Unquestionably, one of the most remarkable and colorful personalities
in the history of Fulton County, Ohio was that of Dr. Samuel Bell
Finney of Delta, Ohio, who, after a practice which spanned a period of
over sixty years, died at the age of 92 and was not only one of the
oldest practicing physicians in the county but was nationally and
Samuel Finney was born on his father's farm near Millersburg, Holmes
Co., Ohio on August 22, 1833. As a boy and youth, he attended the
common schools of his district. Very early in life, he exhibited a
marked and natural bent toward the study of plant life which the
pioneer must often depend upon the simple remedies at hand to heal his
ills and much lore was handed down from generation to generation.
This preoccupation with plant life was interrupted by the Civil War of
'61 to '65. Though married and a father, he volunteered in 1864 as a
private and served creditably with Company K of the 166th Regiment,
Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Having married when he was about 24 years of age, he decided to seek a
new home and at war's end, in April 1865, he brought his young wife,
Rachel Lee Finney, and family to Fulton County, Ohio where they
settled in Chesterfield Township. They traveled by wagon over the
indifferent roads of the time, sometimes more trails, sometimes no
roads at all. Arriving in the vicinity of Wauseon, enroute, they were
so lacking in this world's goods that a kindly Wauseon miller staked
them to a sack of flour.
Building a log cabin, the young Finneys began farming. Here in these
"Oak Opening" as this section was then known, was a wealth of plants,
herbs, roots and barks and young Finney again took to the study of
plant life, concentrating on the curative values of botanical
specimens, experimenting, and combining those which seemed to give the
best results and do the greatest good. He began ministering to those
who were sick and afflicted. Being able to help them gave him a deep
best life was hard. Only 30 years had elapsed since the first settler
had arrived and found this section largely a forest wilderness
populated by friendly Indians. The hardy pioneers in this wild land
had had the formidable task ahead of them, not merely of existing, but
of establishing roads, schools and churches as well. The Finneys heir
to the works wrought by the generation who had preceded them, set to
in grim earnest to carry on. Parents of five children, three of whom
died in infancy, they struggles to support their family and gain a
toehold. In time, hard labor began to bring rewards. They acquired
land in Pike Township and in 1884, moved to their own farm. They
first lived in a little log house one half mile west and one mile
north of Winameg, a small hamlet about three miles north of Ottokee,
the county seat and about ten miles from Wauseon. There he opened an
office in his home, carrying on what was to be his life's work of
healing, the work he really wanted to do.
first, almost unnoticed by his neighbors, people from everywhere began
to drive in daily, asking for Dr. Finney's place. His name and news
of his cures spread by word of mouth, first in Ohio and neighboring
states and then farther a field in ever widening circles. It seemed
nothing short of astounding that a name could draw so many to this
out-of-the-way country crossroads.
Someone has said, in a measure facetiously, that for a lock of hair,
one's age and one dollar, Dr. Finney would tell your past, forecast
the future and diagnose your ails. Grateful patients have been known
to proffer gifts in any era and an occasional gift of a lock of hair
may have indeed been given him. The crux of the matter is that he had
grateful patients, first by the dozen, then hundreds, then thousands,
to the everlasting amazement of the good people of his neighborhood
who, in this year of 1962, are still talking about him.
Besieged by letter and in person, he had to have more room and more
help. Depending in part on neighbors who might use a little pocket
money for gathering fresh herbs, roots and barks was out the
question. In 1886 he built a fine home one half mile west of the
Winameg cross roads on the north side of the road, also an office
building with 6 bedrooms on the second floor and a tavern to serve
those who came for a distance and could not return the same day. Hack
lines had to be established to meet trains, running to this country
hamlet, center of the fantastic interest, from Delta and Wauseon and
sometimes Swanton. But many of his patients came to his office in
their own buggies of surreys and travel over the roads of the time was
not like it is today. Meals were served at the tavern and feed for
the horses was available. All was done that could be done for his
hired a staff of workers to gather, clean and process the herbs, roots
and barks he needed and to operate the inn. He also acquired a
secretary to handle his correspondence. It was one of the quirks of
his nature that each of his workers was paid in full at the end of
each day. All were kept more than busy at their appointed tasks. The
Delta Atlas for February 19-26, 1887 reported that Dr. S. B. Finney in
January received 2415 letters, posted 2224 letters, shipped out 800
boxes containing 1154 bottles of medicine and in addition dispensed
2707 bottles of medicine to his office patients.
early letterhead stressed the "Dr. S. B. Finney, the great botanist of
this age, uses no calomel, mercury, chloroform or other poisonous
drugs", that "an estimated 780,000 patients from all parts of the
U.S., Canada and Europe have been successfully treated by
correspondence" and that "thousands of testimonials are on file.
