The ledger lodgers signed for J. C. Pierce at his Pierce Hotel in Ridge Farm was a mammoth book. A foot wide and 19 inches in length, it provided ample space for signatures of people paying the $2 per night fee. The first entry in the book was made by J. C. Curtis of Tuscola on July 1, 1898.

Only half the book was dedicated to hotel guests. The opposite page of the one they signed was filled with attractive ads extolling the many businesses existing in the town established by Abraham Smith.

One of those ads was for the local company dedicated to curing drug addiction.

Morphine and opium, the two drugs listed in the ad, had certainly created an epidemic in the Unites States at that time. During the nation’s Civil War in the 1860s, millions of opium pills had been dispensed to troops as well as numerous powders and tinctures containing the drug. In the years following the war, drug use continued to grow.

Doctors administered opiates as a pain reliever in he 19th century because there was no viable alternative. People also continued to demand the drug for personal reasons.

There was no federal law regulating drugs By the 1890s, it was estimated women made up more than 60 percent of those suffering from opium addiction. The popular Sears Roebuck catalogue contained an ad during that period offering a small amount of cocaine and a syringe for a $1.50. The drug would be delivered right to your door in Vermilion County. Though there were no federal laws regulating drugs, there was a recent federal tax on opium.

Doctors were well aware of the health crisis the country faced because of opium products in the 1890s. Among them were the two physicians operating the Ridge Farm Opium Cure Company. Both men were respected and well-established members of the community. Ridge Farm had a population of about 900 as the 19th century ticked away.

Doctor Patrick H. Swaim was educated at Rush College in Chicago and the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Indianapolis. In he was credited with successfully treating 40 cases of typhoid fever in Ridge Farm.

Doctor Douglas C. Hinshaw attended medical school in Indianapolis and began practicing in Ridge Farm in 1882. By the 1890s it was noted, “He is equally good in both general practice and surgery.”

The doctor was credited with having “a large and lucrative practice, and the fact that he is uniformly popular, speaks well for him as the humane physician as well as the honored citizen.”

The ad in the Pierce ledger declared a morphine and opium habit would positively be cured in two to four days. At the current time, the National Institute of Health estimates it takes 90 days to cure addiction. But there was no NIH when those two doctors were trying to assist addicts in the 1890s. There was also no standard treatment for drug addiction and little information for the two physicians to base their treatment on.

In their ad they noted patients would not be required to pay “Until Cured.” That promise may have resulted in many free treatments.

Dr. Hinshaw and Dr. Swaim were on the front line in the 1890s of a war against the misuse of opium and the products derived from it that is still being fought today. Their treatment of patients in the small village of Ridge Farm may have been too brief, but they were trying to aid the stricken. For that they should be given credit.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.

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