Life wasn’t easy in the late 1800s and 1900s but Mint Hill’s first doctors made do with what they had.
John McCamie DeArmon in 1886 became the town’s first physician. He was later followed by Ayer Manny Duncan Whitley who took over in 1908.
Though Ayer and Whitley practiced years apart, both of them had to deal with struggles that faced many in the medical profession around the time period.
“He came to treat an epidemic of typhoid fever, Becky Griffin, executive director of the Mint Hill Historical Society, said while discussing DeArmon.
DeArmon practiced in Mint Hill for about 20 years. A lot of his work involved making house calls, which he would often travel to by horse with the help of saddlebags to hold medicines and medical instruments, Griffin said.
“He was fresh out of Baltimore Medical School is what our information tells us,” she said.
DeArmon’s granddaughter, Frances DeArmon Evans, doesn’t have a lot of memories of her grandfather but does remember visiting him as a child.
She was around 7 years old when he died, but remembers going to see him in Charlotte near Central Avenue where he had moved to after leaving Mint Hill. Her father was one of DeArmon’s 13 children, Evans said.
“I’m very proud of him (her grandfather) and he must have done a lot of healing in his day down in Mint Hill and delivered a lot of babies. I remember hearing my daddy say when he’d (her grandfather) get a call, he would go out and they would have someone there that helped him hitch up his horse and he would ride to wherever the person needed help,” Evans said.
In letters written by DeArmon to his daughter in the 1930s, he highlighted stories from his past working in Mint Hill. At the time he wrote the letters, his daughter was a patient in the Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Huntersville.
In one letter he discussed how many people he encountered didn’t know the proper care and treatment needed in certain situations. One incident he mentioned involved a young boy who had gotten typhoid fever but had continued working out in the hot sun. DeArmon tried treating him, but the boy later died. In his letter, DeArmon wrote that the boy might had survived if his parents had put him in bed sooner.
In another letter, DeArmon highlighted the work he did throughout the years in Mint Hill.
“I had a big time practicing medicine in and around old Mint Hill. We had typhoid fever in the summer, malaria in the fall, and pneumonia bronchitis and whooping cough and all other children’s diseases and influenza and ob. cases from Xmas to Xmas,” DeArmon said in the letter.
When Whitley took over from DeArmon in 1908, he was also fresh out of medical school.
According to documents from the Mint Hill Historical Society, Whitley worked as a doctor in the town for 40 years. He moved into the same office DeArmon had worked in and also bought the property where DeArmon had previously lived. Like DeArmon, he often used a horse or horse and buggy to travel to patients. At one point he tried using a motorcycle, but found it undesirable since it resulted in a lot of broken medicine bottles. He later purchased a car with fog lights. Like many doctors of the time, he would mix his own medicine. His wife, Ester Mangum Whitley often assisted him with his work with things like delivering babies, sewing up wounds, pulling teeth and more.
Mary Long, Whitley’s granddaughter, was around six years old when he passed away. Like Evans with DeArmon, Long said she also has fond memories of her grandfather.
The doctor’s office, which can now be found at the Mint Hill Historical Society, was originally on Fairview Road, according to Mint Hill Historical Society documents.
She grew up on the property right across from the office, Long said.
“To me he (Whitley) was a great man, I truly loved him,” Long said.
Her grandfather was good with kids and took care of anyone who needed to be taken care of. He and her grandmother had an influence on their children and later generations of their family since over the years, many have gone into the medical profession. Her brother, Robert Whitley currently works for Novant Health, Long said.
Her grandfather left to treat patients whenever he was called and the doctor’s office he worked at was pretty advanced compared to other buildings in the area, she said.
“One thing that always amazed me is he had ring up telephones that hung on the wall, they always had an indoor bathroom and back then people didn’t have things like that,” she said.
“I’m very proud,” Robert Whitley said when discussing the work of his grandfather.
He never met his grandfather, but all of his siblings were delivered by him at their Mint Hill home. He remembers hearing stories about his grandfather, including one about how everyone, even his own father would refer to his grandfather as Dr. Whitley, Robert Whitley said.
As his sister, Mary Long mentioned, many in their family went on to work in the medical field. In fact Novant Health, which was previously known as Presbyterian Hospital, plays a part in their family history. His mother worked for Presbyterian Hospital and he began working for it himself in 1976. He and his wife were also both working for Presbyterian Hospital when they first met, Whitley said.
Today Whitley works as a construction manager for Novant Health.
His sons also do similar hospital work, one of which has also worked with Novant Health, Whitley said.
He remembers growing up in the house across from his grandfather’s doctor’s office and today is happy to see it displayed at the Mint Hill Historical Society. It does not look exactly how he remembers but believes the way it is now may have been closer to its original appearance, Whitley said.
“I think they’ve done a good job,” he said when talking about the work of the Mint Hill Historical Society.
During the time periods when DeArmon and Whitley practiced, people would often give food or other items in exchange for services since not everyone had the money to pay. Despite being trained in medicine, there were still many things they had to experiment with and learn to treat on their own. Notes Whitley made about patients, medicines and more can be found at the Mint Hill Historical Society as well as additional information about his life, the life of DeArmon and the town’s medical history.
“We’re grateful to Mint Hill Historical Society restoring a lot of things and getting things together from the doctors’ days of practice,” Evans said.
For more information about doctors DeArmon and Whitley and Mint Hill’s history visit the Mint Hill Historical Society website at www.minthillhistory.com.