Go West, Young Doctor, Go West.

In truth, when Iowa became the 29th State in the Union (1846), it was the place young entrepreneurs back East dreamed of. My Boller family, living in Ohio at the time, fully participated with that dream, moving to Johnson County in 1853. Here is the story of yet another one of those dreamers from back east…

Abram Ormsbee Blanding – son of James and Elizabeth (Carpenter) Blanding – was born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts – near Providence, RI – on April 28, 1823.

Elm Cottage – The Blanding Farm is a historic house at 103 Broad Street in Rehoboth, MA. The main block of this 2-1/2 story farmhouse was built c. 1800; its rear kitchen was added c. 1840. The house was the site of a long-successful local farming operation owned by the Blanding family. One of its early residents was Dr. William Blanding, (Abram’s brother) a physician who also wrote a significant early work on the older houses of Rehoboth.

Abram O. Blanding attended school in Seekonk, MA – 7 miles away – and then went on to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in the 1840’s. After graduating with a medical degree from the Homeopathic Medical College in 1850, Blanding remained in Philadelphia, practicing medicine, surgery, and dental surgery alongside Dr. Royal Carpenter.

Throughout the 19th century, there were two differing models or approaches that were popular among those in the medical profession. The terms used to define these two models are allopathy (or allopathic) medicine and homeopathy (or homeopathic) medicine. And depending on who you ask, you will find, even today, strong preferences for one or the other.

The ideas behind homeopathic medicine were first introduced in 1796 by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann. The practice was introduced to the United States in 1825 with the first homeopathic school opening in 1835. Throughout the 19th century, dozens of homeopathic institutions appeared in Europe and the United States. Click here to read about the homeopathic approach to medicine at SUI during the mid-to-late1800’s.

Lyons, Iowa in Clinton County – circa 1868

During the early 1850’s, while working in Philadelphia, Dr. Blanding was obviously one of those young easterners who began dreaming about the new possibilities available to him in the ever-expanding west. In 1855, Abram married Ellen A. Cressy of Newark, New Jersey, and by 1856, the young couple headed to Iowa to take over the growing medical practice of Dr. J.A. Burt – physician and surgeon – in Lyons, Iowa – a rapidly-expanding community located on the Mississippi River.

Among the first settlers of European origin in this wooded area along the Mississippi was Elijah Buell, who built a log cabin on July 25, 1835, and in 1837, established the town of Lyons, named after the French city of the same name. Buell partnered with John Baker in a successful ferry service across the Mississippi River, at a location called “the Narrows” – between Lyons and what would become the city of Fulton, Illinois. In 1838, when Iowa became a U.S. Territory, Lyons consisted of a sprinkling of cabins, two stores, and a tavern.

By 1852, stagecoach lines ran from Lyons to Davenport – 30 miles; to Iowa City – 71 miles; and to Dubuque – 51 miles. Click here to read more about the stagecoach era in Iowa. That same year, the Lyons and Iowa Central Railroad Company was formed, led by H.P. Adams. Work began on the railroad almost immediately, and progressed rapidly. However, the funds raised to construct the line were insufficient; some were misused, and the venture eventually failed. But this setback didn’t keep Lyons from growing – the population increased from a mere 200 in 1852 to over 5,000 by 1858. And it’s this growth that most likely attracted Dr. Blanding and his wife Ellen to relocate here from Philadelphia in 1856.

Between the 1850’s and 1900, the two major communities of Clinton CountyLyons and its smaller sister city – Clinton – quickly became centers of the lumber industry and were regarded as the “Lumber Capital of the World.” Huge log rafts were floated down the river from Wisconsin and Minnesota, cut into lumber in Clinton County, then shipped to the fast-growing communities of the West via the river and the railroads. By 1895, with the logging industry now dried up, Lyons began to shrink in population and officially merged with the City of Clinton.

(C-0303) Here’s a rare postal cover from May 1859 from Dubuque to Thomas Wright – living in Welton Township of Clinton County, which was organized in 1858. In 1850, a group of English artisans settled a tract of land in the area and called it Welton. The first village was 1 1/2 miles north of the present location, the site of a Davenport and St. Paul Railway station.
The 1856 census indicates that Wright, his wife – Catherine – and their two oldest children (ages 13 & 10) were born in England, and their youngest children (ages 1 & 3) were born in Iowa – meaning the Wrights came to Clinton County sometime in the early 1850’s.

In the 1860 census for Clinton County (above), we find Abram & Ellen Blanding with his medical staff made up of a house servant from Ireland and a clerk from New York and his wife.

