Home Boasts Historical Medical Collection
by María Cortés González
El Paso Times
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Images by Rudy Gutierrez, El Paso Times
From the doorstep of the stained-glass front doors to its refreshing
sleeping porches, the home at 1301 Montana has plenty of character.
Visitors interested in historic homes will be taken by the art deco Steuben
lighting fixture, the ornate cast-iron fireplace in the living area and
the oak paneling throughout the residence. But as the home of the
El Paso County Medical Society, the residence has also come to house one
of the most interesting collections relating to medicine. It is quite
fitting, considering that the home was willed to the society by Dr. S.T.
Turner, who came to El Paso in 1889 as a contract physician for the Southern
Cheri Spier, wife of retired gynecologist Werner Spier, said the society
is trying to restore the home, which has many of its original fixtures.
"It was a real showplace in its day. And we would like to see it
that way one day but we still have a long way to go. But we do still
have the original doorknobs and a lot of the furniture," she said of the
Stickley pieces, including rocking chairs. The style is part of the
Arts and Crafts movement of the 1870s and '80s. Among the period
features of the home are a dumbwaiter in the upstairs for transporting
dirty linens easily to the washroom in the basement and a talking tube
in the upstairs master bedroom connecting to the front door. "If
someone rang the doorbell, you would just (she whistles) and say, 'Yes?,"
said Barbara Dent, a former X-ray technician who gives tours of the home
by appointment. "And so you wouldn't have to go downstairs."
With the help of Dr. Laurence Nickey, El Paso's former city-county health
director who helped establish a preservation fund last year, the home is
receiving some repairs, including a repainting of the exterior. The
heating and cooling system has also been renovated. Dr. Kathryn Zerbach,
past president of the El Paso County Medical Society, said the society
is working hard to bring the house back to its glory days. "It's
such a beautiful facility as well as an important historical piece for
the community. The building was believed to be designed by Henry
Trost, who did so many buildings in that area in that time period."
After appreciating the period features, visitors can climb the stairs
to find five bedrooms filled with antique medical equipment and supplies
dating from the early 1900s up to about the World War II. The awe-inspiring
collection tells how far medicine has come. "It is very educational
... we can learn about the antibiotics that have been done, what the polio
vaccine has done and what modern surgical procedures have been done compared
to the old ways of doing things," Werner Spier said. "It's important
to know our history to improve our future." Spier and his wife began
to organize the items in 1965, but the collection began years before.
"The way it began is that when doctors retired or would die, their widows
would call the moving and storage (people) and say, 'Take it to the Turner
home.' " he said. "So for years and years, this stuff was in the
Today, the former bedrooms are divided into different settings, featuring
artifacts and medical equipment relating to early surgery rooms, pharmacies,
hospital rooms and early 1900s doctor's offices. Also displayed are
collections of various doctor's bags -- including one used in the Civil
War -- and various nurse uniforms. There are rare items such as a
Leitz microscope (believed to be the first compound microscope in El Paso,)
cathode X-ray tubes from Hotel Dieu and a scarifier -- a tool used to induce
bleeding as a way to treat various diseases. "Each item has a story,"
said Dent, who is very knowledgeable about the items on display.
"This is a typical hospital room setting with a bed that is all crank instead
of electric," she said of a bed, bedside table and stand setting donated
by Radford School from its days as a girls' boarding school with an infirmary.
Though the cold metals make many of the items seem primitive and almost
alarming, Werner Spier said, there is much to appreciate from this early
period of medicine. "Just compare it to 2006 and the procedure of
using chemotherapy for cancer," he said. "Fifty years from now, people
are going to say, 'Can you believe those guys in 2006 used those toxins
to cure cancer and made those patients sick? Why didn't they choose
such and such?' "Medicine is always evolving, and nothing is static
in life. So all this is the latest and a tremendous improvement over
what they had in George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's time," he said.
Home history --- A quick glimpse of the Turner Home:
It was built by H. T. Ponsford in 1910 for Dr. S.T. Turner who came
to El Paso in 1889.
Turner was married to Annie Laurie Camp and had two sons who died in
He died in 1945, leaving the home to the El Paso County Medical Society.
The home was declared a Texas Historical Site in 1982.
In 1965, Dr. Werner Spier and his wife, Cheri, started arranging a collection
of medical equipment and paraphernalia from the early 1900s in the upstairs
part of the house.
The collection spans five rooms and includes personal belongings of
the Turners, including a display of her wedding dress and hat and his correspondence
and notes. One note states he did not think $5 was an exorbitant
fee for sewing up a patient's head.
In 1983, the El Paso Medical Heritage Foundation was established as
a non-profit for the medical collection. Organizers would like to
be able to showcase the collection in a more public way.