Much More than a Country Doctor: Horace Franklin Eames

Doc Eames is still a familiar name in some parts of Door County, even though he died nearly 85 years ago. But Horace Franklin Eames was not always a doctor. Born on May 30, 1859, in Masham, Québec, he moved at age 17 with his parents, William and Asenath, to a farm in Clay Banks, Wisconsin, and later to Sevastopol. 

By the fall of 1881, Eames had graduated from Oshkosh Normal School and was teaching in Egg Harbor. He closed school for the winter in February 1882 (not unusual in those days) and enrolled in a normal school in Valparaiso, Indiana. Most normal schools existed only to train teachers, but this one also offered medical training. Eames taught in Clay Banks and Egg Harbor for three more years, leaving early each spring to return to Valparaiso, but in the fall of 1886, he enrolled in a medical college in Iowa.

Seven months later, he was awarded a diploma to pursue the healing arts and set up practice in Waucedah, Michigan. On April 7, 1887, Eames married Emma Baker of Egg Harbor in Stephenson, Michigan, but by September 1888, she had returned to Egg Harbor to stay with her mother while Eames went to Illinois University in Chicago to resume his medical studies. By March 1889, he was an M.D. The first of their eight children was born that month in Egg Harbor.

From 1890 to early 1893, Eames practiced in Rapid River, Michigan, but by May 1893, he had purchased Levi Baraboo’s house in Egg Harbor, as well as a fine horse and buggy. Franklin Eames, as he was known by that time, had settled into the role of country doctor: one he would hold for 48 years.

There were no privacy regulations in those days, so the newspapers faithfully reported the condition of those who were ill or injured and the doctor’s prognosis for their recovery. Eames did little advertising, but he helped to keep his name before the public by dropping by the newspaper offices (The Weekly Expositor Independent, The Independent, The Republican, The Democrat, The DC News and The Advocate) when he was in Sturgeon Bay.

Although Doc Eames always had his office in his home, he treated most of his patients in theirs. He dealt with many illnesses such as diphtheria and pneumonia that were potentially more fatal then than they are today, along with farm and mill accidents, horse and auto catastrophes, scaldings, near-drownings, poisonings, stabbings and gunshot wounds.

Doc Eames (second from left) with his family in his orchard overlooking Egg Harbor. Photo courtesy of the Egg Harbor Historical Society.

In March 1894, he vaccinated all the schoolchildren in Egg Harbor, and three months later opened his first business venture: a drug store to “provide for the ailing.” It was soon being referred to as Eames’ Store, and Sherwin-Williams paint was advertised for sale.

Within the next few years, Eames was appointed to head Egg Harbor’s board of health, was in charge of the town’s 1900 census, became a leader in the Republican Party and took charge of the new circulating library, which was located in his home. He also owned an extensive collection of medical books dating to 1764 that contained accounts of the first attempts to “use the knife” to cure the ill.

In 1902, Doc Eames purchased a 120-acre farm from Gus Peterson and bayside property from Fred Hanson, on which he built a pier and warehouse. In April 1903, the first fruit trees were planted in what was to become the huge Eames Orchard. 

In the fall of 1903, The Advocate reported that a large barn was being built on the Eames farm – once part of the L.D. Thorp estate – and the warehouse on his pier was being enlarged to handle increased business.

The DC Democrat reported on the founding of the Door County Medical Society in June 1904, as well as the election of Eames to the board and later as its president. By the following spring, he was a director and one of 20 subscribers to the telephone company that was providing service north of Sturgeon Bay. 

In 1911, Eames traveled to Dansville, New York, to purchase 2,500 cherry trees to be planted on 40 acres – trees that were in addition to his already extensive apple orchard. By the following year, he had expanded his orchards and was also raising 70 acres of alfalfa. Along with selling fruit trees, he offered raspberry, blackberry and currant bushes and asparagus roots.

The Eames’ house and drug store next door were sold in June 1912 to John Bertschinger, and the store’s fixtures and merchandise were moved into the Eames building across the street to begin a new drug store. In November 1912, the members of the Eames family celebrated their first Thanksgiving in their new home on the farm they had named LaVista. 

In 1914, Eames was elected president of both the County Board of Education and the newly formed Egg Harbor Advancement Association.

The Eames farms had operated for years with teams of horses, but the doctor was one of seven forward-thinking, large-scale farmers who purchased Mogul tractors from the Sawyer Implement Company in 1917. In June of that year, Frank and Emma’s daughter Bernice, age 19, died at People’s Hospital following surgery for appendicitis. Their son Frederick had died in infancy.

As World War I approached, Eames was part of the local Defense Council. By this time, talk of a railway north of Sturgeon Bay had ended, but he was pushing for a concrete road from Sturgeon Bay to Egg Harbor. 

In September of 1918, Eames gave an address at the dedication of Gibraltar High School: Northern Door’s first high school.

In 1920, more than 1,000 bushels of plums were shipped from Eames’ orchard. 

Eames sold some of his dock property in January 1925 for a three-story canning plant built by the Door County Fruit Growers Union and the Fruit Growers’ Canning Company. 

The winter of 1926-27 was the first of many that the doctor and Emma spent in the South, where letters home focused on agriculture and spoke of the pleasure of shaking hands with John D. Rockefeller. 

After a good rest, Eames returned “ready for action” with his medical practice, as well as supervising his 500-acre farm with purebred Holstein dairy cows, hundreds of hogs, and orchards full of cherries, apples and plums.

The Doc Eames farm on the hill overlooking the Village of Egg Harbor is now home to the Eames Farms condominiums. Photo courtesy of the Egg Harbor Historical Society.

By 1929, the Eames orchards totaled more than 200 acres, and Doc Eames advertised that he’d pay $1 for every worm found in his fruit. Asked whether he was joking, he said, “No, sir, I never joke about financial matters.” 

His health was described as very poor at that time, and three of his children were helping with the orchards, which had expanded to include other acreage nearby. Eames suffered a skull fracture in April 1932 when his car skidded in loose gravel on the Juddville Hill and hit a telephone pole. He was hospitalized in Green Bay after failing to improve.

By that November, he was one of the trustees representing depositors when the Great Depression caused the Bank of Sturgeon Bay to close briefly and was on the board of the Fruit Growers Union Co-op when it faced possible bankruptcy.

The celebration of the Eames’ 50th wedding anniversary on April 7, 1937, was postponed because of Emma’s illness, but the public was invited to a huge reception at their home May 30 – also the doctor’s 78th birthday.

He lived just two months longer, dying on July 30, 1937, after a two-day illness with heart trouble. His obituary in The DC News described him as “not only a country doctor, but a truly great man. As a community builder, he stood for every progressive idea. His entire life was one of service to humanity and the community in which he lived.”

Emma Baker Eames died at home on Dec. 17, 1938, after a long illness, and son Spencer moved into LaVista for a time. In 1993, Richard and Gloria Hansen moved the house to their Cupola House property and renovated it as their home.

Today, the Eames Farm Condominiums on County E cover many of the acres where Horace Franklin Eames, M.D., once raised a large family, fine dairy cows and hogs, and “worm-free” apples, cherries and plums.

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