  Having no lodge, they were obliged to ride horseback to Newark and other neighboring towns for Masonic communications; so they petitioned the Grand Lodge in 1793 to have a lodge constituted at Totowa (Paterson).  The petition was granted on January 12, 1796 and the Paterson-Orange Lodge No. 13 F. & A. M. was instituted and it remained prosperous until 1826.  Dr. Ellison is known to have been one of its founders and was one of the early Worshipful Masters.

When the Paterson Academy was incorporated in 1811, Dr. Ellison was elected as one of the trustees, his colleagues being Abraham Van Houten, Charles Kinsey, John Parke and Samuel Colt.

Although his usual charge for a professional house call was only a shilling, he amassed a great fortune and at his death, he was reputed to have been the richest man in Paterson. He owned a great deal of property.  Most or all of the land bounded by what is now Main, Market, Prospect and Ellison Streets was owned by him.  He had a farm on McCurdy’s Road and another on Totowa Road with several houses and lots on Holsman and other streets.

Dr. Ellison died on August 12, 1829, at age 65, at his home on York Road where he maintained his office.  The site of his home was later occupied by the old Washington Market and now known as the north side of Broadway on or near the corner of Washington Street.  He was buried in the Presbyterian Burying Ground on Sandy Hill.  He left an estate valued at about $100,000 and in his will, he bequeathed much of his money and property to his numerous relatives in Paterson and in Ireland.  To his niece, Margaret Kelly, he gave his home.  A great many of his friends in the medical profession were remembered with sums ranging from $25 to $100 each.  To his pastor, Rev. Samuel Fisher, he bequeathed $100 as well as $50 each to seventy individual members of the church.  To Horatio Moses, tinsmith and friend, he gave $50 from which he was to purchase “pious books and tracts to be distributed among the blacks belonging to the Methodist Society of Paterson.”  William Dickey, father-in-law of Socrates Tuttle, and Judge Barkalow were nephews; while Jane Hamilton, mother of Dr. Weller and mother-in-law of  General T. D. Hoxey was his niece.  The witnesses of the will were Johon Colt, P. Parsons (President of the Peoples Bank), and Henry Whitely (father of Dr. Whitley).

Dr. Ebenezer K. Blachley was another eminent physician of the Paterson area during the latter part of the 18th and early 19th century.  One of the very interesting sidelights concerning Dr. Blachley was his interest in building up a spa in the county – one which would become a great health resort.  An old spring called by the Indians “Spaw Spring” existed along the present Bloomfield Avenue on the property of Halmagh Sip.  Dr. Blachley found that the alkaline waters of his spring had curative properties for mild disorders of the stomach, liver, and kidneys as well as for malaria.  Messrs. Sip and Blachley entered into an agreement in 1809 to promote a health resort on the property.  The waters were well advertised and were known by the local residents.  However, the enterprise never reached its fulfillment largely due to the opening of the Saratoga spa in New York.  The elaborate plans for the resort were dropped although the waters were used for many years afterward.

By 1829, Paterson had nine physicians, one grocery and drug center and one medicine and drug store.  Seven years later the number of physicians had dropped to six namely: Doctors Elias J. Marsh, William Magee, Donathian Binsee, (?) Hoxey, Lemuel Burr and Alexander W. Rogers.  Dr. Garret Terhune was practicing in Acquackanonk while J. R. Riggs, M.D., was in Newfoundland.

bag2By the fall of 1843, Doctors Marsh, Binsee, Burr, Terhune and Riggs petitioned the Medical Society of New Jersey for the organization of The Passaic County Medical Society, and on January 16, 1855 at the Franklin House on Main Street the county society was formally organized with Garret Terhune, M.D. the first president, Dr. Burr, secretary, and Dr. Magee, treasurer.

Among other things accomplished at the organization meeting, fees were agreed upon.  In 1852 the prevailing fee for a house visit was 50 cents while an ordinary obstetric case was $5.00.  Ten years later the house visit fee was increased to 75 cents with an additional 50 cents if after midnight while the obstetric fee was increased to $10.