Dr. David Arnell is to the Western side of the Hudson Valley is what Senator Dr. Bartow White was to the Eastern side, a highly trained medical topographer and medical climatologist. Dr. Arnell however was more of a naturalist. Having been raised in this neck of the woods, a lot of his observations came from personal experience. Whereas in New York City both scholars and physicians had the opportunities to work alongside Samuel Mitchell, a naturalist with skills in every branch of natural history then popular to medicine, the local physicians in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan Counties, as well as some of the neighboring counties, had the good fortune of being able to work alongside Dr. Arnell. Arnell’s description of the healthiness of the valley and its health-related natural resources is one of the earliest examples of such a review of this part of the valley, and provides us with the details needed to better understand how this philosophy came about and what specific components of it were responsible for the extremely popular vision of health and climate that dominated the field of medicine between 1800- and 1850.
Even though Arnell’s work in the classic sense is referred to as a study in the recognized fields of medical topography, medical climatology and medical meteorology, there is a biological component to Arnell’s work that makes it a very naturalistic, ecological take on disease and the region. This medical ecology approach to reading and interpreting the environment and its fauna and flora for the diseases related to the region adds more of the details of the natural sciences to medicine than included previously by other epidemiologists. This kind of disease geography article would become the standard kind of report be a region’s medical topographer, a position which Arnell held with the local society.
Arnell’s work represents an early ecological take on disease and the environment in this middle portion of the Hudson Valley immediately adjacent to both the Shawangunk and Catskill Mountains. The ecological and climatic transitions that took place in this region give it some of the features of other more traditional parts of the valley, along with new discoveries to be made due to the hilly to mountainous terrain. Arnell focuses on climate, weather, topographic features, hydrological features, plant and some animal features in relation to disease behaviors and their related treatments. An important philosophy developing during this time had something to do with the value of plants locally for use as medicines. Arnoff’s plant listing in some sense demonstrates this association diseases can have to plant medicines. Physicians still do not know what causes diseases at this point in time, so as far as they can tell, it is possible, local diseases have local remedies. Whether or not Arnell’s work demnonstrates this relationship is up for review.
For this reason, the following article by David Arnold published in the Medical Repository (1809) has several sections worthy of review on their own. These sections are:
- Weather Observations and Health
- Local topography and health
- Mineral Springs
- Plants specific to the local environment and its naturally recurring diseases
Arnell’s article on Spotted Fever in the region is covered and discussed separately.
A Geological and Topographical History Orange County, New-York, by Dr. David R. Arnell ; drawn up for the State Medical Society, and communicated to the Editors by the President.
The county of Orange, in the State of New York is bounded on the south by the line of the state of New-Jersey; on the west by the river Delaware ; on the north by the line of Ulster county; and on the east by the river Hudson.
Description. The greater part of the county of Orange may be described as a large valley, lying between the Kittatinny or Shawangunk mountain, on the north and west, and the Skunemanque and Sterling mountains, on the south; being a distance of about twenty-four miles between the mountains ; and although it is so well defended on each side, with such high and lofty mountains, the valley, if it may be so called, is very uneven, and many large and profitable streams pass through the country, all of which empty into the Hudson river, and running such a course as shews the general elevation of the surface to be towards the south-west, and its declination to the north-east.
Creeks and Streams of Water. The Shawangunk Kill rises in the town of Minisink, near the foot of the Shawangunk mountains, and passes along the foot of the mountain until it leaves the county of Orange, after which it empties into the Wallkill.
The Wallkill rises in the county of Sussex and State of New-Jersey, and passes through the Great Drowned lands, and nearly through the middle of Orange county, and a part of Ulster, until it discharges into the Hudson, a few miles below Kingston. The elevation of the country is so small, that these streams pass very slowly through it.
Murderers creek rises in the town of Southfield, and passing through a part of the towns of Warwick, Goshen, Blooming Grove and Cornwall empties into the Hudson at Cornwall Landing. The current of this stream, in many places, is much more rapid than either of the two first mentioned. There are several smaller streams, all of which, I believe, empty into one or other of those above described, before they pass into the Hudson.
Lakes. There are no considerable lakes or ponds of fresh water in the county, except the Great Drowned lands, which contain about fifty thousand acres, all of which are generally overflowed in the Spring, and by heavy rains at any season of the year. An act was passed before the late war, enabling the proprietors of those lands to drain them. An attempt was than made, and about two thousand pounds expended, at the Outlet of the Wallkill j but the Revolution coming on, put a stop to their labours. Nothing has been done since that time, until the last year, when a Company was incorporated for the purpose of draining them. They began their operations last Summer, and if they should ever be completed, they will be an inexhaustible source of wealth to the proprietors, and an amazing advantage to the health of the country round about the Drowned Lands.
