June 25, 2011

Blood Work

Newspaper advertisements often contain interesting, sometimes amusing, snippets of history.

Advertisement for R. A. Blood, M.D.
 New London Advocate (September 1872)
One of New London’s early surgeons was the aptly-named Dr. Robert A. Blood (1839–1916). He attended the New London Literary and Scientific Institution (formerly Colby Academy) before the Civil War, joined New Hampshire’s 11th Volunteers, Company F, and, badly wounded at Fredericksburg, was finally discharged in May 1863. He next decided to study medicine, training at Harvard’s medical school before establishing a short-lived practice (1871–1873) in New London. [He left to assume the practice of Dr. H.C. Bickford, his uncle and a New London native, in Charlestown, MA. Beginning in 1896, Dr. Blood served for eight years as the surgeon-general of Massachusetts.]

Today, if you have blood drawn and analyzed at New London Hospital, you might thank Colby-Sawyer students and alumnae. After returning from Christmas break in early 1941, Barbara Jane Baker, a third-year med-tech student from Rye, New York, died of meningitis at the old New London hospital on Main Street (near Pressey Court). In those days, blood samples were sent from the hospital to the college’s laboratory, but Baker's illness went undiagnosed. Her twelve classmates thought, as Barbara reportedly did, that the hospital should have its own facilities.

The first lab, just a bench and microscope located in closet-sized room by the cellar stairs, was formally dedicated with hymns, prayer, and a benediction on April 16, 1941. Although money had been raised, additional equipment was unavailable until after World War II. Dr. Clough Jr. analyzed samples and typed test reports until a part-time technician could be hired in 1942. 

Barbara Jane Baker (1920-1941)
By one reckoning from 1956, the third-year students had made annual donations totaling over $10,000—helping purchase equipment like EKG and BMR machines, a centrifuge, constant-temperature oven and water bath, binocular microscope, colorimeter, and a blood bank refrigerator. As the equipment grew, so did the need for work space, and the lab was relocated to a “slightly larger room” in 1955. In the move to the new County Road hospital building in 1958, the lab was allocated two rooms.

By 1972, the cumulative donations had reached $40,000. Contributions to the Baker Memorial Laboratory Fund continued through the 1970s, with Baker’s former classmates often answering the fundraising call to support "Colby's own charity." In 1980, the balance of the memorial fund was legally transferred from the college to the hospital.

So the next time you are waiting for your name to be called at the Drawing Station, peek through the lab’s window and think of the college students and alumnae that made it possible, starting with B.J. Baker. But when those vials appear with your name on them, you might also think of Dr. Blood.


  • New London Archives — Colby-Sawyer, New London Hospital, and newspaper collections.
  • Granite Monthly, "New Hampshire Necrology", Dr. Robert A. Blood.

June 12, 2011

New London's China Trade

Special Crops (July 1924)
As our few remaining local farmers struggle with a short and increasingly erratic growing climate, here's a story about New London's agricultural trade with China. New crops have always held the promise of new markets and profitable business, and over the years mules, merino sheep, apples, pears, and even golf-course grass have been raised for export in New London.

Dried American ginseng root was first shipped to China in the 1700s, quite successfully by John Jacob Astor and Daniel Boone, and the trade continued thereafter. The plant had been favored for centuries as a cure-all medicine, with very popular aphrodisiac side effects. But by the 1880s, America had depleted its ready supply of wild ginseng. New York fur-trading houses still solicited ginseng, especially from Native Americans, who also valued the herb and knew its woodland habitat, while farmers developed cultivated varieties to supplement their incomes.

James F. Hayes (1858-1948) constructed wooden shade frames in which the grow and tend the difficult plants at his farm on Pingree Road. Each fall he harvested roots, requested bids from dealers, and mailed his product to New York, for bundling and shipment to China. Preserved within the family's archives, James Hayes's earliest receipts are dated from 1897 and extend through the late 1940s, weathering all of the fluctuations in between. He generally sold about 8 pounds of low- to medium-grade, cultivated ginseng root, and he sometimes sold the fiber as well. Over a forty-year span, he reportedly grossed $9,000—enough to keep him in the business.

The James F. Hayes farm (c. 1930) — with shaded ginseng crop in right foreground.

If James Hayes were in the business today, he might receive $10/pound, while the wild Panax Quinquefolius commands $200 or more. (In the 1924 edition of Specialty Crops, cultivated ginseng was quoted at $3 to $14, depending on quality, and wild at $16.) With only 18 clusters of wild ginseng in New Hampshire, its poaching is prohibited by state law, which imposes a $1,000 civil fine for removing specimens of the threatened species. Most other northern states also ban or restrict the digging of ginseng root.

More about this historic plant: