In the 1960s in Woodstock, we were beginning to be somewhat removed from the pioneering days when doctors made house calls on horseback, and when all babies were delivered at home.
Medicine, and all other aspects of civilization, had experienced changes. Change seemed to have come slowly. There was, as yet, not a single traffic light in the town’s business district. A few barns still dotted the landscape around town, and a few families still had chickens scratching around the backyard and roosters that woke us as they bade the sun come up in the morning. Folks in town had to pick up their mail at the post office located in a storefront across Main Street from the depot. (RFD meant Rural Free Delivery, and in spite of chickens and barns, mail delivery was not offered in town.) Parking, then as now, was a problem, and the Woodstock Star, printed weekly, often had front page headlines about new parking ordinances, along with an occasional petty crime or house fire and a plethora of articles about school events and civic club activities.
Amidst this small-town-America setting, Dr. T.J. VanSant was trying to retire. He had been the town’s go-to physician for over 50 years, having arrived shortly after the untimely death of 49-year-old Dr. Will Dean in 1906. Will Dean was the son of Dr. William Hiram Dean who settled here to practice medicine in the 1850s. Dr. VanSant, like those doctors who preceded him, began his practice from his home. In a 1915 photo from “Images of America, Woodstock 1860-1970,” we see the doctor standing with his team of horses. The caption tells us that he later made house calls in his Ford Model T.
Unlike so many of Woodstock’s hometown folks of that era, there are recorded memories of Dr. VanSant. In “Georgia’s Woodstock,” published in 1997, the doctor’s daughter, Virginia, who was born in 1931, submitted her memories of growing up in Woodstock in the VanSant home. They lived in the 1890 Lathem house on the northeast corner of Arnold Mill Road and East Main Street. She tells that the house was renovated to accommodate her father’s office. “From our front porch, we could see the depot and most of the town. On Saturdays, mules and horses pulled wagons into town for weekly trading and the Salvation Army showed up for a horn and tambourine concert before asking for donations. Sundays were unusual. Church services were not held at each church every Sunday, so we just visited each other’s church after Sunday school at our own... The railroad passed in front of our home. The little passenger and mail train rattled our windows twice a day. My friends and I would visit each other by walking on the tracks, practicing our balance on the rail. When the afternoon train ran, it was time to go home for supper.”
It is no wonder that the doctor was loved. He was, very simply, just “one of us.”
By the early ’60s, he was no longer physically able to continue to see patients. Concerned citizens and city officials instigated a search for a new doctor. The search was successful, and the drive to build a clinic, headed by Dr. Evan Boddy, resulted in Woodstock’s first medical clinic in 1962. The building would be just yards away from the VanSant home/office, a brick ranch that had replaced the Lathem house which was destroyed by fire in 1950. Over a period of three decades, that entire area became Woodstock’s medical community. Cherokee Atomedic Hospital opened adjacent to the clinic on July 20, 1969, and the nursing home opened next door to the hospital in 1979. Dr. Boddy’s own pharmacy operated nearby for a while as Woodstock Apothecary, and dentist, Dr. Duncan, had an office in the VanSant ranch home. It all happened in the shadow of the Will Dean Home, taking us through a medical journey lasting for over a century.
We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the hospital this month with an exhibit at the Woodstock Visitors Center at Historic Dean’s Store. “The Doctor Is In … Just What the Doctor Ordered” cannot begin to tell the whole story, but tiny tidbits will trigger memories for many of us, and serve to whet the historic appetite of others. Americans landed on the moon on Sunday, July 20, 969, while in Woodstock, the community turned out to listen to speeches and take a tour through this amazing “flying saucer.” For many, the hospital’s significance was lost in the images of the moon landing on each little TV set in the patient rooms. For those few minutes, we were in two very historic moments at the same time. Visit the exhibit to recapture that day. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.