Soil and Productions. The soil of Orange county may be described as of two kinds; a wet clayey soil, mixed with small stones, and a gravelly loam. There is very little, if any, of a sandy soil in the county; it is very friendly to vegetation, and produces grass in abundance ; there are many places which were considered formerly, as low sunken holes of no value, which, within a few years past, have been cleared and drained, and are now very productive of corn and hemp. Great crops of wheat were formerly raised, but lately the farmers have, generally, turned their attention to making butter; of which the county of Orange boasts a superiority over every other county in the State. A further description, will be unnecessary for our present purpose.
A particular Geological History of this county cannot be expected from one who is constantly engaged in the practice of Medicine, as I have been. It would require much more time than I can sacrifice, to make exact and very particular observations on every part of the county. A general history, therefore, is all that must be expected.
Fossils. The southern part of Orange county consists of large tracts of Granite mountains. In these mountains iron ore abounds, out of which several forges and two furnaces are constantly supplied.
The middle part of the county is mostly a bed of Shistus; this predominates, and appears to underlay the greater part of the county, from the foot of the Skunemanque to the Shawangunk mountain, near the centre of which runs the Wallkill, over its slaty bed. The stones, which are on the surface, are mostly a mixture of feldspath, schoerl, granite, calcareous spar and schistus; the predominance of one or the other giving different colours and shapes to the stones. In the town of Warwick is a large bed of calcareous spar, which» when first discovered, was thought to be equal to the imported gypsum, for manuring lands; hundreds of loads were taken away and ground for that purpose, but experience proved it to be of no service in that respect. The proprietors, however, have lately turned their attention to burning it into lime, which is said to be nearly, if not quite equal to the Rhode-Island shell lime. Large bodies of the common calcareous stone are found in the towns of Wallkill, Minisink, Montgomery, Newburgh, and New-Windsor.
That part of the Kittatinny or Shawangunk mountain, which passes through the county of Orange, consists at the top of finely granulated quartz, and as it passes into Ulster county becomes coarser grained, until it forms that species of which the Esopus millstone is made, which is the arid quartz of Kirwan.
Much has been said and written on the large fossil bones which have been dug up from the Marl pits in Orange county. I have visited some of the places where they were procured, and seen several of the bones. They were discovered in low sunken places, very wet and miry, and lay buried about ten feet under die surface; the earth and marl appear to consist of four different strata; first, the common earth, found in low meadows, which is very black and rich; 2nd, a stratum of blue clay; 3d, a stratum of white marl, and 4th, a stratum of grey marl. The places where they have been discovered are well described by Doctor Graham, in the 4th volume of the Medical Repository, except two places, on the farm of Thomas Booth, in the town of Wallkill, where they have since been discovered, within about six feet of the surface, lying about four miles south from Wardsbridge ; which is a corroborative proof of Dr. Graham’s opinion, that Mammoths must once have existed in large numbers in this county.
Medicinal and Mineral Springs. On a mountain, near Newburgh, is a Mineral Spring, whose waters create sickness and nausea, and are said to be tinged with copper. Flames have been frequently seen issuing from the earth near this spring.
On the farm belonging to Dr. Moses Higby, about two miles and an half from the village of Newburgh, is a Mineral Spring, which has been much resorted to the last year. This Spring is situated in a low meadow, on the west side of Snake-hill, which is a large mass of calcareous rocks, about two miles from the river Hudson. This water, when first taken, appears clear and transparent; it possesses a strongly sulphureous smell, and a nauseous, sulphureous and somewhat saline taste: in a few hours of exposure, it loses its transparency, and becomes turbid and blackish to the eye: its sulphureous smell abates and a blackish sediment is deposited. The waters have never been chemically analized [sic], but I believe if that was done, the products would shew carbonic acid, sulphurated hydrogen, and azotic gas: what proportion one would bear to the other, I cannot tell; it appears to agree with the sulphureous springs of Harrowgate; it has been thought serviceable in herpetic eruptions, and some chronic complaints.
There is a well on the farm of George Clinton, jun. Esq. in the town of New-Windsor, whose waters are nauseating, and if taken in any quantity prove violently emetic: it possesses a strong sulphureous smell.
On the top of Shawangunk mountain, in the town of Minisink, there is a spring whose waters are impregnated with iron, and which have been thought serviceable in some chronic diseases.
There are several other springs in Orange county, which were once thought to possess medicinal qualities, but which •unhappily lost their virtues almost as soon as discovered.
