Marion County

Biography - Samuel Mercer

Omaha Surgeon of 1800's Was Marion County Native.

Documents discovered among old papers of Mrs. A.C. DUNLAP of Kinmundy tell of the life of a Marion County native, Dr. Samuel David MERCER. MERCER was a cousin of the late Harve MERCER, father of Mrs. Opal MERCER FYKE of Kell. Mrs. FYKE now has the biographical document on the life of Dr. MERCER which was written in the late 1800's. The story of his life and pictures of his former home were featured on a recent channel two TV program, "American Idea."

Samuel David MERCER was born in Marion County on June 13, 1842. His father, Wiley Green MERCER, was born in Mulenburg County, Kentucky, and married Miss Cynthia HUFF, in Marion County, Illinois, who was the daughter of Samuel HUFF, formerly of Tennessee. His grandfather's name was David MERCER, whose wife was Elizabeth CEARCY, of Madison County, Kentucky. His great-grandfather was Shadrack MERCER, who married Rhoda PRICE, of North Carolina; and his great-great-grandfather was Thomas MERCER, of Pitt County, North Carolina. The last mentioned emigrated from Virginia, and was the son of Edward MERCER, who was the son of Gideon MERCER, of New York and New Jersey. The family was English, but originally of Scotch extraction.

Samuel was born on a farm; there were no railroads and his home was 60 miles from the Mississippi, which was the chief artery of commerce. The home was not only a farm, but a veritable manufacturing institution as well, producing not only food for the family, but manufacturing the same by canning, drying and preserving vegetables and meats, and manufacturing the clothing of the entire family almost exclusively from the products of the farm. Wool was shorn from sheep and was washed, carded, spun, woven and manufactured into clothing on the farm, supplied with buttons of home manufacture, and colored with roots and herbs of the vicinity. Hides were tanned end manufactured into shoes, harness, etc. for domestic use; and the farm implements were often forged in the blacksmith shop, framed and made ready for use, without the expense of a dollar except labor and the purchase of the iron. This was the custom of the entire country until railroad came and made an innovation on the established practices of the farmer.

Samuel's early education was commenced by private tutors, employed on a salary by his father with other farmers and schools were kept in out tenement houses. Afterwards, when free schools came into vogue, he attended them until the age of 16 when he went, for a short time, to a select school in the village of Walnut Hill and subsequently to McKendree College at Lebanon.

The boy's life, when on the farm, was working with men, as all boys had to do in those days and under such circumstances. He lived with his parents in a log house until he was old enough to aid in hewing and framing the timbers for additional houseroom.

Samuel's first business venture was that of trapping quail, mink and other fur animals, and gathering the crude drugs of the country for sale, from which he obtained all his spending money. He accumulated enough to buy a one-third interest in a threshing machine which, with two uncles as partners, he operated one autumn. He also planted out a large crop of fall wheat, and then taught country school during the following winter months. The next spring, in company with Frank M. MEEKER, he put in 10 acres of tobacco, which yielded several thousand dollars owing to high war prices. During the following autumn the young man again began threshing but was severely wounded in the left hand while feeding the machine. He immediately stepped from the platform, went to the village of Salem and under the direction of Dr. William HILL, went thence to the University of Michigan to study medicine. After two years, during which he graduated from the chemical laboratory of that institution, he made an application to the board of examiners at Chicago for recommendation as assistant surgeon in the Army, which was successful, and he was assigned to the 149th Regiment Illinois Volunteers.

After the war, Dr. MERCER returned to the north and took a third course of lectures in the Chicago Medical College, and went thence to Berkshire Medical College in Massachusetts, where he finished his medical course and received a diploma in October, 1866. On graduation he was awarded the first premium - a case of surgical instruments - for the best thesis: subject - "Healthy Nutrition." After this Dr. MERCER went directly to Omaha and remained there, never having been absent more than five weeks at any one time, continuing the practice of medicine up to 1886, during which time his labors were arduous and his practice extensive, especially in surgery.

