FROM THE ARCHIVES: Dr. Townsend, Six Lakes’ grand old man

From the Archives | Sandy Main

A beloved and well-respected Six Lakes doctor served the community for half a century from the 1880s to the 1930s, during which time he made house calls in all kinds of weather and delivered nearly 1,000 babies. Dr. G.S. Townsend came to the area in 1882 and practiced medicine until well into his 80s when he was forced by ill health to retire.

In 1937 the Greenville Independent reported on Dr. Townsend’s 90th birthday and gave some details of his career.

“Six Lakes’ grand old man, Dr. G.S. Townsend, will celebrate his 90th birthday, Thursday, Sept. 9. The day will be spent very quietly at his home, owing to his poor health.

“He was born in Berlin township, Ionia county, Sept. 9, 1847, near the cobblestone schoolhouse on the river road, half way between Ionia and Saranac. He began the practice of medicine at Freeport in 1880. He removed to Knotmaul, two miles south of Lakeview, in 1882, and in 1888 moved from there to Six Lakes, where he since has lived a very active life until two years ago.

“Jan. 6, 1902, he answered a confinement call and in the following 24 hours attended the birth of six babies, three of them being triplets, born to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Christensen, then living north of Six Lakes. In his 48 years of practice. Dr. Townsend has attended the birth of 940 babies.

“Dr. Townsend was never known to refuse to make a call, even when he knew he would never receive his pay. No night was ever too dark, stormy, cold or the snow too deep for him to answer a call. He remembers especially one bitter, cold, stormy night when he answered a call to the home of William Reynolds, north of Six Lakes. A blizzard was blowing and roads were nearly impassable. When he became lost on the way home, not knowing where he was, he gave his faithful old horse the reins and let her find the way. They arrived home early the next morning nearly exhausted, but calling it all merely a part of the day’s work.

“The oddest experience he recalls was when he first went to Knotmaul in 1882. He had attended a confinement case and the next morning when he returned to the case he found the husband had led the family cow into the log house up beside the bed of the new mother. There the doctor found her milking the cow. The husband said his wife always had done the milking and he could see no reason why she should stop just because they had a new baby.

“Dr. Townsend was a member of the local school board for 20 years and is a life member of the Masonic lodge, having been secretary of the lodge for a number of years.

“On his 85th birthday a birthday party was given for him at the Grange Hall, but owing to his serious illness, Thursday will have to be very quiet but his many friends are asked to remember him with a birthday card shower.”

Just four months later, the Independent announced: “Death today claimed one of Montcalm county’s most highly respected citizens when Dr. G.S. Townsend, 90, for nearly half a century a physician in this community, passed after a short illness. He had suffered a stroke and had been in bed two months.

“He had been active until four years ago when his advanced age forced his retirement.”

Survivors included his wife, Olive; one daughter, Kate Wood; two sons, Percy and Chester; and several grandchildren.

The Independent announced the funeral arrangements the following day: “Funeral rites will be read for Dr. G.S. Townsend of Six Lakes at the United Brethren church in that city at two o’clock Sunday afternoon. Dr. Townsend, who died Wednesday, was a beloved character and friend to all who came in contact with him.”

How beloved he was can be seen in the size of his funeral. As reported by the Independent’s Six Lakes correspondent: “Funeral services were held in the United Brethren church Sunday for Dr. G. S. Townsend, with the largest attendance of any funeral held here. The church will seat 500. Extra chairs were brought in and all standing room was taken and a number could not get inside the church.”

Listed among those present from out of town were two other well-known doctors, Dr. B. Franklin of Remus and Dr. L.E. Kelsey of Lakeview.

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