Oberlin Heritage Center Blog

Posts Tagged ‘preservation’

Dr. A.C. Siddall’s Life as a Medical Practitioner: Researching and Making History

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

by Michelle Myers, Leadership Lorain County Intern

Upon leaving my summer internship at the Oberlin Heritage Center and graduating from Swarthmore College in two years, I plan on going to nursing school and becoming a midwife. I have taken an interest in Dr. A.C. Siddall, an OB/GYN who practiced in the Oberlin Heritage Center’s Monroe House for twenty years, not only because of the feats he accomplished as a medical practitioner, but also for his engaging and vigorous writings. While looking through a file of his research papers, historical writings, and autobiographical keepings at the Oberlin College Archives, I came upon a paper he had written the year of his retirement, 1973, titled “From Practicing Obstetrician to Amateur Historian.” This paper reflects on his career and looks forward to a life of continuous medical curiosity. Now, as I look toward my future journey into the medical field, I find inspiration in what he has written. It is an example of what I may have to look forward to, as I pause and we both, Dr. Siddall and I, can breathe, reflect, and consider the wonderful medical history that had been laid before us.

A Clair Siddall, M.D., was a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology who practiced in Oberlin for 40 years. He developed the first hormonally-based pregnancy test in English literature, delivered 5,000 babies, and served as a medical missionary in China for nine years. He did all he could for the medical practice of Oberlin in his lifetime, ultimately co-founding the Oberlin Clinic and supporting the expansion of the Allen Memorial Hospital, now Mercy Allen Hospital. He lived an incredibly meaningful life, both by way of his own driving force and the inspirations of the past. He wrote paper after paper dealing with the medical history of Oberlin during his practice. In “From Practicing Obstetrician to Amateur Historian,” Dr. Siddall discussed just how much history inspired him and could inspire others, saying “…it is sufficient for this presentation to show how any physician can enlarge his horizon by more or less active interest in the history of his own profession.” Rather than viewing his retirement as a time of complete rest, Dr. Siddall used this free time to continue exploring his curiosity, as well as making up for lost time:

“So it is that now I can follow a beautiful schedule of working at my desk until noon every day then being flexible in the afternoon. Several subjects claim my attention now,
1. History of Chinese Medicine
2. Profiles of all physicians who have ever worked in Oberlin-includes the college
3. Eunuchism
4. Religious beliefs of the common man
[5.] Uninterrupted meals with my wife who has suffered interruptions and delays and cancellations for forty years, without complaint.”

Researching history inspired Dr. Siddall to reach higher standards of innovation in his own practice. He studied marvelous icons of medical history, including Hippocrates, Galen, Soranus, Sydenham, and others. He created an extensive guide of Oberlin’s history of medical practices and practitioners, which is now at the Oberlin College Archives. While he attended professional meetings on vacation, he made an effort to visit sites of medical innovation in the field of obstetrics. On one trip, he visited a monument of John L. Richmond in Newton, Ohio, who, in 1827, “carried out singlehanded, using only his pocket instruments, the first professional cesarean in the country.” Richmond performed this cesarean under the light of one candle in a log cabin. Dr. Siddall said of this character, “[s]uch courage stirs my imagination.” Dr. Siddall embraced a similarly courageous and self-assured approach in his own practice with the Pap smear, a screening test used for the detection of cervical cancer. He was one of the first individual practitioners to introduce cancer detection to the medical office. This was in the 1950’s, a point in history when physicians were skeptical of the American Cancer Association’s call for frequent cancer screenings. Because he was able to identify cancer early, Dr. Siddall was able to treat and save patients’ lives.

Dr. A.C. Siddall and his wife, Estelle.