Chronic diseases are a specialty. When ordering, give name and age of
patient, P.O. and Express office addresses. All consultations are
free. Communications are answered daily. Do not forget to enclose
stamps for postage."
assistant secretary became necessary and the Doctor engaged a young
Englishman, John Blondel, my father, on whose file of notes, clippings
and photographs this sketch is based. This association continued
until the Doctor's death.
The liquid medicines were dispensed in round quart glass bottles with
corks and were shipped daily, cradled in straw in stout wooden boxes.
Powdered medicine, according to prescription, were packaged and
shipped along with bottled medicine. Roots, herbs and barks from
other lands were bought from wholesale pharmaceutical firms and
certain remedies were made up by outside pharmacists according to the
Doctor's prescription. Originally, a month's supply cost $1.00 but
later rose in price to $2.25 to $3.00. The liquid medicine was not
unpleasant. The powdered medicine was very bitter and sometimes
ordered in capsules. If the doctor sensed that a patient could not
afford the price of a month's treatment, that patient would find his
dollar bill wrapped around the bottle when he arrived at his home.
Old soldiers, too, for whom the Doctor had a soft spot in his heart,
found their money thus returned to them.
With the ever rising tide of correspondence, the hard-pressed
secretaries were obliged to limit each letter to 8 lines. About one
letter in every ten was from French Canada and was answered in French
which was John Blondel's native tongue. Though an Englishman, he had
been born in Guernsey, an island off the coast of France where the
population still spoke French almost exclusively. Both secretaries
used the then popular Spencerian script, writing an easy flowing
hand. "Why were typewriters not used?" one is inclined to ask. The
Doctor's clientele responded to the personal touch of a hand-written
When answered, the letters in their envelopes were tied in packets and
stacked in racks built up the walls of the office. At one time,
someone estimated that there were 6 cords of letters on display. I,
myself, recall seeing many square feet of wall space so covered. This
eccentricity in addition to the Doctor's office manner in receiving
patients and his style of conversation once termed "weird patter",
left an undeniable and unforgettable impression. In this connection,
a stamp collector would immediately think of the stamps affixed to the
letters. There is a sequel to this. Long after Dr. Finney's death, I
say a "cover" for which a neighbor had just paid $10.00, bearing Dr.
Finney's address and a rare 3-cent green stamp. I turned it over and
on the back was the writer's name, as I suspected, surrounded by the
queer little squiggles of hieroglyphic-like markings which I had often
seen the Doctor make over or under a patient's name. A personal
shorthand, with meaning only for him? Who knows? In my father's old
autograph album of 75 years ago, is what must be a rare autograph of
Dr. Finney, complete with squiggle.
When money came along in this fever and ague-ridden land, it was to
Dr. Finney of relatively little importance, a by-product of the work
of healing which was important. He never prescribed medicine in whose
healing powers he did not implicitly believe. He was a dedicated
doctor. But the golden flow, while it abated somewhat in later years,
never ceased up to the time of his death. My father recalled that at
one time, the Doctor bought 40 acres of woods for $1600 and paid for
it in just 16 days. Cash from his patients was a bit of a nuisance.
To facilitate handling, he had a pocket for each of various
denominations of bills and other pockets for small change. Patients
coming to see him took numbered cards in which they were to be
received by him. He often worked from four in the morning until ten
o'clock at night. At one time, he brought well over a hundred
children through a serious epidemic of some children's disease that
usually took a heavy toll.
Dr. Finney was a tall, spare, comely man with dark hair and wore a
moustache and full beard which, though graying as the years rolled by,
he continued to wear all his life. He had high cheek bones and
straight nose. He carried himself erectly and with a certain native
dignity and professional air which, though pleasant, never invited
intimacy. He often wore Civil War blue with a gold fob chain and
lodge insignia draped across his vest as was the custom. (He was a
member of the Knights of Pythias and the Grand Army of the Republic.)
He wore no tie which may have been a masculine fashion of his day as
many of those with him in group photographs wore none either. The
accompanying photograph of the Doctor as a young man was taken by B.
