Hoosick Township Historical Society

Dr. S. A. Skinner 1824--1905

Versatile Dr. Smith Austin[S.A.] Skinner, son of Smith Skinner and Rhoda Heaton, was born on March 15, 1824 in Thetforth,Vt. where his formative, standard upbringing and elementary and high school education was heavily influenced toward the field of medicine under the tutelage of his maternal grandfather, Dr. Solomon Heaton. It should also be noted that Dr. S.A. Skinner was related to the Quaker nature poet John Greenleaf Whittier[1807- 1892] of Massachusetts in that Skinner’s maternal grandmother and Dr. Heaton’s wife, Rhoda Whittier, was the poet’s aunt although there is no documentation indicating the two ever met.

After completing his regular school education, he opted for a career in medicine, and as was custom in his era, studied privately with his paternal uncle, Dr.Jonathan Skinner in Brownington, Vt. for several years. In November 1850 Dr. Skinner married Catherine Hinman Blake of Salem, Vt., daughter of Samuel Blake and granddaughter of Judge Timothy Hinman, who was an officer during the Revolutionary War and was with General Washington at Valley Forge. At that time he was enrolled at the University of Vermont in Burlington where he successfully completed his education graduating in 1854. Dr. Skinner remained in Vermont for the next ten years where he established a private practice in Bristol and as the country was moving towards war he became a Junior Warden of the Grand Commandery of Vermont, a volunteer type militia organization unaffiliated with State or National military units. In 1863, Vermont Governor Holbrook appointed him as one of the medical examiners of Vermont to examine men enrolled in the militia who applied for exemption from military duty for medical reasons from engaging in active service for the Union army during the Civil War. He was also appointed Assistant Surgeon of the Seventh Vermont Volunteer Regiment but was unable to accept the appointment due to an illness of an undetermined nature.

In 1864 Dr. Skinner moved with his family including two daughters, Mabel and Katherine, to Hoosick Falls where they remained for the remainder of their lives. For many years Dr. Skinner was one of the most prominent and successful physicians and surgeons throughout Rensselaer County, and the leading practitioner of Hoosick Falls. In addition to being a charter member of the New York State Medical Association, Dr. Skinner became a member of the Rensselaer County Medical Society in 1878. He was also President of the Union Medical Society for several years and a Member of the American Medical Association and several times was nominated to attend national American Medical Association conventions as a delegate. He also transferred his Grand Commandery allegiance from the State of Vermont to New York wherein he was a member of the Apollo Commandery of Hoosick Falls. As a Mason, he was prominently identified with the Masonic fraternity and as an officer, was significantly involved in establishing the first Masonic chapter granted to Hoosick Falls. Dr. Sinner was a communicant of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and for many years served as vestryman.

As the most established physician in Hoosick Falls, Dr. Skinner became involved in the fledgling civic medical concerns of the early Hoosick Falls community and became associated with Judge Levi Chandler Ball[1809-1875] in forming the first Board of Health in Hoosick Falls and also was the first Health Officer, remaining in that position for eight years. In that position, he was instrumental in having the first water and sewage systems established in Hoosick Falls.

Aside from medicine, Dr. Skinner, as an avid member of the controlling Republican party, successfully lobbied for the construction of the first street lights in Hoosick Falls although he otherwise shunned political aspirations even though many opportunities presented were solicited.

As an avocation, Dr, Skinner was a consummate utilitarian and inventor in the field of medicine and otherwise. He loved to tinker with surgical instruments, splints and equipment, some of which were patented. Most noteworthy was a hospital bed and stretcher that Governor Fairbanks of Vermont initially used to equip a regiment during the Civil War but soon spread to other units throughout the States as the hospital bed and stretcher was highly recommended by many of the leading surgeons in the army. He also patented one of the first stethoscopes but not much is documented about any success with this invention. He had also written many papers and monographs on various medical subjects during his expansive career, exhibiting an especial interest in the infancy of medical knowledge on diphtheria and diphtheritic pneumonia by pioneering original and prominent investigation in that area.

In other fields he made inventions of merit, among these being the Skinner oiler, which for many years was used on the machines manufactured by Walter A. Wood Company. Dr. Skinner also became interested in ballistics, especially rifles and ammunition, writing articles extensively for SHOOTING AND FISHING magazine under the nom de plume “Medicus” which were still being published at the time of his death. He also made many inventions of interest and value to riflemen and among his friends and correspondents he numbered some of the most eminent riflemen in the country, some of whom had visited him at his home in Hoosick Falls.

Not much is known about his death other than it was “sudden” on August 15, 1905 at his home in Hoosick Falls. His wife, Catherine, and two unmarried daughters, Mabel K. and Katherinr A.Skinner survived him residing at the homestead in Hoosick Falls.

Ray LaFlamme