Doctoring history in Maxeys: Durham home added to historic registry

Faye Short took a bottle off a shelf inside the Durham Place apothecary in Maxeys and placed it on a counter where for decades physicians in this small Oglethorpe County town would dispense and make medications.

 

The bottle once held 1,000 small tablets of Calomel, which is actually mercury. Doctors in the 19th century prescribed this chemical to patients for their ailments. Not anymore. Calomel is now history.

Inside the apothecary, examples of medicines and medical supplies from a bygone age are on display. Once overgrown with vines and bushes and hidden from the view of nearby Georgia Highway 77, the apothecary and the next door home are now shining examples of historic old buildings rescued from the unfettered ravages of time.

The Durham Place, which consists of the apothecary or doctor’s office and the Durham house, is where several of the town’s doctors resided. It was placed in June on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Getting the structures on the registry began in 2012 and was a long process for the owners — Faye and Dennis Short.

The Shorts, retirees who bought the property while looking for an older home to restore, began the National Registry process not long after the purchase.

Dennis Short said he was captivated by the apothecary when he first examined the building’s architecture.

“I saw all the detailed work and the curved walls and I realized it was very rare and possibly unique. It had that look and I felt this place should be on the National Registry,” he said.

Short said the apothecary was likely built circa 1850, according to an inspection by Jim Carter, a local expert in old architecture and antiques.

“There is an indication from the Oglethorpe Echo that the veranda or porch was added in 1877. It may have been used by Dr. Milledge Spencer Durham, who is related to the same family of Durhams from Scull Shoals,” Short said about Dr. Lindsey Durham, a doctor who built a sanitarium outside the former town of Scull Shoals in the 19th century.

The curved wall inside the apothecary is rare and the design impressed members of the Georgia Historical Preservation Division, Short said.

“Everything in here is original. The colors are pretty faithfully reproduced. It’s been painted one time, so we didn’t have any trouble stripping the paint,” he said. The apothecary has three rooms and the back room was used as the waiting room, while the middle room has a stencil printing over a door reading “Private Room for Consultation.”

The Shorts have collected an assortment of bottles dating from the late 1800s to early 1900s.

“There are different branches of the Durhams and some have given us artifacts and information,” he said. “We’ve been graciously treated by the Durham family.”

Dr. Hal Herbert, the great-grandson of Dr. William Meigs Durham (1846-1919) lives today in Florence, S.C., and is a dentist.

“He has at his home the actual cast iron pot that Dr. Lindsey Durham of Scull Shoals used to mix up his potions and medicines,” Short said.

The Durham homeplace was originally a two-room structure, but in the 1870s two large rooms and a hallway were added to the front and another structure was moved and attached to the rear. Today that rear room serves as the kitchen. A back porch was in recent years enclosed for another room. The architecture is a blend of Gothic Revival, Greek Revival and Italianate. The entry hallway has a 13-foot ceiling and is nearly 8 feet wide.

Outside on the grounds is a cabin, once the original kitchen, and a fire pit was built over the location of the outhouse.

The Shorts once lived in the Dry Pond community of Jackson County for 23 years, before moving to near Cornelia in Habersham County where they lived for 17 years before they began looking for an older home to restore in the Athens area.

“We went to Wilkes County, other parts of Oglethorpe, Madison County and one day we decided to travel down this way. The place was for sale and it had a great history with it. We had never heard of the Durham doctors,” Short said.

The couple’s daughter, Denise Weimer, a writer who lives in Watkinsville, uses the apothecary as a place for her book signings whenever she releases a new novel.

“This is not the prettiest house around, but it’s the history of the medical connection to Georgia that makes the difference,” the caretaker of the Durham house said.

The Durham apothecary museum at 261 North Main St. in Maxeys is open for visitors from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Saturday. The museum is also used by a community club and it hosts a series of monthly ”Meet Your Neighbor” programs.

 

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