Dr. Siddall was a historian, and at the same time, he was a medical practitioner who did things worth writing about. These factors resulted from each other, in a wheel of innovation. Medical practice is a result of medical history, and medical practice creates medical history. I believe this can be most emphasized by Dr. Siddall’s words: “So we learn that to make history takes precedence over and is more satisfying than to read history. However I never cease to be inspired by those who have gone before as pioneers in our specialty.” Indeed, these pioneers helped form Dr. Siddall’s practice and may continue to inspire medical practitioners of the future. For me, Dr. Siddall has been one of these moving pioneers in imagination. Studying medical history offers a clearer understanding to how the medical practices of today have developed. It also inspires a medical practitioner to come up with innovative and life-saving ways of handling his or her practice. I take historical research seriously because it has and will save lives.


Siddall Papers, Oberlin College Archives.

“From Practicing Obstetrician to Amateur Historian”, Oberlin College Archives.

Living Through History

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

My name is Michelle Myers, and I am a summer intern at the Oberlin Heritage Center through the Leadership Lorain County Internship Program. This is my second summer here. I was born and raised in Elyria, and I am currently working on my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Swarthmore College. This is why I have come to the Heritage Center for my second summer: because I love learning about and talking to people.

History, as I have come to learn it, is not facts. History is stories. History is the light in someone’s eyes when they recall an event that made headlines. History is a grandfather telling his grandchildren about the war at a family event. The past is what connects us all together. It is all of our stories interwoven in a conversation where people recall the good old days, the not so good days, and feel less alone. History is not the history of individuals, but of a common humanity who has been through and seen it all. History is what makes us live forever.

This is why I love giving tours of the three buildings at the Oberlin Heritage Center. I love when a visitor recognizes an item in one of the historical houses and says, “My grandmother has one of those in her house.” Someone else says, “I used to use one of those when I was a kid.” Then a conversation starts. People talk to each other. A human connection is made. Meaning is made out of washboards and rug beaters.

When a woman and I talk about the hardships a mother with her child could have faced trying to find freedom from slavery, and the visitor is nodding her head, her eyes deeply concerned, I feel as if something beyond our words is being fulfilled. She understands what it means to work hard, to face destitution. Both women understand. It is all three of us in this conversation. We live through each other’s thoughts and words. This is what history looks like.

But history is also the amazement and hilarity that ensues when first graders realize what a chamber pot is. They get on their hands and knees on the wooden, creaky floors; look under the rope-wrung bed; see the white, shiny bowl; and cry “People would poop in that?!” Maybe they imagine a life, long before televisions and video games, without bathrooms. They have something to go home and tell their parents about. They gave me something to remember. They fill these buildings with laughter and excitement. They keep these buildings and the Oberlin Heritage Center alive. Thank you to all of you, past and present, who keep this place alive.

Back to the 1950s: Creating an Exciting New/Old Look for Lormet in Downtown Oberlin

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Lormet Community Federal Credit Union will soon restore the former AAA building to it's original design when the Peoples Banking Company constructed it in 1958.

The Lormet Community Federal Credit Union is restoring 49 South Main to its original 1950s appearance.

After Oberlin’s AAA closed its doors at 49 South Main Street two years ago, Lormet Credit Union, the largest credit union in Lorain County, bought the property to establish a branch in Oberlin. The property is located within the Downtown Oberlin National Register Historic District. The CEO and President of Lormet Daniel Cwalina and his architect Mark Lesner originally planned to replace the façade with a brand new front. That plan began to change when the Oberlin Heritage Center’s Executive Director Pat Murphy pulled out a photograph of how the building looked originally from the Heritage Center’s photo collection. She stated:

“I did not find out about the planned renovations for this building until a few days before it was going to be on the agenda for the October 1, 2009 design review commission and the planning commission. A day or so before that meeting I tried to reach the bank owner and his architect but I wasn’t able to get through to them. So when I went to the meetings I brought with me a historic photograph of what the building looked like when it was completed in 1958.”

The building at 49 South Main Street was originally the home of the People’s Banking Company. It opened its doors in 1958. The local newspaper reported the building boasted Oberlin’s first drive-in banking for customers, a large meeting room in the basement for community organizations, snow melting sidewalks and a special front display for exhibits.