In a letter to his sister in 1862, Dr. Blanding reveals his intentions to join the 20th Iowa Infantry Volunteer Regiment forming in Clinton County. There were ten companies assigned to the regiment, all ordered into quarters by the Governor on dates ranging from July 15 to August 15, 1862. The companies all gathered at Camp Kirkwood, near Clinton, Iowa, and there, they were mustered into the service of the United States on the 22nd, 25th and 27th days of August, 1862, by Captain H. B. Hendershott, of the U.S. Army. The Infantry traveled by steamboat to St. Louis, stationing at Benton Barracks on September 5. The next day – September 6 – Dr. Blanding was appointed assistant surgeon. The regiment remained there but a short time, and then proceeded to Rolla, Missouri, arriving there September 14. Two days later, the regiment marched for Springfield, arriving September 24, having covered a distance of 122 miles on foot.

On March 6, 1865, Dr. Blanding was promoted to senior surgeon of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 13th Army Corps. On April 14, 1865 – one day before the Lincoln assassination – the regiment was moved to Mobile, AL, where it was engaged in the performance of provost guard duty until July 8, 1865, on which date it was mustered out of the service of the United States. The regiment was then conveyed to Clinton, Iowa, where it was disbanded July 27, 1865.

(C-0024) Our February 1847 letter was written during Dr. Blanding’s time in Philadelphia. Read more about “stamp-less” mail and how postage rates were determined.

This rare personal letter, postmarked in Philadelphia, PA on February 17,1847 is correspondence between Abraham O. Blanding, who is a student at the Homeopathic Medical College in Philadelphia, PA and his cousins, Maria & Caroline Hunt, who live in Seekonk, MA. The 4-page handwritten and hand-signed letter was written over several days  – Thu Feb 4, Wed Feb 10, Tue Feb 16, and Wed Feb 17. Below are a few highlights…

Philadelphia Feb 4 1847  “Dear Cousins Maria & Caroline. I find my mind not on my books but wandering for a way and joining that circle in which I have spent so many happy hours…(to) lay aside my book for an hour or two and step in at Grandmother Hunts.”

“On Monday (Feb 8) I attended a temperance meeting at the annual meeting of the Female Temperance Association of Philadelphia. The Rev. Mr. Chambers, one of the leading men in the cause here and Mr. Blough were the speakers and Mr. Hutchinson sung for them. It was a very interesting meeting.”

“No news from Elm Cottage for almost four weeks. But no news is good news. It seems to me if I was in Seekonk I could find more that would interest you…”

“Last Sabbath (Feb 14) I attended Mr. Barnes church in the morning and heard an excellent sermon from 1st Timothy 4,5 and in the P.M. went to the corner of Twelfth and Walnut and heard Dr. Ludlo. He gave an excellent discourse from Duet. 23,10 and in the evening I went to Mr. Barnes again. He is preaching a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. I have heard three of them. They are very good.”

“I trust that this (letter) will soon be answered for it seems to me hardily possible that so interesting a letter as this should fail to call forth an answer soon. I wonder who feeds the pigs and brings in the wood (back home) the cold nights? I am sure it is not me. I hope this will prove an interesting epistle by the time you get it. If you see any of our folks give them love for me and tell them I shall write soon. From your cousin. A O Blanding”

Returning back home to Lyons, Iowa after the war (1865), Dr. Blanding returned to his medical practice in Lyons. Records don’t indicate what happened to his wife, Ellen, but we do know that Abram married for a second time to Sarah A. Nattinger (1837-1912) on Jan. 20, 1876. His son, a highly decorated U.S. military officer, Albert Hazen Blanding, was born in Lyons on November 9, 1876. Blanding moved with his family to the Gainesville, Florida region in 1878 to become a farmer, specializing in the growing of oranges. He died suddenly on July 31, 1892, at 69 years of age, and is interred, along with his wife Sarah, in the Village Cemetery, Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Lyons-Clinton County, Iowa, IAGenWeb

Log Rafting, EncyclopediaDubuque

Thomas Wright, 1856 State Census of Iowa, Clinton County, Bloomfield Township, IAGenWeb-Clinton County

Abram O. Blanding, A History of Rehoboth, Massachusetts – Its History for 275 Years 1643-1918, George H. Tilton, p 314

Abram Ormsbee Blanding Papers, University of Florida’s Digital Collections (UFDC)

Abram O. & Ellen A. Blanding, 1860 Census, FamilySearch.org

Iowa -20th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry, GeneologyTrails.com

Abram O. Blanding, Find-A-Grave

Sarah A. Nattinger Blanding, Find-A-Grave

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