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Military officers led Southwestern Pa.'s medical revolution

| Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004

A number of early Southwestern Pennsylvania military figures originally were trained to be physicians, among them generals Arthur St. Clair and Edward Hand. Another was Gen. William Irvine, placed in command at Fort Pitt near the end of the Revolution.

All were schooled in medicine in Great Britain before coming to this country with military units.

Itching was cured 200 years ago by an application of ointment made of brimstone and hog's lard. It also should be noted that in those early days, it was the custom for a physician to walk at the head of the funeral procession of any patient who died.

Surgical incisions were filled with salt and gunpowder. Snakebite was the most frequent "ailment," and it would appear that the fabled use of alcoholic beverages was needed to survive some of the cures rather than the snakebite itself.

The first hospital west of the Allegheny Mountains, according to research by the American Medical Association and others, was six miles southwest of the center of Greensburg along Sewickley Creek in Hempfield Township, apparently in the 1870s.

Its founder was Dr. David Marchand, son of a Huguenot who fled France because of religious persecution. David came from Lancaster County, where he had established a reputation as a physician and surgeon of "eminent ability" after the Revolution.

Because of his fame, so many people came to him at his home along Sewickley Creek that he gradually expanded it into a hospital to care for them.

Building history

Finding the oldest existing house in Southwestern Pennsylvania is difficult because of lack of information on some older buildings, changes or additions that have been made to many, and conflicting information.

Often called the "oldest" is the mansion of Col. Edward Cook, near Fayette City and the Westmoreland-Fayette border. Built of limestone in 1774-76 by the colonel, it remained within the family for many generations.

Two houses of that era are in the Penn Hills locale. The McLaughlin house, near Unity, is a log structure built about 1775 by Irish immigrant Edward McLaughlin. It was in the family for several generations before being turned over to the Girl Scouts.

The Wyckoff-Mason house of chestnut logs is believed to have been constructed in 1774-75.

In Fayette County, a stone house in New Geneva is said to have been built in 1773 by Col. George Wilson as a wedding present for his son.

A small fieldstone cottage at Baker Station in eastern Washington County, later stuccoed, reportedly was built by one of the Bane brothers shortly after 1769.

Near the Greensburg Country Club in Westmoreland, the Lefevre log cabin is thought to have been erected in the 1760s by Andrew Byerly, a pioneer way station operator along Forbes Road.

Another early residence along Forbes Road is the log and stone Fisher mansion house near Darlington, initially built in 1773 with later additions.

State of education

It is safe to say that teacher salaries in the schools have improved considerably since 1907, when the highest average monthly salary in the Westmoreland County schools was Greensburg's $62.22.

The figure in Hempfield Township was $44.63, and in the last place was Cook Township, at $35.75. These salaries were paid only in those months the teachers worked.

Highest tax millage in the county that year was in Bolivar borough.

The county report shows a total of 912 schools with an enrollment of 38,687 pupils. Although many were one-room schools, there might have been in use a method by which multi-room schools were tallied as one-room schools.

Hempfield Township led with 61 schools, followed by Derry Township with 55, Unity Township with 41, Mt. Pleasant Township with 39, and Greensburg and Monessen boroughs and North Huntingdon Township with 37 each.

Adamsburg, Hyde Park, Livermore and Youngstown had but one each. The lowest enrollment was that of Livermore School District, with 18 students enrolled and an average attendance of 15.

Excerpted from Robert B. Van Atta's "Vignettes" columns of Oct. 10, 1982 and 1993.

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