The building is one of Oberlin’s few commercial examples of mid-century Modernism, with overhanging eaves and 1950s style brick and stone work. Oberlin’s other examples of Mid-Century modernism include Hall Auditorium and several other college buildings, and many houses designed by Doug Johnson, Max Ratner and other area architects. Mid-century modern architecture is becoming increasingly popular in communities across the country and there is growing interest in preserving it in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, the New Jersey Shore and elsewhere.

Pat Murphy is delighted that Mr. Cwalina and his architect were willing to reconsider their original design and to redesign the project to recall the 1950s look of the original building. She stated:

“The property owner and his architect got very excited about it and rethought their design entirely with the idea of bringing the building back to the ‘50s. I think it’s going to be a very exciting addition to the downtown historic district.”

Oberlin Heritage Center intern Francesca Krihely interviewed Dan Swalina, President and CEO of Lormet Credit Union. He was very excited about the new design and commented that:

“It was amazing because our architect and many of the people involved with this construction project never would have believed that the original architectural characteristics were still present. I was shocked. And when you see the picture from the 1950s there’s a lot of adjustments and add-ons to the building that really covered the architectural characteristics.  When you took those off and saw the original picture it was amazing to us that they were still there. This building started out as a simple renovation and it morphed into something that is exciting. It’s going to be a jewel. In my opinion it’s going to be very similar to a restored diner. And you don’t see this with financial institutions.  You just don’t see this kind of architecture preserved in any type of building in financial institutions.  It’s going to be amazing, I’m very excited about it.”

Work on the building is underway. The building will be open to the public later this spring. The exterior will closely resemble the original design. Murphy got a sneak preview recently and commented that:

The sparkling new interior will recall the flavor of the 1950s and 1960s and will feature the original aquamarine brick tiled safe which was partially uncovered as part of the renovation. I cannot wait to see the finished product.”

Meanwhile, the Oberlin Heritage Center hopes to expand its knowledge and its photograph collection of the history of this and other buildings and institutions in our community. Let us know if you can help.

      Patricia Murphy of the Oberlin Heritage Center and Daniel Cwalina of Lormet near the original bank vault.


A Winter Term at Oberlin Heritage Center

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

By Timothy Krumreigh (Oberlin College class of 2012)

Timothy Krumreig encapsulates a historic document so it is safely protected in our archives.

Week One:

The first week interning at the Heritage Center was devoted to introduction and familiarization. Liz and Prue showed me around the basement and allowed me to familiarize myself with the location of resources. Additionally, Prue pulled out documents and books  (i.e. Collections Goals of OHC and Introduction to Museum work) based on my interested in the museum field so I could begin obtaining some background knowledge.

Week Two:

During the second week of interning at the Heritage Center, I began to utilize the resources to start some projects. Rachel and I did a very basic inventory of 123 (formerly 21) South Professor Street for the owner. We looked through directories,  at online documents, and in college guides in hopes of discovering more information about the residents of 123 S. Professor Street. Additionally, Prue showed Rachel and I two examples of scrap books and explained the problems and solutions for preserving old scrapbooks. After the discussion, Prue showed us a recently donated scrap book and demonstrated the construction of a phase box.

Week Three:

Week three of interning at the Heritage Center was really exciting. Rachel and I continued to work on the inventory of 123 S. Professor Street. We completed looking through documents and electric resources and will now move on to the final write up for the file. I went on the field trip to McKay-Lodge conservancy and was very impressed. The trip gave me a good idea of some of things that can be done with conservation and allowed me to see some of the awesome processes used in order to conserve a piece of art or historic document.

When we arrived back at the Heritage Center, Rachel and I discussed gaining experience and working with historic objects and documents with Prue. The next day, Prue collected various documents and pictures in need of preservation. She showed us the flat file of Soldiers Monument and taught us how to encapsulate the documents and pictures that were in the flat file. After walking us through the first encapsulation, she allowed Rachel and myself to encapsulate the remaining documents. On Friday, Rachel and I were given a register from the college and asked to build a phase box, with some assistance were were able to complete a box.