In the winter of 1867-68 he established the first hospital in Omaha, located at the corner of what is now Cass and Twenty-Sixth Streets. It was afterwards turned into a smallpox hospital, purchased by the city and subsequently burned. Later on he started a private surgical hospital known as the Omaha Medical and Surgical Institute, which he managed successfully for many years. He finally abandoned it on account of arduous duties and practice, and accepted the position of chief surgeon of the Union Pacific Railroad, establishing the system which is still in vogue, and founded the Ogden and Denver hospitals in connection with that road. He was also surgeon to the Omaha Grant Smelting and Refining Works, assistant surgeon of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad for many years, and for ten years United States pension examiner at Omaha. During this period he was the prime mover in establishing the Omaha medical college, in which he filled the clinical chair of surgery for four years and delivered an address to the first graduating class, subsequently, the doctor occupied the chair for two years of surgery.

Dr. MERCER was seven years secretary of the State Medical society which was brought into existence by his own motion in 1867, and was always an active member of the same, and was president one term. During the last year of his practice he was vice-president of the American Medical Association and presided part of the time at the national meeting at New Orleans, owing to ill health and accumulation of many outside business affairs, Dr. MERCER retired from the practice of medicine in the autumn of 1886, just 20 years after commencing in Omaha.

During the next season he embarked in the enterprise of building cable and electric railroads but soon finding that the cable was not profitable and not adapted to cities of this size, sold his interest and put his energies into the electric plant.

After three years hard struggle in fighting financial odds and opposition from companies and opposing interests, he succeeded in developing the first electric railroad plant in the city, which was soon after united with that of other companies and became the principal part of the Omaha Street Railway Company, of which he was an active member and one of the directors.

During the last few years of his practice and after retiring, Dr. MERCER invested his surplus money largely in real estate, bought and platted that section known as "Walnut Hill," and built 75 houses thereon before any other settlements were made in that section, all of which were sold on small monthly payments. He erected several blocks of business houses in the city, including the building known as the Mercer Hotel.

He always was an active, energetic and never-tiring worker for the interests of Omaha and Nebraska, ever showing his good faith by energy and investment of money to build up the town and the State, with a firm belief that prosperity of each should go hand in hand. Dr. MERCER's political views were Republican, believing firmly in the doctrines of tariff as the best means of protecting and equalizing the interests of all men. He looked with misgiving upon the encroachment of large corporations and financial institutions organized with money to make money, sometimes without due regard to moral rights or equality among men.

In 1890, Dr. MERCER was the prominent Republican candidate for governor, but defeated in the convention, and was again spoken of very prominently as a candidate in 1892 for the same office, but refused to permit his name to go before the convention because of commercial reasons. He was made chairman of the state central committee in 1891.

In the autumn of 1892, the doctor was the prime mover in starting the establishment known as "Mercer-Whitmore Co." drugs, and was also interested in several other commercial enterprises in a small way.

Dr. MERCER was married November 12, 1870, to Miss Lizzie Covert HULST of Omaha, Nebraska, at the German Reform Church in Brooklyn, New York. Miss HULST, daughter of Garrett and granddaughter of Anthony HULST of Williamsburg, New York, was a son of William HULST, a descendant of the original Knickerbocker family. Dr. MERCER and his wife continued to live in Omaha, the home of their adoption. Their children were George W. MERCER, a graduate of Peekakill Military Academy and of Yale College; Nelson S. MERCER, a graduate of Peekskill Military Academy and Andover College in Massachusetts; Carrie L. and Mary MERCER. The deceased members of the family were an infant daughter and Robert L. MERCER, who died at the age of four. Dr. MERCER's sister, Artimis, born June 15, 1844, married Albert C. FINN and has many descendants in Marion County.

SOURCE: Salem Times-Commoner issue of Thursday, July 5, 1973
SUBMITTED BY: Misty Flannigan [email protected]

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