Right around the corner from Cortland County Historical Society is a peaceful side street called Jewett Avenue, named after Dr. Homer Octavius Jewett. Dr. Jewett owned much of the land which makes up the street today. Dr. Jewett was a long practicing and respected physician in Cortland in the 19th century.
Homer Octavius Jewett was born on March 31, 1819 in Madison County, the eighth of nine children. He was the youngest boy. His father was Walter Jewett and his mother was Betsey Rockwell. They moved to Madison County from Lanesborough, Massachusetts in 1806. The land Walter purchased was heavily forested and he cleared most of it by himself. Over the years that they resided in Madison County, Walter accumulated almost 300 acres. Education was a priority for the Jewett family, and Walter built a schoolhouse on his property to educate his own children as well as those in the neighborhood because the next school was a great distance. In 1832, Walter and Betsey moved to Homer (where Glenwood Cemetery is today) to provide their children with better educational opportunities. The Cortland Academy was located in Homer and that is where young H.O. Jewett attended school. He was under the supervision of Professor Samuel B. Woolworth while there.
Homer Jewett spent some time continuing his own studies and teaching school himself before entering into an apprenticeship with Dr. A.B. Shipman. It was the practice at that time to study under a physician to gain experience and to attend medical school to learn more. He continued his pattern of studying and teaching school for the next few years as he paid his own way through his medical studies. He spent 15-16 hours a day studying and teaching, a strenuous schedule for anyone. He attended the Medical Department of the University of New York City and graduated in 1843. Once graduated, he settled in Summerhill where he was the only physician. He had a large practice because of this and eventually moved to Cortland in 1849.
Dr. H.O. Jewett married Matilda Elmira Ingalls and had three sons, one of whom died as a child (George Walter). Granville Sharp Patterson Jewett was a merchant in Utica and Alden March Jewett was a jeweler in Cortland. Alden’s daughter Helen owned Helen Jewett’s Bungalow Shop on West Court Street. It was Helen who donated her grandfather’s rocking horse to the Cortland County Historical Society. This well-loved artifact was used not only by Homer, but also by Alden and Helen. It’s a real treasure.
Dr. Jewett was believed to have traveled more miles than any of his colleagues because he would take calls day or night, near or far, in good or bad weather. He traveled through many a snowstorm to reach the side of people in need of comfort and medical attention. He tended to patients regardless of their ability to pay. I once had a visitor to the Suggett House Museum tell me that Jewett was part of her family and that he even treated Mark Twain in Elmira. She said that Twain was a hypochondriac who went through many doctors seeking solutions to his ills. I’m not sure if this is true but it is interesting!
Dr. Jewett was a skillful physician and surgeon who believed in following as natural a path as possible to healing. He was cautious and conservative in his treatments but had excellent results and was esteemed throughout the state. A small obituary even appeared in the New York Times when he died in 1901. It said that he was “one of the best-known men in that section of the state.” Dr. and Mrs. Jewett are both buried at Cortland Rural Cemetery. Jewett Avenue was accepted as a street on May 15, 1911.
Does your family lore include any stories about the skill or kindness of Dr. Jewett? We would love to hear them! ~Tabitha