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Small Town Doctor, Samuel Carnes Harvard

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The doctor was always “in” during the 1950s.

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I’m sure that’s what physicians must have felt like practicing medicine during that time. You had to know a little bit of everything and work long hours. Since specialized medicine was decades away, physicians had to handle serious illnesses, as well as tend to the smaller stuff like tonsillitis, ear infections, and the common cold. On top of all of that, doctors also had to know how to deliver babies. In February 1952, one of those babies delivered in Brooksville was me!

The physician who delivered me was Dr. Samuel Carnes Harvard, who was born on January 6, 1902. He was the oldest son of Virgil O. Harvard and Millie Hunter Carnes. He was followed in the family by two younger brothers, Virgil, who was born in 1907, and Hubert, who was born in 1912. They were all from the small town of Arabi, Georgia, population 500. The Harvard boys increased Arabi by three more!

Samuel’s father, Virgil O. Harvard, was a physician in Georgia who had been practicing medicine since the early 1900s. He was no stranger to hard work. Virgil O. Harvard often worked over 65 hours per week. At the age of 65, when most of us are thinking of slowing down, he was still posting 50-hour work weeks at his own medical office. His son Samuel observed all this and wanted to be a doctor too!

Samuel Harvard finished his studies at Emory University (Atlanta, GA) in 1922 and got married to Jimmie Brown. He earned his medical degree in 1930, and by June of 1934, he had become the first Vice President of the Alumni Association of Emory Medical School.

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Dr. S.C. Harvard and his wife Jimmie then moved to Florida shortly after. In 1935, they purchased a home in Brooksville; their address was 105 Mt. Fair Avenue. I’m not sure how he ended up here, but it was a stroke of good fortune for Hernando County!

In the 1920s and 1930s, hospitals weren’t the big modern marvels of medical advances that they are today. In 1926, the only hospital in Brooksville was located in a private home on Alta Vista Street. The home was equipped with ten beds, an operating room, anesthetizing room, nurses’ quarters, and a kitchen. That was what medical care was like during the time when Dr. S.C. Harvard came to town!

He immediately became interested in bringing bigger and better things to Hernando County. He led the way in helping plan for a new 24-bed hospital to be built in Brooksville. This “dream” was considered quite an undertaking for a small town of only 7000 people! Alfred McKethan, who was a banker and businessman at the time, donated the land. The funds were raised through bonds and donations, and the new hospital facility was built at the cost of $40,000. It was then dedicated on October 1, 1936.

In 1943, an expansion increased the Hernando County Hospital from 24 to 32 beds. By today’s standards, it was still a pretty small facility, but the building included a new operating room, delivery room, and nursery. The one-story hospital was not much larger than a present-day doctor’s office. However, it served and cared for Hernando County residents well from 1936 to 1962. It was once considered the largest hospital of its size South of Ocala and North of Tampa.

In 1962, a new 50-bed facility was built to replace the hospital. Then the new Hernando County Hospital, on Ponce De Leon Blvd., served Brooksville and the surrounding communities for the next 20 years. The Lykes family gave a large donation of $100,000 to continue the success of the hospital. Because of this, the facility was named Lykes Regional Hospital in 1967.

In the early 1990s, Brooksville Regional Hospital was built on Hwy 50, a few miles west of town. The placement choice was to better address the fast growth of Spring Hill and Hernando County.
The hospital was also situated closer to the west side of town to counter medical care given by nearby Oak Hill Hospital (built in the early 1980s).

Today, Brooksville Regional is Bravera Health Brooksville and boasts a state-of-the-art facility with 120 beds.

I often wonder about the hospital where I was born; what became of it? The building, built in 1936, was used as Brooksville’s Health Department during the 1960s and 1970s. After that, unfortunately, the building just sat empty until its demolition in 1999.

Today, there’s not much left to see. There’s just a large grassy area bordered by Broad St. (Hwy 41) and Mildred Avenue. This vacant lot is used for an occasional craft show or festival. Blink, and you might miss it as you round the big curve for downtown Brooksville.

Dr. S.C. Harvard held many titles during his 30-year career. He was president of the State Board of Medical Examiners. As such, he helped keep patients safe by watching over the licensing, disciplining, and regulating of medical professionals. He also belonged to the Florida Obstetric and Gynecologic Society and to the Pasco-Hernando-Citrus Medical Society. In 1959, Governor Leroy Collins appointed him a member of the Florida Citizens Medical Committee on Health.

In 1989, Brooksville was looking for a way to honor Dr. Harvard. A task force, with Vice Chairman Tom Varn, suggested naming a street after the local doctor. Upon recommendation, part of W. Broad Street near Lykes Memorial Hospital became Harvard Street. It’s located right by some medical offices, so it fits in very well. But what happened to Lykes Memorial Hospital after closing? Today the building has been remodeled and re-purposed. It’s an assisted living facility called The Grande.

Dr. S.C. Harvard is also remembered on a Brooksville mural. Since 2003 his likeness stares quietly at us from a wall of the Hogan Law Firm. Artist Diane Becker painted Harvard’s portrait along with those of three others, all early pioneers in medicine. This mural can be found at 20 S. Broad St. (Hwy 41), not far from the drive-in tellers of Truist Bank.

I have a few childhood memories of visiting Dr. S.C. Harvard’s office downtown in Brooksville. He practiced medicine on the second floor of Bacon’s Drug Store. Main Street Eatery resides in that building today. Dr. Harvard had a simple practice. He didn’t have a glamorous lobby with artwork or a finely carpeted waiting room with nice comfy chairs. To reach his office, I remember climbing a long flight of stairs that creaked and groaned underfoot. While waiting, I recall sitting on hard wooden benches. I remember tile floors polished to a glossy shine and seeing late afternoon sunlight coming in through the high windows. Dr. Harvard had a simple inner office with no frills. How he got everything done back then, I’ll never know!

Can you imagine being called out of bed in the middle of the night? I wonder if it was like that when the Batten family needed him. Dr. S.C. Harvard had the distinction of delivering their triplets. He delivered a boy and two girls on August 21, 1949. The three babies were quite large, weighing more than 7 pounds each. Usually, three to five pounds was the norm when expecting triplets. The new babies joined six other Batten siblings. They would have three older brothers and three older sisters.

In honor of Dr. Harvard, the triplet boy was named Samuel Carnes Harvard Batten. The two girls, identical twins, were named Stella Diane and Sylvia Jean Batten. Their births caused quite a stir in the small town of Brooksville. It even made the Tampa Tribune. The newspaper carried a good-sized article along with a hospital bed photo of Mom cradling all three babies in one arm!

Can you imagine all the advances in medicine seen by this small-town doctor? Penicillin and new antibiotics, to name a few! Can you think of how many Brooksville babies he delivered over his 30-year career? Many of them, like me, can still recall his years of medical practice. He was almost the only doctor in town, and the doctor was always “in.”

Dr. S.C. Harvard passed away on April 7, 1964, at the age of 62. His 121st birthday is this month, on January 6, 2023. His wife, Jimmie Brown Harvard, passed away on August 20, 1990, at the age of 88. Both of them are buried in the Brooksville Cemetery.

Dr. Harvard’s cemetery marker bears his name and includes a simple notation of the dates of his birth and death. There’s no mention of his rich contribution to Brooksville’s medical history. To me, he seemed to like it that way, as a humble servant and a quiet guy. If you have Ancestry.com, you can see, per the 1940 Census, that Dr. S.C. Harvard of Brooksville was working 70 hours per week. By the 1950 Census, he had increased his time to 92 hours per week. Such was the life and requirements of a small-town doctor. And I think he was probably enjoying every minute of it!

Early Chamber of Commerce brochure from the late 1950s. Hernando County Hospital is mentioned inside. It is listed as having 30 beds and very modern equipment.
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