R. Richardson of Lyons, Ohio. The group photograph was taken in the
spring of 1887 by Richardson and Mudge of Lyons. It shows an early
morning group of patients. At the left rear is the Doctor's residence
(still standing ), his office building, center, and the tavern
at the right. In the picture, Dr. Finney is the tall man to the right
of the man with hat in hand. The road is a typical road of the day.
In 1889, The Delta Atlas announced that Dr. Finney had closed a
contract for the fine brick residence on Wood Street in Delta owned by
Ward Barber, late of the firm of Barber and Fowler, and that he would
commence arranging his correspondence so as to move after harvest.
Some fine improvements on his new home were to be expected. The move
was made in November. On the first day, the Doctor treated 375
patients and his cash receipts totaled $103.75 which was a young
fortune in 1889.
About 1896, the Ohio Legislature enacted a law requiring every
practicing physician in the state of Ohio to have a license from the
State Medical Board in order to be able to practice medicine within
the boundaries of the state. Those who had graduated from an
accredited medical college could obtain the license by making
application to the State Board and sending in their college diploma.
Those who had no college degree but who could prove that they had been
practicing medicine for at least ten years could, by consent of the
State Medical Board, obtain a license and continue practice.
Sponsored by Drs. Worden, Oliver Fletcher and John Wilkins of Delta,
Dr. Finney made application. The secretary of the State Board,
accompanied by Dr. Worden called at the Finney home saying he had been
sent to make a personal examination and investigation of the Doctor's
practice. Dr. Finney took them by lamplight to his office and told
min to look things over especially several large books containing
thousands of names of patients. He offered to answer any question but
to him. Finally, the secretary said, "Dr. Finney, I have been sent to
investigate many places of business all over the state, but this, your
practice, beats anything that I have ever seen and when you go to bed
tonight, lose no sleep about getting your state license."
time went on the years took their toll, but the Doctor carried on in
spite of failing strength. On October 28, 1921 something happened to
him which should happen to no man, least of all one 88 years old.
While alone but busy in his office, he was held up by four young
bandits who knocked him down, gagged him so that he could scarcely
breathe and bound his hands and feet with new leather straps. Then
they robbed him of thousands of dollars in large denomination bills
which he carried in king size billfolds, one in each hip pocket. The
Doctor was rescued only just in time. The bandits were later
apprehended and received prison terms but the money was not recovered.
Having served his era well, in the time and place allotted to him and
in his own manner, Dr. Finney died April 1, 1925. He outlived his
wife by several years but was survived by a son, E. Grant Finney, a
daughter, Mrs. Thomas Kirkman, and ten grandchildren. He was a member
of the Delta Church of Christ.
Immediate cause of death was cancer of the throat. He was up and
around literally until his dying day.
Doctors of Pike Township, History of Fulton County published in 1905
by the Northwestern Historical Association at Madison, Wisconsin and
edited by Thomas Mikesell, are listed Dr. William Holland, Robert A.
Moore, Dr. James S. Richards, the "Indian Doctor", and lastly Samuel
B. Finney, "whose practice has been world-wide in late years, and who
from poverty and obscurity has risen to wealth and fame, a mystery to
all who visit him, and a severe thorn to the medical fraternity
surrounding him. He is now located and in practice in Delta."
History of Henry and Fulton Counties published in 1888 by D. Mason and
Co. of New York and edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich, several paragraphs
are devoted to the life of S. B. Finney, M.D. Quoting in part -- "It
may seem a somewhat remarkable assertion to say that any physician
possesses the power of analyzing disease by intuition, yet such cases
are not wholly unknown, although they may be infrequent. However this
may be, it is a well known fact that Dr. Finney possesses a rare gift
of diagnosing and successfully treating physical diseases whether or
not he has had an opportunity for a personal interview with the
subject for treatment; and the throngs that constantly visit his
laboratory and the still greater amount of communication by letter
that calls for his professional skill attest the wonderful success of
his methods of treatment. It is not alone the rich people of this
world that receive substantial cures at his hands, but the poor as
well, for it is a fact that Dr. Finney dispenses and distributes among
all classes many thousands of dollars worth of his medicines each
year. At home and abroad are his wonderful healing remedies sent,
carrying joy and comfort into tens of thousands of homes and bringing
to this kind benefactor the gratitude of as many hearts." After
recounting his life, he goes on to say "It is now more than 20 years
since this soldier-physician became a resident of Fulton County and
during that time has achieved unbounded success and who is there to
say that he has not deserved success?" Who, indeed?