Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Durham Doctors

The depot (left) and old brick stores (right) recall bygone days.
by Denise Weimer

The sleepy community of Maxeys, Georgia—in Oglethorpe County outside the university town of Athens—barely remembers its heyday. First known as Shanty, then Salmonsville, the town grew along the Athens Branch of the Georgia Rail Road Company in the 1840s. In October 1844, Dr. Milledge Spencer Durham, a young cotton planter from nearby Clarke County, was appointed postmaster. He became the first of the famed Durham doctors to practice medicine in Maxeys, in the house and apothecary shop my parents bought and restored.

Spence Durham had been trained by his father’s first cousin, Dr. Lindsey Durham of Scull Shoals, a mill village in neighboring Oconee County. Lindsey combined Creek Indian and African American plant lore and herbal studies in William Bartram’s Botanical Gardens into his traditional medical training from Philadelphia. His successful sanatorium on Rose Creek drew patients from across the Southeast.
The Durham House
Records and professional architectural assessment suggest Spence Durham built the initial part of the Durham house and apothecary in the 1840s before returning to Watkinsville in Oconee County by 1860. An avowed Unionist, Dr. Spence nevertheless served as Confederate postmaster there during the Civil War. He may have kept an irregular medical practice in Maxeys until his distant cousin, Dr. William Meigs Durham, took over.
The Durham Apothecary

Dr. William Meigs Durham, grandson of Lindsey Durham, served in Company K of the 42nd Georgia during the Civil War. During the Tennessee Campaign, he threw a bomb back into the Federal trenches, saving the lives of his companions. He was said to have been greatly altered by the war, after which he studied at Georgia Eclectic Medical College in Atlanta and graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He practiced medicine in Maxeys for eight years. In 1875, he fled from a tornado to a brick store with his wife and baby daughter. Possibly as a result of the storm damage, he enlarged and enhanced both his house and the free-standing apothecary building in the Victorian style during the 1870s.

For a time, William’s brother, John Lindsey Durham, joined him in practice at Maxeys, before becoming the leading doctor in Woodville.

Dr. William Durham sold the house to a local merchant but passed ownership of the apothecary to his cousin, Dr. Samuel Durham. Sam and his brother, Dr. William Orlando Durham (who moved to Maxeys in the 1890s), lived in the back room until William Orlando married into the merchant’s family, regaining residence at the house. “Dr. Sam,” with his five-foot-long beard, was loved as “the best of the Durham doctors.” A known bachelor, Dr. Sam raised ten children between 1886 and 1904 with his mixed-ancestry housekeeper, Sarah Fambrough Mason. He sent at least three of his children to be educated at the exclusive African American Jeruel Academy in Athens, and he managed to leave his considerable estate to the two daughters who remained with him in Maxeys.

For more info, see The People of Durham Place, 1844-1979, compiled by Nancy Bunker Bowen and https://deniseweimerbooks.webs.com/apothecary. The Durham property is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the apothecary is open to the public as "Coffee, Tea & History."
Medical displays behind compounding desk.
The lives and times of these doctors and the restoration my parents conducted of their house and apothecary shop inspired my Restoration Trilogy—modern romantic suspense where back stories from three different centuries are uncovered during a renovation. A preservation grad stumbles into a town with a complex and potentially dangerous history—as she works for a brooding bachelor who might harbor as many secrets as the town!

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s an editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here:
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  1. That little note that your parents restored the apothecary and house! I want to know more about that!!!! Great post, thank you!

  2. Thanks, Connie! Let me know if I can answer any questions. I should have posted a "before" picture. :) The buildings needed a lot of love.

  3. A wonderfully interesting post, Denise.

  4. Very interesting. My mother was Edna Anna MAxey from Maxeys GA. and father Percey Durham Preston, a descendant of the Durham Doctors. Unfortunately I got interested in genealogy late in my life. So, I appreciate very much history such as you have shared. Mary MaxeyPreston Sullivan, Pell City, AL