30 September 2011

Sepia Saturday 94: The "Horse-and-Buggy" Doctors of Lee, Massachusetts

Dr. Charles W. 'Charlie' Stratton I

The Sepia Saturday theme this week is pretty girls, horses, polo, Queensland, magazines, the stratosphere, sea stories or Jean Harlow.  Picking up on the theme of horses, I introduce you to the horse-and-buggy doctors of Lee, Massachusetts.  Drs. Charles W. Stratton I, II and III all served as the town doctor of Lee, Massachusetts beginning in 1868 with Charles W. Stratton and ending with Charles W. Stratton III in 1996.

Lee, Massachusetts is one of those quaint New England towns nestled in the Berkshire Hills that are often seen as the backdrop of beautiful fall foliage.  Unlike the more famous resort towns nearby, Lee has only recently become a tourist destination having long been a working man's town.  The Berkshire horse-and-buggy doctor might be called upon to treat a millionaire in Stockbridge one day and someone injured in the paper mills or quarries near Lee the next.

The first photo is of Charles W. 'Charlie' Stratton I (1832-1886) making his rounds in his horse-and-buggy; house calls were the norm.  Had it not been for his wife, Lucy (Baker) Stratton, the long legacy of Lee 'horse-and-buggy' doctors might never have begun.  In a letter written to Lucy while attending Albany Medical School, Charlie wrote, "I hardly think Uncle Fred will succeed in inducing me to settle in Lee.  But you see I am in earnest about finding a location where I can fund a home of my own."  Where Uncle Fred failed, Lucy evidently succeeded!

Charles W. Stratton II
Charles W. Stratton II (1876-1945) followed in his father's footsteps.  "For 40 years, from wagon to automobile, the dedicated doctor made his rounds in Lee and the surrounding towns.  A trip to Otis by carriage took two days.  Bad roads often delayed him.  People ran from their houses to ask advice as he went on his way.  He made a familiar silhouette, stepping down from the buggy, his black bag in hand."  A trip from Lee to Otis today would still reward you with beautiful vistas of fall colors but would take only 20 minutes.  This photograph probably dates from late spring to early summer, 1901 when Charles remarks in his diary, "Must have a new carriage the old one is in bad shape."  On April 18, he ordered a carriage of Jim and on the 30th, "Bossidy put a carriage in the barn."  James Bossidy was in the business of horse shoeing, jobbing, wagon making and repairing.

Dr. Charles W. 'Jim' Stratton III (1918-1996) looked forward to practicing medicine alongside his father. Sadly, his father passed away before the dream became reality. After World War II, Jim picked up the reins of his father's thriving practice alone.  The horse-and-buggy days were over but clearly the young doctor recalled making rounds with his father.  When Jim first began his practice, he carried a fishing pole behind the front seat should the opportunity arise to do some fishing while making his rounds.  It never did.  Medicine had changed; but the country doctor tradition had not.  Jim continued to make house calls whenever the situation warranted remarking that his patients were his friends and family - all held very dear.
Dr. Charles W. Stratton III,  On Parade

Most Sepia Saturday themes leave me frantically scrambling through the jumble that is my digital collection. (Slowly but surely, the images are being organized!) With this theme it was difficult to make a choice - horse-and-buggy doctors, ceramic horses, harness-horse trainers, so many possibilities!  The choices others made can be found at Sepia Saturday 94.

"Four Generations of the Stratton Family."  Albany Medical College Alumni Bulletin.  32 (November 1969): 18.

Bossidy, J.W. (Lee, Massachusetts).  Receipt for horse shoeing services performed 9 August-14 December, 1899.  1 January 1900.  Original.  Privately held by List Stratton, [ADDRESS FOR PERSONAL USE,] Cincinnati, Ohio. 2011.

Consolati, Florence.  See all the People or Life in Lee.  Lee:  Self-published, 1978.

Stratton, Charles W. 'Charlie', I (Lee).  Tintype.  ca 1867-1877.  Digital image.  Privately held by Liz Stratton, [ADDRESS FOR PERSONAL USE,] Cincinnati, Ohio. 2003.

Stratton, Charles W., II (Lee).  Card photograph (9 3/4" x 7 3/8"). ca 1901.  Original.  Privately held by List Stratton, [ADDRESS FOR PERSONAL USE,] Cincinnati, Ohio. 2011.

Stratton, Charles W., II. "Diary." MS.  Lee, Massachusetts, 1901.  Privately held by Liz Stratton, [ADDRESS FOR PERSONAL USE,] Cincinnati, Ohio. 2011.

