Stonestreet Museum of 19th-Century Medicine

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Editorial Review

Calling Dr. Stonestreet
By Mary Quattlebaum
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, September 6, 2002

PILLMAKING equipment, a mahogany examining table and a hanging skeleton furnish the Victorian office of Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet, a physician in Rockville back when Rockville was country.

The good doctor's reconstructed office is now the Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine, maintained by the nearby Montgomery County Historical Society. On a recent visit our group of three children and four adults got a fascinating glimpse into the treatment of disease and injuries before germs were known and X-rays were discovered.

Gavin Erskine, 8, his sister Fiona, 5, both of McLean, and my daughter, Christy, 3, enjoyed peering into exhibit cases at the amputation kits, ether mask and glass bottles for homemade medicines used during the years Stonestreet practiced, from 1852 to 1903. They were especially intrigued by a small bowl of plastic leeches (real ones were commonly used to remove "bad humors" in the blood). We adults appreciated homey touches such as the kettle on the wood-burning stove and the doctor's copy of "Don Quixote" shelved with his medical texts.

For our group, though, the museum's highlight was . . . Dr. Stonestreet himself. On the second Sunday of each month, interpretive docent Clarence Hickey dons top hat, bow tie and black frock coat. Thus attired, he takes visitors back to the time when doctors made house calls and most injuries in the farm-dominated Montgomery County (population about 16,000) related to horses. Hickey, a biologist and Rockville resident, has parlayed his passion for medical history into a presentation that compares medicine then and now.

Gavin, Fiona and Christy watched enthralled as Hickey ground herbs with a mortar and pestle and carefully formed round pills, making remedies in the absence of modern drugstores. With forceps, he extracted a bullet from a loaf of bread, explaining that Dr. Stonestreet sometimes had to perform such surgeries on soldiers at a makeshift Civil War hospital.

We got a big kick out of seeing the odd-looking glass baby bottle beside a contemporary plastic model and figuring out the function of a pap boat (to dispense gruel to bedridden patients). Hickey listened to Gavin's heart with a cup-shaped instrument, the precursor to today's sensitive stethoscope. And he mentioned that, before the advent of X-rays, Dr. Stonestreet used the hanging skeleton and portable bone kits as guides when diagnosing and setting broken bones.

Dr. Stonestreet's obituary, on view, notes his benevolent spirit -- and it continues to grace his small office.

On the wall are photos of the bewhiskered physician and his family, samples of his sprawling handwriting and his medical degree from the University of Maryland, which enabled him to practice at the tender age of 21.

Next door to the museum, young history buffs can take another leap back in time by visiting the Beall-Dawson House, also maintained by the county's historical society. The Federal-style townhouse, built around 1815, is open only by guided tour. An ornate mantel, elegant tea table, polished case clock and cushioned settees grace rooms downstairs. Kids can contrast this luxury with the slave/servant quarters on the second floor. Here the plain fireplace, bare walls, rough furniture and spinning wheels bear testimony to hard lives filled with arduous work.

"There's such rich history in our own back yards," says Karen Yaffe Lottes, the society's education director. "But it can get overlooked in [the Washington] area because of the emphasis on national history. Learning more about the history of their neighborhoods and homes personalizes history for kids. They realize that history has an impact on their lives today."

On Sunday, past and present come together for a party. Young visitors can celebrate Montgomery County's 226th anniversary with crafts, games, archaeological digs, Civil War music and reenactors. Of course, Hickey, as Dr. Stonestreet, will be there to help celebrate.

STONESTREET MUSEUM OF 19TH-CENTURY MEDICINE AND BEALL-DAWSON HOUSE -- 103 W. Montgomery Ave., Rockville. 301-340-6534 or 301-762-1492. www.montgomeryhistory.org. Open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4. Closed on major holidays. Clarence Hickey presents Dr. Stonestreet the second Sunday of every month. Beall-Dawson House can be viewed only by guided tour, with tours available whenever visitors arrive rather than by set schedule. Visitors should plan to arrive at least 45 minutes before closing to allow time to see both museums. A take-home children's activity guide is available at the house.

Upcoming programs:

Check the Web site for children's programs and special lectures throughout the year. Unless noted otherwise, events are included in price of museum admission and do not require registration.