(Written in 1977) (digitized June 12, 2009) (Converted to Web Edition in 2023)
Editor’s note: Dr. George E. Sanders, beloved Ridge Road physician, practiced with Dr. Walter Hillman in the Rowe-Hillman-Sanders home at 2672 West Ridge Road. The stately home became Rivers Furniture Store and then Empire Electric Supply Company. The building has been demolished and has been replaced with three stores in the front Quick Nails, Eyemart Express, and AT&T, on the side next to Round Pond Creek that runs under the parking lot is the Monroe County Department of Health WIC Program office and in the rear of the building is the ABC Associated Builders and Contractors Empire State Offices as well.
I was born in a small coal mining town in Illinois in 1872 in the days before welfare and government messing into the lives of the people. My father was a traveling man. He sold coal. We had a small house, a cow, a pig, and chickens. I went barefoot after May; the first of May until late in September. That means that I went barefoot to school and wore a black satin shirt and a pair of overhauls. If we were poor we did not know it, as my father earned $125.00 per month for his family of six.
When my sister got ready for college, we moved to Champaign, Illinois where the state university was located. I went to the university for three years, then medical school in Chicago for 7 years. My tuition at medical school was $155.00 per year, room $3.00 per week, breakfast and lunch 15 cents each, and dinner at night 25 cents. After medical school, I became an intern at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago; received no wages, just room and board. I thought nothing of not being paid because it was the experience I wanted.
When World War I was going on, I asked for service in the Medical Corps and was sent to Camp Gordon, Georgia, and was assigned to a medical unit caring for the 5th Replacement Unit, remaining in the same position until 1919. While at Camp Gordon, A Dr. Walter Hillman from Greece, NY was my roommate. He asked me to come to Greece to practice with him. I arrived in October 1919, stayed at the Hillman home on Ridge Road West, and practiced with Dr. Hillman. By the way, his father, Dr. Livinius Hillman practiced in Greece beginning about 1850. He purchased our house in 1852. The house was built about 1808 by Lewis Rowe. (Note: the Rowe family originally settled in Kings Landing, where Kodak Park is today, in 1797. Because the Genesee Fever was rampant in that area, they relocated to Ridge Road in 1806, opening the Rowe Tavern in 1810 where St. John’s church is located.)
Dr. Hillman (presumably Walter) did not hold office house. He made house calls all day long, and, of course, I did the same. We had several horses and our hired man who took care of them. He also drove for the Doctors. Everything was lovely until Christmas Day. The snow began and lasted until April. I was assigned a cutter and a horse. The roads were plowed by a board wired on the side of a bobsled. I wanted to impress the farmers who were plowing along the road and drove too close to the pile of snow on the side of the road and dumped over. Another cold blustering day the snow was blowing from the west across Long Pond Road and I again was dumped over.
In 1921, Dr. Hillman had an auto accident and died. I had been practicing by myself in a room in the Frank Paine house. Then, after Dr. Hillman’s death, I moved back and established an office, with office hours in the afternoon and evening; thereby, I worked from 8 am to 9 or 10 pm. Those hours would kill the average physician today. House calls were $3.00, office calls $2.00.
People thought nothing of calling the doctor at night, which means that I had to climb out of my warm bed, get dressed and drive to someone’s home. Most of the calls could have waited until morning. One night someone called to come and I being very tired said, “Take one aspirin tablet and a cup of tea and I will call in the morning.” I never heard from them again.
Being near the Ponds down near the lake, I always had a pair of pliers to cut fish hooks that became lodged in people. Wish I had a picture of two little boys sitting in my waiting room with a little puppy between them with a fish hook in his lip. I can still see the faces of those boys.
Dr. Hillman and two or three of the nearby physicians operated on the kitchen table. One day I gave an anesthetic for Dr. Lenhart in Spencerport while he did a gall bladder on a table near the window in a house on Ridge Road. Everything came out alright except no one paid me. We took out tonsils on kitchen tables. Thank goodness, w never had a post operative hemorrhage.
Maternity cases – we did most of them in the home. I had taken a short course in the lying in clinic in the ghetto of Chicago and learned how to prepare the bed, and also fix a cone with paper and a cover with ether. The hard part was after working hard all day to get a call to go on a maternity case that would take all night, get home in the morning, take a bath and shave, get breakfast and work another day.
Pneumonia was one of the most dangerous diseases in our early years. We did not have oxygen tents for the homes. I remember a case of Dr. Hillman’s who had lobar pneumonia in December. We put him in a room with the windows open so he could get fresh air. He was covered with blankets, but it was cold for the Nurse and Doctor. Luckily, he lived. Remember that was before the wonder drugs.
I remember Dr. Fleming in Charlotte who had a large number of patients about Paddy Hill Church. One day he arrived at the gate of a house where they had a very vicious dog, and the dog was making a big fuss. The Irish lady of the house said, “Come right in, Doctor. If he bites you, I’ll get after him.”
In a rural practice there are always a big number of broken bones. We did have x-ray so their reduction (setting) was not hard. Cutting off the cast was always a job.
