March, 2013. Foley, Alabama. The W. C. Holmes Medical Museum

Posted on March 11, 2013


It’s finally March, so spring may be just around the corner.  But whether you’ve spent the winter north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line, there’s still plenty of time to find yourself sliding down the slippery slope toward crud and congestion, and then it’s off to the doctor’s office you will go.

foley 3We aren’t sick, but we went off to the doctor’s office ourselves recently when we visited the W. C. Holmes Medical Museum in Foley, located on the site of the first hospital in Baldwin County.

The Sibley Holmes Memorial Hospital was established in 1937, and occupied space on the second floor of a main business block in downtown Foley. The location was chosen because Dr. Holmes’ office had been there since the early 1900’s, but it was also thought that a street-level location would be too dusty since the town’s streets were not paved.

Another reason may have been ventilation – a ground floor location wouldn’t have been able to capture much breeze, and this IS hot, humid Alabama.

Whatever the reason, it’s interesting to note the building had no elevator – at least not in the conventional sense. According to our docent, “elevator” service was provided by the men who hung around the pool hall down the street – anyone too weak or incapacitated to navigate the steep stairway was simply hoisted up via manpower.

Dr. Sibley Holmes dreamed of a hospital for his town since his earliest days in practice, but it wasn’t until after his death that his son, Dr. William C., was able to establish the hospital that bore his father’s name until it closed in 1958.

Amazingly, very little modification or modernization was done to the interior space over the years – you definitely get a feeling for what it must have been like to be a patient there.  Today the rooms are filled with an array of vintage medical equipment, some of which really makes you believe the cure might often have been worse than the disease. foley 1

A lancet and bloodletting basin (remember, George Washington actually died from the then-common practice), bulky metal braces weighing half as much as some patients, a scary array of brown stuff in bottles, and primitive x-ray equipment were just a few of the things on display. Exam tables, beds and bassinets of painted metal  looked extremely uncomfortable and just about impossible to sanitize.

vibratorThere was lots of “medicinal” electrical stuff – electroshock equipment, electrical vibrators for “nervous conditions”, and electric light therapy contraptions designed to be strapped to the patient’s head.

It seems the taming of electricity in the early 1900’s provided a whole new way for traveling “doctors” to defraud the public through questionable, at best, cures for every imaginable illness.

Informative and entertaining, a visit to the W. C. Holmes Medical Museum will cure you of one thing – you’ll never gripe about that doctor bill again.

Posted in: Travel - Alabama