Stratton, Charles W., III (Lee).  Photograph.  ca 1980s-1990s.  Digital image.  Privately held by Liz Stratton, [ADDRESS FOR PERSONAL USE,] Cincinnati, Ohio. 2003.

Stratton, Charlie (Albany, New York) to "My Darling Pet" [Lucy Ophelia (Baker) Stratton], letter, 24 November 1867; Stratton Family Papers 1861-, privately held by Liz Stratton, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Cincinnati, Ohio. 2011.


  1. The older doctors must have spent a lot more time traveling than actually seeing patients. I wonder whether there was a fourth generation.

  2. Postcardy, there was indeed a fourth generation. Two of the children became medical doctors. They specialized and needed to live in a larger population center. Medicine had changed again!

  3. Dedication indeed. Who could blame him for being an opportunist and keeping his fishing pole handy?

  4. Is that the same buggy in the most recent photograph? What an amazing record to have of your family's occupations. I particularly like the tintype - I'm guessing from the style that it was from the late 1860s or early 1870s. Would that be about right. Most of us have few photographs showing our ancestors going about their work, so these are particularly valuable. Thanks for sharing them.

  5. The horse and buggy photos are something special, But with them tied into your family and working doctors they are even better.
    These days it seems to be rarer and rarer in the UK for house calls to be made.

  6. Love the photos and story of MD's making house calls. At one time there was a start-up in the city near me called "Docs to your Door." Due to all the ins. red tape that did not last very long. Great post.

  7. Liz, this is so wonderful, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Keep it up, it's divine!

  8. What a wonderful story. Even though the latest generation do not serve the same community - that is some medical tradition - and in a part of the world I would love to explore. Thanks for the images and the memories.

  9. What a fabulous post and a wonderful legacy. I love the idea of a doctor doing rounds with a fishing pole - just in case. While medicine certainly wasn't as advanced then, a patient would likely get a lot more personal attention. And doctors didn't have to have staff to do all of the administrative insurance paperwork.

  10. Thank you for sharing these. Love all the family history and stories told. My parents still have the old "Family Doc" here in town which is RARE, my mom said he made a house call for my brother when they first came to where we live, in the 60s, he also delivered me when I was born, and has seen both my boys for their initial visits after their births(He no longer delivers babies) Hes in is 80s now, still practicing, closed practice, his office has NOT been updated so its like stepping into a time warp. But he KNOWS his patients, and even though he doesnt do surgeries anymore, he went along and stood by my mom during one of her surgeries a few yrs ago. Yes it has changed so much today.

  11. Brett, you have raised two interesting questions. It is possible that the carriage was the same one - I'll have to check!

    Regarding the dates, the photo was probably taken sometime between 1867 and 1886. There are 4 tintypes all the same style that I will post separately. One dates from the early 1880s based on an estimate of the age of young Charles II. I do not know if the photos were taken at the same time. Time to break out my books on clothing styles!

  12. Savethephotos, you are right that a town doctor really does know his patients!

  13. Christine, insurance and lawsuits have certainly had an impact. It is so sad!

  14. It is amazing, isn't it, how transportation has changed, that a journey once taking two days can now be done in 20 minutes. I often think, when I walk somewhere rather than drive, we miss too much in our hurry these days.

  15. Sheila, I was thinking the same thing. At least on crisp fall days with beautiful fall foliage, I think I would prefer taking 2 days. On a bitter winter day or during a downpour, I'm not so certain!

  16. Wonderful pictures! How life has changed in the past 100 years... Lee area looks beautiful!

  17. This is a journey made comfortable for us on the computers with your sharing and research. Just think back in the day dashing off to a medical emergency in horse and buggy, what would be top speed, would they make it in time to save the patient....on & on. Lovely photos.

  18. Wow ... this is a wonderful post. Thank you so much for working so hard on it.

    I appreciate your visit.

    Kathy M.

  19. This certainly is a wonderful post, loved the generations of doctors, not many families would have that. Each photo is so very good but the first one is my favourite.

  20. A terrific generational story told through photos. So often you see vintage photographs of a horse, buggy and driver and wonder what the purpose was. Previously I always assumed it might be to record the quality of the horse, but now I can imagine it an occupational photo. Making a "house call" has a new meaning.

  21. What an amazing story, and your excellent photos work well and add so much more....a very cute dog in the first photo too! What a good time for all and so marvelous to carry on traditions through the generations...too....

  22. you may have scrambled, but your selection is remarkable. what a great story!! now, people travel to see a doctor, not so much the other way around...

    the fact that you have three generations in the buggy is an added bonus.
    well done!!


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