Medicinal Plants, Shrubs and Trees. Anethum, angelica archangelica, artemisia, absynthium, arum triphyllum, aristolochia serpentaria, acorus calamus, cephaelis ipecacuanha, cornus florida, centaurea benedicta, dulcamara, eupatorium, foeniculum, inula helenium, iris pseudacorus, liquidambar, liriodendron, malva sylvestris, marrubium vulgare, melissa, hyosciamus niger, oxalis acetosella, mentha sativa et piperitis, panax quinquefolium, prunus virginiana, podophyllum peltatum, phytolacca decandria, pulegium, ranunculus sceleratus, polygala senega, ruta graveolens, stramonium, sisymbrium nasturtium, sambucus niger, sinapi, smilax sarsaparilla, sassafras, tussilago farfara, tanacetum, ulmus.
Meloe Glematidis. Insecta.—Coleoptera—Vesicantia. Lytta Vittata; Fabricius. Cantharis Vittata, Olivier.
Several species of the Genus Lytta, are found in Orange county, and are deserving the attention of physicians generally, for their epispastic properties.
Diseases. The village of Scotch Town, which is my present place of residence, lies in the town of Wallkill, about seven miles north-west from Goshen, and four miles north from the Wallkill river, on an elevated situation, commanding a prospect of both the Skunemanque and Shawangunk mountains. The country along the Kill is very flat and level, and the Kill runs very slowly through it. In the autumn, the tertian intermittent, remittent and typhus fevers generally prevail in a great degree. During the course of the last spring, pleurisies, pneumonias, and inflammatory complaints were very rife, but they almost entirely disappeared by the middle of April. The subjoined catalogue of new cases to which I was called, annexed to my meteorological and thermometrical observations, will shew the prevalence of diseases since that period.
In the autumn, instead of the usual forms of fever which had prevailed, the influenza made its appearance. The first cases which I saw of it, were on the 5th day of August. Mr. James Clark and his family, consisting of five beside himself, were all attacked with it in the course of one night. They were taken with cold chills, hoarseness, pain in the head and breast, or side, which was soon succeeded by thirst, fever, dry tongue, coryza and a defluxion from the nose. I was at once convinced of their disease, though I had not heard of its prevalence through the country. In my general treatment of this disease, I was guided by those principles which I have long since adopted, of levelling my prescriptions to the excitement of the system; and finding a full hard pulse, I immediately had recourse to the lancet j after which I generally gave a cathartic, and ordered tepid mucilaginous drinks. If this practice did not succeed, I bled a second time and gave another cathartic, but my main dependence was my lancet, and I am happy to say it has not in one instance deceived me. Not one of my patients but recovered very rapidly, and not one case has terminated in a pulmonary consumption, or any other disorder which appeared to be induced by the influenza. As near as I could compute, about one in three required bleeding once, one in eight, twice, and one in fifteen, three times: a few required it oftener: one who appeared to be fast advancing towards a consumption, I bled six times, and now have the happiness to see him a healthy, respectable and useful citizen.
* The expressed juice of the oxalis acetosella, or common sour sorrel made into an extract by drying in the sun, has long been held as a secret by a family in this county, for curing cancers. Thus prepared, it makes a concentrated oxalic acid, and upon sound principles I believe it may be sometimes useful. ‘ I have seen good effects produced by it more than once.
The influenza prevailed so generally through the State, that I thought it quite unnecessary to give a more particular history of the symptoms attending the disease than I have done: there was a remarkable uniformity in almost every case which I saw. A valuable communication on this disease has been presented to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in the city of New-York, by Jacob V. Brower, M. D. which will undoubtedly be published. I have given the treatment which 1 generally made use of, and although it may appear simple, it was very successful.
I would further remark, that our county is generally affected with pleurisies, pulmonic and inflammatory disorders in the latter part of the winter, and the spring: and along the “Wallkill and Otterkill,or Murderers creek, the tertian, intermittent and remittent fevers prevail to a great degree in the fall of the year; but along that part of Murderers creek, where the waters are most stagnant, and on the west side of the Drowned Lands, they put on a more dangerous and formidable appearance than they do in other parts of the county.
I have nothing more to add on the history of diseases, but what may be found in my table before referred to; and have only to make this general observation, that I have not been able to bestow that time and reflection upon the subject which it required, and should not have presented this, in its present imperfect form, to the society, had it not been a duty imposed upon me by the bye-laws. Jan. 20, 1808.
Meteorological and Thermometrical observations made at Scotch Town, Orange County, from the 15th day of May to the 26th October, 1807.
It may not be improper to remark, that I have, in two instances the summer, cared the Epilepsy with the Acetate of Lead and Sal Martis
The thermometer was placed on the north side of the house, and the observations made at six o’clock in the morning and two in the afternoon ; the wind and weather which were most prevalent through the course of the whole day, are noted. The diseases are arranged in the order in which I was called to visit the patients.