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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Life Of Dr. Washington Lafayette Schenck

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 19 September 2004
Source:
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

This week we shall travel to the picturesque city by the river, Franklin, and discuss one of its early inhabitants. Many of the readers are familiar with the founding of the city by Gen. William C. Schenck. The Schenck family was a large family who primarily inhabited the small town in the early part of the nineteenth century.
Our focus for the present will be on Dr. Washington LaFayette Schenck, who was the youngest son of Garrett Alexander and Mary Plume Schenck.
Dr. Schenck was born Feb. 14, 1825, in a house on the corner of Main and 2nd Streets. He continued to live within the block for as long as he lived in Franklin.
His schooling began under the watchful eye of his aunt Catherine, who kept a private school for children across the street from his home. Afterward he attended the common schools and was taught by any teacher who could "wield a rod" and have enough pupils to pay for his time.
His next schooling took place under Dr. Thomas E. Thomas, the great Presbyterian anti-slavery advocate. He then attended school at Cary's Academy near Cincinnati, then to a select school in Franklin conducted by S.S. Abbott, and eventually on to Miami University.
After this stint he returned home and began the study of medicine under the tutelage of Dr. David Baird. Spending many years teaching and studying medicine, he ultimately graduated from Dartmouth Medical College in the fall of 1848.
He was married to Julia Bliss at Calais, Vt., January 17, 1849, and at once began his practice of medicine in Franklin.
The Civil War ended his private practice for a short period when he was commissioned surgeon of 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in October 1861, serving on the staff of Maj. Gen. Schuyler Hamilton.
Afterward he was appointed surgeon of the Board of Enrollment on the 3rd Ohio Congressional District, where he served until the end of the war. His next assignment was deputy U.S. Tax Collector in which he was headquartered at Camden, Ark.
Longing for home, he returned to Franklin and reestablished his practice. He quickly gained a keen sense of interest in the small community. He was elected mayor of the village, and he served for years on the Franklin school board, and was also a high official in the local Masonic Lodge.
Shortly after the death of his first wife, who was a teacher in Franklin and revered to the highest in her teaching abilities, he and his family packed up and went west. They resided for a short duration in Burlington, Iowa, Burlingame, Kansas, and finally settled at Osage City, Kansas. He again married to Elizabeth Dodds of that place and lived there until 1890, and thence on to Topeka.
Dr. Schenck was not long in establishing himself in his new home. He set up his practice of medicine, and with his association with numerous medical organizations, his ability as a speaker, and his writing skills, Dr. Schenck established acquaintances throughout the State.
He was connected with the Kansas City Board of Health, the University of Kansas, and, lastly, the Kansas Medical College of Topeka as professor and trustee. (Twice he declined to accept the nomination for State Senator, once in Ohio and once in Kansas.)
Dr. Washington LaFayette Schenck died January 4, 1910, in Topeka, Kansas. At the time of his death, he was the oldest Pastmaster in the State of Kansas. The Knights Templars of Topeka had charge of the funeral services that were held in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Shortly before his death he defined his religious belief as that of any who "love God supremely because of the supreme good, who love their neighbors as themselves, and who try to visit the widow and the orphan and keep themselves unspotted from the world."

A Trip on the Miami Canal

The canals in the early nineteenth century were the most modern type of transportation. The total silence and the outdoors atmosphere were one of peace. Dr. Washington Lafayette Schenck, of Franklin, who was to accompany his sister, Mrs. Ellen Wheeler, from Franklin to Cincinnati, the year being 1834, described such an experience. A choice was to be made whether to take the stagecoach or the canal; a decision was made to travel by canal boat down the Miami Canal. He speaks of his voyage in a very descriptive way. He says:
"We chose the packet and I think I saw more on that little trip than a grown-up would see from his car window today in going from Franklin to New York. We were continually meeting and passing boats with their gig and tandem teams, what could not if they would, make more than two or three miles an hour, with a barefooted boy in ragged pants, held up by a single suspender encouraging his team with the language of the canal; like Shakespeare's school boy, 'creeping like a snail unwilling to school,' though wholly innocent of schools with their adventures of fun and frolic and study.
"The boats we meet, recognizing the dignity of 'the packet,' doff their tow lines to let us pass, and on some of them we notice a woman, perhaps the Captain's wife, mustered as a cook, and there was sometimes a bird cage of flowers in the window, proving the aesthetic nature in the human heart.
"Not infrequently we noticed disciples of Isaak Walton marching the bank as leisurely as the boy behind the team, if practical fishermen, carrying their poles as the good old quaker, grandfather Coles, taught me when a small boy to carry mine, butt end forward, or sitting like statutes along the berm path, holding their poles over the water, if adepts of the art parallel with it, or the tip a little down, and ever and anon a Kingfisher flashed a streak as blue as the sky above us, across our bow or sat on some dead limb, statuesque as his brother with the pole.
"While there were no mountain or canyons in view, at the locks we always found a little water-fall, and often saw stretches of the beautiful Miami. On either side were waving fields of golden grain, alternating with the deep green fields of Indian corn, separated by zig-zag worm fences, and in them the skeletons of girdled monarchs of the forest, on whose decaying limbs woodpeckers and yellow hammers were gathering worms, or boring holes for a resting place.
"On every farm was a primitive cabin, sometimes clean and vine clad, with its pig pens well away from the house, sometimes standing in the midst of the pens, with hogs rooting in the door-yard advertising the taste and culture of the occupants.
"Flocks of ducks and geese floated gracefully in the water near the shore or ungracefully waddled up the bank out of our way, while the pastures were dotted with herds of contented cattle.
"The meals on those old packets were good enough, but they were not the menu of the old time Ohio and Mississippi steamers, whose spread would tempt the most querulous palate, and yet even on these you could find growlers, whom you always knew were getting better than they ever had at home.
"Those old-time river steamers were models of luxurious inland travel, but they were not so safe as our packet that had no boiler to burst, no room to turn over, and there were no snags.
"Unfortunately we elected to make our return on the night boat, when we found swarms of mosquitoes, whose buzzing wings warned us of their intentions, but we were happily ignorant of the modern idea that a malign providence had placed behind their proboscis sacks of toxins, where from to inoculate us with chills and all sorts of fever, and I remember sitting up all night to hold a tallow dip that my sister might keep the bugs from devouring her baby. But enough, dinner is ready and the table be graced."


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This page created 19 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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