Greece in 1919 had about 7,000 inhabitants. Many were Eastman Kodak workers and market gardeners. The town was divided into different parts: South Greece, Hoosick or West Greece, Paddy Hill, North Greece, and Greece Central. Probably because of transportation, these were rather distant centers.
Dr. Hillman had a Buick touring car. He did not want any closed-up car like a sedan, and not long before my time he had given up horses. The winter began in earnest on Christmas Day of that year. We had to rent horses from a neighbor and use sleighs. I thought I was quite well acquainted with driving horses but had never ridden in a cutter. Consequently, I had several dump overs when I got too close to the side of the road. The roads were not too well cleaned.
One night a man came to Dr. Hillman’s house when he was entertaining a group of classmates from the University of Rochester. The fellow had a toothache. Whisky was used as an anesthetic and then we pulled the wrong tooth, so the fellow had to come the next morning and the aching tooth out.
One night after dinner at our house a group of men were sitting on the porch and Al Skinner told about his father who had the contract to cut ice on the ponds and fill the ice houses of the hotels. One morning it was very stormy and cold and Al asked his father if he was going to make his men work out on such a day. His father answered, “Yes, they are men, ain’t they?”
Miss Mary Moll lived on Mill Road and did some reporting for the Rochester newspapers. house. It was a common sight to see her walking on the road from Ridge Road to her home day or night. We would think that was quite a walk these days. In fact, a Mr. Kishlar on English Road, a generation before my time, walked from English Road and Long Pond to Lake Avenue to work. Jack Farrel, lived and worked at our house when a boy, used to walk to Lake Avenue to meet the boys. Jack was a grand man. He came to our home to work for my wife’s grandfather when he was 15 and stayed with us until he died at 87. He was loved by all the kids; never told any of their secrets. He brought up my wife and later our five children. They would tell Jack everything and me nothing. Jack and Frank Siebert would spend their Sundays walking all over the farm.
One night a patient on Manitou Road for some reason thought she would come to my office to have her baby. She walked about six miles and did not make my office but had a baby on a neighbor’s porch. I delivered a baby for a woman who had 12 or 13 children. I dressed in my tuxedo a fitting garb to be at the birth of her last child. Maternity cases would always take long times. One day I delivered three babies in different houses. Also, I remember one night we went to a dance at the University Club after a busy day; I was tired. I got a call for a maternity case and I did not get to bed until 11 o’clock the next night.
North Greece was more of a community than it is today because of better transportation. I remember going down there one day. I drove my horse and cutter down there and tied my horse in front of Doc Clark’s harness shop and make nine calls about the corners. I stopped in Chet Kancous’s meat market to get meat for dinner.
Billy Schmidt’s garage was a very busy place and they certainly were accommodating. One stormy day I got stuck in the snow on Elmgrove Road near the canal bridge. I called Billy and he came from North Greece with four men. They shoveled me out. Billy drove his car ahead to break a path. They had dinner at our house. It was 11 o’clock before they were able to get home because the snow blocked the road.
I have always worked. At age 12, I ran messages for the Pana (Illinois) Telephone Co. If a long-distance call came for someone, and he belonged to the majority who did not have a phone, for 10 cents additional charge I went to tell them to go and call Long Distance.
One summer I worked in a factory – at age 14, which is not allowed now. I ran a grinding machine, and also put rubber tires on baby buggies. After moving to Champaign, I worked in a construction crew. I received $2.00 for a 10-hour day. I hit the boss up for a raise and he gave me $2.50 a day. In Chicago, while in medical school, I put out express packages at for Adams Express Co. 1; also, I sold shoes at Hassel Shoe Co.2 I worked downstairs where we sold $3.50 shoes; upstairs were the expensive $4.00 and $4.50 shoes.
After being in Greece for a year, I was elected Health Officer for the Town of Greece and served over 25 years. In the early days, we did not have the wonder drugs we have today, so medicine was much different. The year before I arrived in Greece, the last case of smallpox occurred. With everyone being vaccinated today, the disease has disappeared. Diphtheria was a dreaded disease and I got in on the first diphtheria anti-toxin treatments.
We organized a health committee in the town about 1926. We had health meetings, had a big Town parade one year, started smallpox and diphtheria vaccinations in schools. Hired a Town Nurse; Mrs. Florence Barnes Justice was our first nurse.
As Health Officer in Greece and Gates, it was my duty to examine all the school children each fall. I received 50 cents per child. That was quite a chore. To examine the pupils in just one of our high schools would take quite a while. Later in my time, we gave polio vaccine in the schools, so now there are practically no polio cases in the county.
As the Town grew larger, more nurses were added. I feel they did a good job. After the county took over the medical department, everything has changed, I hope for the better.
After enjoying retirement in Penfield, the doctor past away on September 5, 1988.
1 Adams Express Co. a 19th-century freight and cargo transport business that was part of the Pony Express system. It became an investment company in 1929 during the Great Depression.
2 Otto Hassel Pasted down Hassel Shoe Company to his son Henry Charles Hassel and Henry owned Hassel Shoes Co from the late 1860s till some point before his death in 1955. Waiting on more Information able the Hassel’s and Hassel Shoe Co from Chicago History Museum to expand a little bit more on this company.