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Old City Cemetery’s Pest House Medical Museum

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Old City Cemetery Pest House

The Pest House at Old City Cemetery

The Old City cemetery, in Lynchburg, VA, was established in 1806.  It has been in continuous operation since it’s founding, making it one of the oldest public cemeteries in the US.  Nearly 20,000 people are buried here.  They include political, religious and cultural leaders, veterans of every major American war from the Revolution to Vietnam and over 2,200 Confederate soldiers. Three-quarters of those buried are African American (both free and enslaved) and more than one-third are infants and children under the age of four.

In addition to the graves honoring the dead are several buildings/museums, exhibits/monuments, gardens and special horticultural areas.  In 2016 The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast’s blog is going to feature a special section of the Old City Cemetery throughout the year.

January we are highlighting the Pest House Museum Medical Center.

Located directly across the street from the Cemetery Center the 1840’s white frame building was the medical office of Dr. John Jay Terrell.  It was moved here from his farm, Rock Castle Farm in Campbell County, in 1987.  He used this office to treat patients for 40 years.  Once restored it now combines his medical office with an example of a Pest House, to explain the medical science of the 1800’s.

Dr. Terrell’s Office contains his operating table, “poison chest,” “asthma chair,” and some of his instruments.  A 1860’s hypodermic needle, clinical thermometer and chloroform mask along with his surgical kit are on display.  Medical treatments often killed patients in the 1800’s, before their ailments would have.  Dr. Terrell implemented washing hands and instruments between patients and the use of sand or sawdust on the floors to cut down on the spread of germs and bacteria. Simple things we do today and expect to be done today.  These reforms enacted by Dr. Terrell reduced the Pest House mortality rate from 50 percent to 5 percent.

The Lynchburg Pest House was originally located near Fourth and Wise Streets, beside the early cemetery boundary where most of the patients would be buried.  Used to quarantine Lynchburg residents in the 1800’s who contracted contagious diseases such as smallpox or measles the standards of cleanliness and medical care were virtually non-existent.  Dr. Terrell deplored the conditions and volunteered to assume the responsibility of improving conditions for both the residents of Lynchburg and the Confederate soldiers who spent time there in quarantine.  In the Pest House you will see examples of the straw pallets placed on the floor, that has been covered with sand.  The use of sand made it easier to clean away debris and hazardous waste.  The interior walls have been painted black to save the patients eyes, as smallpox affects the eyes and light.  The garden just outside the Pest House contains various herbs and plants that Dr. Terrell would use when making salves, tinctures and remedies for his patients.

You can tour the Old City Cemetery daily between dawn until dusk.  The various buildings and museums are not generally open to the public.  You have access to them through placards, large windows and doors and recorded descriptions of the buildings and what they contain.  The Cemetery Center is open daily between 11 until 3, or by appointment.  For more information about the cemetery, tours, events, burial records or visiting the cemetery contact them at 434.847.1465 or www.gravegarden.org