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A LOOK BACK: Electric Medicine of the 1800s

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By Derek M. Otto

When traveling in to Springville on Buffalo Street, you will see a beautiful white home sitting on a knoll above the Springville Trout Pond. The majestic home has a very interesting past. It was the Bates Electric Sanitarium.   

In the mid to late nineteenth century, the concept of electric medicine (not to be confused with the band of the same name) was becoming the great panacea for ailments, from muscle aches and pains to fever.   Electric medicine had its earliest practice in St. Bartholomew’s hospital in London around 1830.  Many treatments included electric baths and the uses of the different electric coils to induce shock in the patient.  Today we commonly associate electric shock therapy with mental illness.  So how did it end up in Springville?

Dr. Allen A. Bates was born in Otto, NY in 1836 and studied electric medicine in Toronto before coming to Springville around 1880. In 1885, Dr. Bates built the house as a residence and electric sanitarium. For over 25 years, Dr. Bates administered electric medicine to patients from all over the area.   

I have found several instances where his practice may have not been safe. Most notable was in December 1898, when Springville resident Nathan Goddard died at the Bates Sanitarium from a “cardiovascular event.” It would be likely that the treatment could have caused the heart attack;   whether or not this incident made Dr. Bates give up the practice is not known.  According to his obituary in May 1925, “…he had not practiced medicine in many years and had grown feeble in the last few years of his life.”  It was noted that he had a great number of friends that he hosted at his beautiful home for many years.   

Since the days when Dr. Bates gave up his practice, the Bates Electric Sanitarium has been a private home.

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