Retrospective

Blacklick Township's Dr. Prideaux
honored for 50 years' service

JOHNSTOWN DEMOCRAT     JULY 18, 1949

Dr. Prideaux to be honored for 50- year ________

Twin Rocks Doctor to Receive State Society Plaque Thursday

Has Worn Out 26 Cars, 10 Horses During Half Century in Medicine

By Ira D. Weigle Democrat Staff Writer

Hundreds of broken bodies mended, 4,000 babies, a bushel of teeth, 350,000 miles of ‘Thundering’ over back roads, 26 worn out jalopies, 10 broken-down horses and a strong sound body at the age of 76.

Those are just a few of the major highlights in the 50-year practice as a country doctor of Dr. William Albert Prideaux of the small Cambria County mining community of Twin Rocks.

In those 50 years of tending the sick and injured, the robust, jovial doctor has served as souse-keeper, blacksmith, auto mechanic, druggist, dentist, ‘oculist’, obstetrician and at times a horse doctor.

A half-century of 24-hour duty of devotion to more than, 10,000 patients has left the veteran physician with a grave sense of understanding, a keen sense of humor, a truly sparkling jovial disposition and a moderate income for the rest of his life.

I have worked hard, long hours, overcome hardships, disappointments and sorrows and I am happy, declared the gray haired bespectacled physician yesterday.

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          Dr. Prideaux will be honored for his untiring efforts in the medical profession by the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania at a luncheon-meeting Thursday in Somerset Country Club. He will be presented a plaque by Dr. E. Roger Samuel, Mt. Carmel, president-elect of the state society, for outstanding achievement during half-century as a member of this organization.

          Born in the small village of Smithmills, Clearfield County, Dr. Prideaux started his practice in his native town in 1899 after graduation from Medico-Chirurgical College, Philadelphia. He is the last of five children born to Thomas A. and Margaret (Houseman) Prideaux. His father was a dentist and druggist in Smithmills for many years.

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          After one year’s practice in Smithmills, the doctor located in Cherry Tree, Indiana County, and pursued his profession there until 1907 when he and his family moved to Twin Rocks.

          When he located in Twin Rocks and took over the task of caring for more that 2,000 coal miners and their families, Dr. Prideaux really had a change to put to practice the experience he gained ‘doctoring’ in the rural areas of Cherry Tree.

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          Even though he saw hundreds draw their last breath of life, Dr. Prideaux recalls that the most trying and hectic period of his entire career was during the dreaded ‘flu’ epidemic of 1918.

          “People died like flies and I had to look on helplessly.” Sighed the kindly old gentleman. “It was terrible. Entire families were stricken. I couldn’t answer all of the calls even though I knew some were dying. For nearly six weeks I started out making calls at 10 o’clock at night and would return home at daybreak ready to start out for another day.

          “I recall vividly of one family.” He said, ”where a father, mother and two children were stricken. It was deathly cold and there was no one to tend the fire in the small farm house. I went to the home late one night to find the father lying in bed, stiff as a board, dead. His wife lay in a bed less that a foot away with a fever well over 103. The house was ice cold and the children were trembling with chills and fever. Then I turned housewife. I made fire, prepared food and moved the mother to a downstairs room. The father lay dead in that house for three days before a neighbor mustered up enough courage to bury the body.”

          “I remember that case so well.” smiled the doctor, “because, as I was preparing to leave, the wife turned her drawn white face to me and said: “Doctor, I believe Everett has enough money in his pocket to pay if you will go up and get it.”

          “Turning to the woman I remember replying, I never took money from a dead man’s pocket yet, and I’m not going to start now.”

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          He then related how he and coal company officials ‘licked’ the epidemic by establishing an emergency hospital in the Twin Rocks Grade School. School seats were replaced with cots and in five weeks we treated 140 patients and lost only eight, he recalled.

          Much of the credit for combating the epidemic was given by the doctor to Mrs. Mary (Mardis) Davis, wife of the late Dr. B.P. Davis of Belsano. Mrs. Davis, a nurse, worked for weeks with Dr. Prideaux without leaving the emergency hospital. “She was more than a nurse,” Dr. Prideaux relates. “She was doctor, custodian, and cook all at one time.”

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          Even though he believes he has treated almost every kind of known disease and injury, the doctor says there has been nothing in his life as  horrible and pathetic as the ‘flu’ epidemic.

          When he was 32 years old and in practice only six years, the veteran physician was faced with a grave decision. Eight-year-old Mary Curley of Greenwich, near Garmantown, lay dying of a ruptured appendix. An operation might work, but the child’s parents were skeptical and declined to grant the doctor permission.

          After hours of persuasion the parents consented. The girl was placed on the kitchen table under which set an old cluck on a next of eggs. With another doctor administering the anesthetic, Dr. Prideaux performed the delicate operation by the pale, flickering yellow light of a kerosene lamp.

          “I put in two drains, one in the back and one in the front.” (They don’t do it that way now). “Then I said a little prayer and left. Next day I was afraid to go back. I was sure she would be dead. But I went. I looked into a window and saw she was breathing. Boy, that was a relief.”