Week 4:

I think week four of our winter term internship was probably the most exciting. The Heritage Center sent us to a symposium in Indianapolis, Indiana for two days. The symposium was called “The Green Historic Preservation Symposium,” which was sponsored by the EPA region five. The symposium brought together people from many different fields: preservation, conservation, construction, business, and many more. The idea of the conference was to bring different minds together to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change in terms of green historic preservation. People are now beginning to realize that tearing down historic homes to make way for “new, green construction,” is not actually green. Green historic preservation is a new and developing idea; hopefully as this idea develops, we will see it applied in Oberlin.

Week Five:

During our last week of work at the Heritage Center, we began working more on the doll house and the objects found in the attic. I was shown how to remove the surface dirt from the furniture and toys by using vulcanized rubber. After the toys were cleaned, I recorded the type of objects so they could later be accessioned. Prue showed us how to add an accession number to the Pass Perfect program and Rachel and I printed a new deed for the found doll house items. The last big project we worked on involved writing the accession numbers on the objects themselves. This process involves different chemical and products that allow a museum to write on the object, but also remove the writing if necessary. We painted on chemicals and wrote the tiny accession numbers on the collections.

Working with the Heritage Center has given me a lot of great insight to preservation and museum work. I would like to go into the preservation and/or museum field after Oberlin, so this internship has allowed me to “get my feet wet” and get an idea of what I may be getting myself into. I had a great time working with the heritage center staff and the other winter term volunteers. I hope to continue working with the heritage center in the future.

A Doll’s House

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

by Eli Goldberg (Oberlin College Class of 2012) 

Over the last month I’ve been working with Claire and Daniella to restore the Heritage Center’s 1930s doll house.  As an archaeology major, I’m used to working with old things – but this doll house is about 2,000 years out of my league!  Nevertheless, it’s been an amazing month. 
I read through dozens of old issues of the Ladies’ Home Journal, and drew up furniture plans for all the rooms in the dollhouse: living room with a grand piano, dining room, grown-up bedroom, and a twee little nursery that has its own toybox with tiny dolls. I vacuumed the dust out of miniature armchairs. I pored through countless wallpaper catalogs and daydreamed about floor coverings. (Hardwood floors? Handmade rugs? Yes we can!) 

Testing out a furnishings plan in the living room.

We went on two delightful field trips – one to a local art conservation facility (picture displaced sculptures lined up in the snow outside an Ohio barn, awaiting treatment); the other to meet with Steve McQuillin, an Oberlin alum who is a historic preservation consultant (working out of a breathtaking brick farmhouse that he restored himself). 

But halfway through the month – just when I thought I knew what I was doing – came the coolest surprise. 

My mission: take apart the dollhouse. This was a daunting assignment, as I’m excellent at deconstructing things, but not so great at putting them back together. Nevertheless, it will make it much, much easier to put in wallpaper and flooring. I prowled around the house with a camera, snapping photos of every nut, bolt, and screw. Then, tools in hand, I set about dismantling the beast, methodically laying out each piece on a card table. 

I unscrewed the fireplaces, pulled off the chimneys. Then I delicately lifted the roof, and very nearly died. 

Still carrying the roof, I wandered in a daze into the next room, where I found my supervisor. “Hey, uh, Prue? We’ve got an attic full of furniture.” 

“…oh, my goodness. You have got to be kidding me.” 

The sight that awaited us when we opened up the attic.

Oh, yes, there was furniture – some (sadly mildewy) couches, a complete bathroom set, a cast-iron kitchen range, a painted metal parlor set with manufacturer’s stamps. But there was so much more: a working mechanical music box. A toy cash register with coupons and newspaper scraps in the drawer. A pencil case with “March 1925” written on the back. An ancient Mickey Mouse figurine. A tiny tea set. It’s unbelievable that all of this was sitting under our noses the entire time – probably the person who donated the dollhouse didn’t even know it was there. 

I stayed well after my shift was over, exploring our new finds. After working with this house for two weeks, I thought I knew everything about it. But just pull off the roof, and suddenly the shape of my project has completely changed…