Dr. William Hutchings’ Office and Museum

During my visit to Dr. William Hutchings’ Office and Museum, I felt a bit discombobulated.

The tour was a mishmash of bits that I had to cobble together. I arrived when a tour was in progress and tried to follow along. Then when that tour ended, I started back at the beginning, got partially through it when more people showed up, and the tour guide started all over again.

Even in spite of this, the explanation of Dr. Hutchings’ life and the buildings was a bit non-linear. My confidence in the information took a dive when the tour guide mentioned that the organization and she had told people misinformation for years. (For example, they relayed that the room we were standing in was an examination room and the floor was painted red so that bloodstains wouldn’t be so noticeable. In fact, after they reviewed documentation about the building and Dr. Hutchings’ practice, they discovered that the good doctor made house visits. He never saw patients in this room. The room was in fact his dispensary.)

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

I was visiting Dr. Hutchings’ office in Madison, Indiana, down by the Ohio River. This Greek Revival building was constructed between 1838 and 1848 by Michael Bright, who used it as his law office. (Side note: It turns out that after Michael Bright came to Madison, he read law with Judge Sullivan. Yeah, that Judge Sullivan—Jeremiah Sullivan. Early Indiana was a small world.)

Histories show that Michael Bright retired and moved to Indianapolis in 1850. (Another side note: Michael Bright’s brother was Jesse Bright, a Southern sympathizer, a landowner and slave owner in Kentucky, and an Indiana state senator. The good senator was expelled for addressing Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States in a letter where he suggested that the South should buy guns from Indiana gun manufacturers (!). After his expulsion, Thomas A. Hendricks, whom we met (sort of) at the Jeremiah Sullivan House, replaced him as senator in 1863. Early Indiana was a very small world.)

At some point, the building became the law office of Judge John. R. Cravens. (Cravens married a daughter of J.F.D. Lanier. Early Indiana was a very, very small world.)

But back to Dr. Hutchings.

In 1873, the doctor started practicing in Madison. In 1883, he bought this building that Michael Bright built, using the bottom two rooms as an office and dispensary. The front room—the office— has a small coal-burning stove. The back room—the dispensary—has an herb cabinet (which looks suspiciously like a card catalog to those who remember such things) and floor-to-ceiling shelves housing all manner of bottles still containing medicines.

The doctor was apparently very interested in electricity and electrotheraphy. (As a student, he saw Asiatic cholera up close during the 1849 Asiatic Cholera Epidemic along the Kentucky River. In his thesis at the Indiana Central Medical College, he theorized that Asiatic cholera was caused by electrical phenomena in the atmosphere.)

The dispensary room holds several medical devices for electrotheraphy. One is an electro-magnetic machine. I had a vague uneasiness about this. (Before dying of cancer in 2008, a friend was approached by someone who claimed that an electro-magnetic machine could cure him. Many years ago, the FDA banned electro-magnetic machines, and advocates of them were tried for fraud. I never expected to be looking at a 19th century ancestor of this machine.)

The upstairs contains two small boarding rooms. One of the rooms houses a painting by William McKendree Snyder. Apparently the doctor acquired several paintings by Snyder. (Snyder paid the doctor for his services in paintings.) The docent seemed amazed that I did not know of William Snyder—a famous Madison painter. (Seeing how I enjoy art and have encountered the works of many famous Hoosier artists, I was surprised that I had not encountered what was apparently so famous a Hoosier artist. Perhaps he is not so famous, or perhaps my familiarity with Hoosier art is not so wide. Probably the latter.)

Dr. Hutchings practiced medicine from his office in Madison until his death in 1903. (Side note: He is buried in Fairmount, Indiana, home and burial place of James Dean.) After his death in 1903, his daughter packed up everything in the office—equipment, bottles of medicine, and patient notes—and closed the office. The office became a time capsule, opened only in 1969 when the doctor’s granddaughter gave the building and its contents to Historic Madison, Inc.

Dr. Hutchings and his family (11 children—only 8 of which survived to adulthood) lived in a house next to the office and dispensary. This house was built in 1840. The Hutchings family owned it from 1882 to circa 1965. The house was torn down by the King’s Daughter’s Hospital between 1969 and 1972 to build, of all things, a parking lot (!).

At some point the hospital got rid of the parking lot and moved a historic building built circa 1840—around the same time period as the house that the Hutchings inhabited—to the same spot as the original Hutchings house. In 1999, the hospital gave the land and house to the Historic Madison, Inc. to serve as an extended museum for Dr. Hutchings.

The museum contains exhibits about different medical devices and displays information about Civil War era medicine, illness, and lives lost. One of the rooms also displays artifacts about his daughter Lida (1878-1968), who was an avid photographer and worked among the Sioux (Lakota) in the 1890s on the Lakota Sioux Reservation. (The destruction of Sioux culture is on display; Sioux children were given to white families to be raised as white.) Lida’s cameras, glass negatives, and postcards are on display.

In one respect, Dr. Hutchings’ Office and Museum was the complete opposite of the Jeremiah Sullivan House. The latter is the original Sullivan house and includes a few belongings. But Sullivan was not a hoarder and the house passed through different hands before reaching Historic Madison, Inc. In contrast, Dr. Hutchings kept everything, his daughter carefully stored its contents, and his granddaughter bequeathed it to Historic Madison, Inc. I have a feeling that Historic Madison, Inc. will be discovering new things from Dr. Hutchings’ archives for decades to come.

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