          “Today”, he said, “that girl is married and living in the Indiana County Village of Wehrum. She often calls on me and we talk over the events which followed my first major operation.”

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          In Talking of delivering babies, Dr. Prideaux smiled and said: “In the old days I delivered between 25 and 30 each month, and everyone at home too. Today I have only five or six maternity cases a month.      

          Since the miners welfare plan went into effect most of the mothers go to the hospital.”

          “Why,” he said, “I’ve delivered mothers, daughters and grand-daughters as well as fathers, sons and grandsons. I see them walking along the streets or working in the fields every day.” He estimates he has brought about 4,000 babies into the world.       

                                       *        *        *

          The physician spent about 20 minutes ridiculing women of the earlier days for refusing to take care of themselves before and after they bore children.

          “I have gone into homes to deliver babies and been unable to find a clean piece of cloth a foot square,” he said with a shudder. Dr. Prideaux recalled of one case where he brought a baby into the world at 3 o’clock one morning and returned to the home about 8 a.m. to check on the mother and found her out sweeping the front porch.

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          “Few people,” he declared “have the opportunity of seeing how the other half really lives. But a doctor does, I have been forced to make deliveries using cold water and a little soap.”

          Adding a bit of humor to his obstetrical career, Dr. Prideaux told of the lean years for physicians during the depression in the early 30’s.

          “One day,” he related, “I met another doctor in Nanty Glo (Dr. M.C. Dunnick, now of York County). The doctor asked me: “How much are you getting for babies these days?”  I replied, “ 50 cents.”  “Your lucky I’m doing two for a quarter.”

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          Many times, he said, he was called to farm homes to treat men and women with broken limbs. “I just took the mattress off the bed, sawed up the slats for splints and placed the patient on rough boards until the fracture healed. Sometimes I had to prop up the leg by using bricks or rocks for weights.”

          As physician for four coal companies, the aging doctor still is kept busy about 12 or 14 hours a day. “But, my gracious,” he exclaimed, “I’m only working half as hard as I used to”.

          Dr. Prideaux currently is physician for Imperial Coal Company, Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Company at Twin Rocks, Commercial Coal Company and McFadden Coal Company. In addition to serving some 2,000 employees and their families of those companies, the physician has patients in Belsano, Strongstown, Nolo, Nanty Glo and Vintondale.

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The physician’s three-room office is packed with bottles, jars, vials, tubes and cans of medicines and drugs of all types and descriptions. “Every country doctor must have his own supply of medicine.” The physician remarked. “I guess I have about 350 different kinds of medicine and drugs.” He explained, “And, I use them all too.”

          In addition to taking him to farm fields, woodlands, hospitals, emergency wards and clinics, Dr. Prideaux’s practice has taken him deep into the bowels of the earth. On numerous occasions he has been called upon to go into the coal mines to give emergency treatment to a seriously injured workman.

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          Dr. Prideaux recalled that while he was practicing in Cherry Tree he kept three horses. “I fed, watered and cared for them myself.” He added. “There always was one of them ready to be hitched into the buggy when a call came to hurry to some farm home to deliver a baby or fight a bad case of fever.”        

          It was not until 1912 that the physician mustered up enough courage to purchase his first automobile. It was an old Franklin, with a right had drive.  “There wasn’t a mile of paved road in the Twin Rocks area then and that old car sure took a beating,” he joked. Since that time Dr. Prideaux has worn out 26 automobiles and only recently purchased his 27th one.

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          In his spare time he finds time to serve as president of the Blacklick Township School Board of which he has been a member continuously since 1911. He has been president of the board for the last 12 years.

          “And, I’m not through yet,” he said. “I am a candidate for reelection on the Republican ticket at the coming election.”

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          Dr. William Albert Prideaux and the former Anne Maude Grumbling were married in 1901 in Cherry Tree. She passed away in June 1939.

          The physician is the father of five children, four of whom are living. They are Mrs. Evelyn Smith, at home with her father: Dr. William Prideaux, who is practicing in Claysville: Mrs. Mary Blackman, home economics instructor in Blacklick Township High School and Mrs. Dorning Jenkins, Greenville, N.C. There are five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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          Dr. Prideaux is an active member of the Cambria County Medical Society and served as president of the group in 1932. He also is a past master of Ebensburg Masonic Lodge and holds membership in Williamsport Consistory and Jaffa Shrine, Altoona.

          The veteran doctor, who has been a constant pipe and cigar smoker since he was 27 years of age, said he never has taken a drink of intoxication beverage in his life. “Maybe that’s why I feel so dern good.” He remarked.

          As he stood in the doorway of his office, the doctor remarked: “You know one time, about 30 years ago, I was going to come to Johnstown and practice. But I like it here and here’s where I guess I’ll die.”

Typed from The Johnstown Democrat
On Aug. 11, 2007 by Barb Hakanen of the
Nant-Y-Glo Tri Area Museum and Historical Society

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