In 2013 I wrote a short biography of Dr. Ephraim McDowell (1771- 1830) for the sidebar on this blog entitled “A Moment in History”. While researching the life of this illustrious surgeon I learned that his house is now a National Historic Landmark and has been transformed into a museum in the city of Danville, Kentucky. It took me almost four years but on Sunday February 19, 2017 I was able to go visit this place. Following is a series of articles and pictures of this visit.
The house itself was built in the 1790’s and most of it has been restored and lovingly maintained by the city, the Kentucky Medical Association, a Board of Directors, and a group of volunteers that work as docents giving tours of the house.
The following is an edited excerpt of Wikipedia on the McDowell House:
“After McDowell's death in 1830 the house was sold. It was the home of a Centre College president for a short time. Later the entire area became a slum and tenement property. The house deteriorated badly. Dr. August Schachner, of Louisville, led the efforts to buy the house for restoration. In 1921 he visited the house. "Since our last visit, the house has continued its downward course until it has reached a point where it now seems almost beyond redemption”. The room in the rear of the corresponding front room on the second floor,"(the operating room) "which is on a lower level by several feet, is used as a dump for the ashes from the grates of the rooms on the second floor."
The Kentucky Medical Association bought the house in 1935 and deeded it to the state of Kentucky, who had it restored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was dedicated on May 20, 1939. In 1948, Kentucky returned the property to the Kentucky Medical Association.
The Kentucky Pharmaceutical Society restored the Apothecary Shop in the late 1950s with help from the Eli Lily Foundation. It was furnished by the Pfizer Laboratories. It was dedicated and presented to the Kentucky Medical Association on August 14, 1959.”
The house is located at 125 South Second Street, Danville, KY 40422. It is a white two-story wooden structure considered to be large for the time. To the right side stands a small one-story brick structure, the apothecary, where Dr. McDowell would provide medicine for his patients and others. To the left is the patio and garden where Dr. McDowell would grow medicinal plants for the apothecary. On the garden front there is a large two-sided plaque that reads:
Ephraim McDowell House
“Home of Ephraim McDowell, the “father of modern surgery.” Here on December 25, 1809 McDowell performed the first successful abdominal operation when he took a 22-pound ovarian cysts from Jane Todd Crawford of Green Co. With no anesthesia, she sang hymns during the operation. Crawford recovered in 25 days and lived until 1842”
The back side reads:
“Built in three stages. Brick ell, or single-story wing, built 1790s. McDowell purchased house in 1802 and added front clapboard section c.1804. Rear brick office and formal gardens added in 1820. House sold when McDowell dies in 1830. 1n 1930s, Ky. Med. Assoc. bought house; restored by WPA. House dedicated on May 20, 1939. Now a house museum”
The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum
Dr. Miranda in front of the Ephraim McDowell House
Front of the plaque at the Ephraim McDowell House
Back of the plaque at the Ephraim McDowell House