Dade County History: Dr. Daniel Spencer Middleton, 1871-1959

February 19, 2017

 Dr. Middleton with his second wife, Mallie Hale Middleton.

 

Recently, while waiting in a doctor’s office in Chattanooga, my brother struck up a conversation with a lady who informed him that she was 88 years old. She told him that she hated going to the doctor, and was not there to see the doctor herself, but had brought her sister for a doctor’s appointment. In their conversation about doctors, she mentioned that the best doctor she had ever had was Dr. Middleton.  This caught my brother’s attention and he asked what Dr. Middleton that was. She said he had practiced in Trenton and Rising Fawn, Ga., when she was growing up. She had moved to Rossville from Dade County many years ago but still had relatives here.

 

My brother told her a story we heard many times growing up. When our daddy was born in 1927, he was delivered at home in Rising Fawn by Dr. Daniel Spencer Middleton. After the delivery, Dr. Middleton told my grandfather, Grady Hawkins, that there would be no charge for his services if he named the new baby after him. Who could refuse such a deal?  So although he was known all his life as Brody Hawkins, my daddy’s official name was Ernest Middleton Hawkins.

 

I think that if we looked back over records and newspaper articles, we could find many men in the area named for Dr. Middleton. My mother, who grew up at Valley Head, had an uncle named Richard Spencer Middleton Gifford.  Dr. Middleton estimated that he delivered about 5,000 babies during his 55-year practice.

 

Dr. Middleton came to Dade County right after graduating from medical school in 1894 and practiced medicine here for about 55 years. He practiced in a time where house calls were a common thing. My mother remembered another story about him that her mother-in-law, Velma Hawkins, told her. The demands were often great on a country doctor and once when he was at my grandmother’s house making a call, his work was taking a toll on him. He asked my grandmother to fix a bed for him.  He said, “Velma, there’s an epidemic, and if I go home or to my office, someone will be waiting to see me, and I need to get some rest.” She fixed him a bed and he told her when to wake him up, and he got some much-needed sleep.

 

Another Dr. Middleton story comes from my mother’s family. Dr. Middleton’s first wife was Dolly Virginia Chadwick, the daughter of John J. Chadwick and Amanda Ann Cooper. She was my Granddaddy Cooper’s first cousin. The story goes that Dr. Middleton made a house call to treat the 16-year-old Dolly. When he got ready to leave, he told the family, “Take good care of that young lady.  I’m going to marry her.” By the end of the year, Dolly Chadwick became Mrs. Middleton.  

 

In looking for information on Dr. Middleton, I discovered an excellent article about him written by Mrs. Mallie Middleton’s niece, Nancy Cantrell Dender. This article was intended for a Dade County history book but somehow was not included. It is included below.

 

I’m pretty sure that that are still people here in Dade who have interesting stories about Dr. Middleton.  I invite you to share those with me to possibly be included in another article about him.  You can email me (Linda Wilson) at lanew@tvn.net or call me at (706) 462-2370.  

 

DR. DANIEL SPENCER MIDDLETON

RISING FAWN, GEORGIA

by Nancy Cantrell Dender

 

Daniel Spencer Middleton was born January 2, 1871, in Webster County, Mississippi. He graduated from Bellefontaine High School in Mississippi in 1889 and U.S. Grant University Medical Department in 1894.

 

He had typhoid fever as a child and at that time made a promise that if he got well, he would become a doctor and help others. He remained true to this vow throughout his life. It is said he delivered over 5000 babies, never charging more than $25, and in over 55 years of general practice he never sent a bill.

 

He was a Missionary Baptist, a Democrat and a Mason. He was often asked to speak at Easter Sunrise services. He served in the House of Representatives in Georgia in 1913-1914 and again 1937-1938. From 1925 to 1926, he served the 44th district as senator. In 1914, the Middleton-Ellis Health Law was passed. This was the first Georgia public health law.

 

Dr. Middleton was married on December 19, 1894, in Dade County to Dollie Virginia Chadwick from DeKalb County, Alabama. She accompanied Dr. Middleton and their daughter, Mary Lucille, to a medical meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, after recently recovering from the flu. She returned from the trip very sick and was later diagnosed as having tuberculosis. After spending many months in hopes of a cure, she returned to Rising Fawn, where she died on June 10, 1910.

 

Dr. Middleton married the girl next door, Mallie Alma Hale, on December 31, 1912. One son, Spencer Hale Middleton, was born May 25,1918, to this union.

As a young man, Dr. Middleton loved fine horses and buggies. When the automobile replaced the horse, he was always interested in the new models.

 

He loved hunting but had little time for it. Target shooting kept his aim sharp.

He loved to travel; however, his time for this was limited to medical meetings in St. Augustine, New Orleans, Washington and other Southern cities. He was a Southern Railroad physician for over 30 years.

 

I often heard it said during the 1930s and ‘40s that Dr. Middleton was the only physician in 25 miles, including both Sand and Lookout Mountains. This was roughly the distance from Chattanooga. He used the downtown Newell Hospital in Chattanooga for his patients, and the Newells remarked to my parents that he was a gifted diagnostician. He would send a patient into the hospital with an “idea” of what the ailment was without the benefit of X-rays and lab reports. After tests were run, he was most often correct. His simple office was the scene for many surgeries, even amputations in the early years.

 

In 1907, he devised a splint for a fractured lower jaw by fashioning a dipper to hold the bone in place. After delivering a paper on his splint at a medical convention, a splint of this design began to be used.  It was called the Middleton Splint and endorsed by the International Journal of Surgery.

 

Dr. Middleton came to Rising Fawn in 1894 to begin his practice. The iron foundry was in full operation and there was a thriving community with a number of general stores, churches and saloons. He built his home when his daughter, Lucille, who was born April 25, 1898, was a small child. There was a small room containing medicines and an examination table near the side porch. This was used regularly as patients would try to see him at home before he left to make house calls or open his office in Rising Fawn and Trenton.

 

He was a lover of poetry and history. Long talks on these subjects before the fire in winter or on his generous front porch in summer were usually spiced with quotations from favorite passages.

 

He was the physician for the prisoners who built the road across Lookout Mountain from Trenton to LaFayette. Every Sunday he would spend the afternoon there giving checkups and medicines to the labor force.

 

In 1927, he organized and operated the Trenton Water System. He was involved with this operation until it was sold in 1947 to the city of Trenton.

 

In his practice he did not have X-rays, laboratories or pharmacies. He would buy medicines in Chattanooga and dispense them as needed to his patients. His daybook of 1916 shows charges that range from 25 cents for medicine to $3 for office call and medicine, and $8 for “surgery” in the office.

 

Dr. Middleton had the only phone in Rising Fawn for a number of years, and there always seemed to be people either waiting to see the doctor or to use the telephone. He moved slowly and deliberately, never seeming to be in a hurry or lose his patience. And he was always ready to hear a good joke.

 

He ate lunch at Wright’s Restaurant for a number of years. They noticed that he saved his cornbread or biscuit from his meal and left with it in his hand. One day they stepped out to see what he did with it. He left it crumbled on the fencepost by his office door, and the birds were there waiting.

 

He was a happy man who enjoyed his work and the people he served. In the latter years of his practice, his wife Mallie was his office nurse. A large part of his practice was in the day of house calls. He knew his patients in a way few doctors today are able to know them. He treated the whole family and was cognizant of their living conditions, diet and personal relationships.

 

He maintained an active farm most of his life. He continued to add to his land holdings and loved his mountain property. He was interested in national and world affairs and regularly read his current issues of the Congressional Record.

 

He died on February 8, 1959, following a lengthy illness--not cancer.

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