no avatar

JUST LIKE OLD TIMES - Local dentist tried after removing 11 of woman's teeth

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:46 PM

I like to think that I have read or have heard of just about ever interesting vignette of local history, but every so often I find that I'm not nearly so smart as I thought I was. An example of this is a 1907 lawsuit in Huron County Common Pleas Court for malpractice against Norwalk dentist William H. Merritt.

Merritt was born in North Fairfield in 1864 and began practice in Norwalk with Dr. L. H. McDonald. In 1897, they ended their seven-year partnership, with McDonald staying in their old office on East Main Street and Merritt moving to 10 Benedict Ave. This address was then a small wooden building behind the Glass Block, and it had been the office of Merritt's father-in-law, James Ford, a long-time physician.

In the course of time in September of 1904, Merritt extracted 11 teeth from Virginia Meredith, the minor daughter of a Cleveland physician. The Merediths claimed that Merritt's actions damaged Virginia's health to the extent of $5,000 in damages, and they sued.

The case came to trial in October of 1907 and lasted five days. A number of local dentists and physicians were called as witnesses, along with dentists and physicians from Cleveland. After deliberating for only two hours the jury found in favor of Merritt and the case was concluded.

I had known an anecdotal story for years about a Norwalk incident, but until I researched the Merritt case I didn't know the origin of the anecdote. The story was that two Cleveland physicians, Dr. B. E. Barnes and Dr. Hamilton F. Biggar, Jr., had been subpoenaed as witnesses for a court case in Norwalk. They were told early in the day that they wouldn't be needed as witnesses until afternoon so they decided to take a walk.

Their stroll led them out Norwood Avenue, where they walked through fields and woods, enjoying the fresh air of the country. As noon approached they decided to locate a farm house and obtain a noon meal. Soon they spotted a large farm house and knocked at the door.

The family invited them in to eat, and the doctors were surprised to find a large, elegantly-furnished dining room not typical of a farm home. They were soon introduced to the "lord of the manor" and his wife, John and Frances Mary Joslin Gardiner, who lived so many years at 133 West Main St.

The whole incident became a joke as the doctors and the Gardiners realized what had happened. The doctors thought they were miles from Norwalk and "civilization." Instead, they had walked out Norwood Avenue and had circled around in the vicinity of the Fairgrounds and had ended up in the back yard of the Gardiner Place. Even though this fine home was considered a "city house," it was also a working farm with horses, cows, pigs and fowl around the backyard.

This story made the rounds of mutual friends of all concerned both in Norwalk and Cleveland, and was considered to be a great joke on Barnes and Biggar. I had never known the time period of this story or with what case it was connected. We can easily see, though, how embarrassed the doctors must have been when their mistake was discovered.

Recommended for You