Home Magazine Second Chance Stories Early Seattle Doctor Jacob Benshoof Made His House Calls on Horseback

Early Seattle Doctor Jacob Benshoof Made His House Calls on Horseback

THEN1: His buggy pulled by former racehorse Mabel Payne, Dr. Jacob Benshoof pauses in 1905 on hilly Madison Street at Fifth Avenue, backed by Providence Hospital, which operated there in various incarnations from 1877 to 1911. “There were few hospitals then,” Benshoof reflected circa 1976, “and it took forever to get to a real hospital such as Providence.” (Museum of History & Industry)

NOW: At the former Providence Hospital site, a dozen relatives of Dr. Jacob Benshoof stand next to the 2004 downtown Seattle Public Library and before the 1940 William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse for the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals at the northwest corner of Fifth and Madison. They are (from left): Eric Sprunk, Blair Sprunk, Jill Ashley, Jeff Ashley, Joel Rosas, Blyth Claeys, Bill Benshoof, Dina Skeels, Dylan Skeels, Chris Foster, Bob Benshoof and Bob Foster. (Jean Sherrard)

Editor’s Note: It is a rare occasion when we are able to publish a story that includes a little bit about an off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) from the early 1900s.

We thank Clay Eals’ and Jean Sherrard’s Seattle Now & Then,” founded by Paul Dorpat, MOHAI, The Seattle Times, and Dr. Jacob Benshoof’s family for giving us permission to run this story.

Published in The Seattle Times online on January 26, 2022, and in Pacific NW Magazine of the printed Times on January 29, 2023.

By Clay Eals

Not yet 2 was tiny Rene Alarie. The evening of Aug. 13, 1907, she played in her South Park backyard as her mother focused on her 4-month-old sister. The tot opened a gate and toddled into the road, where returning to Seattle was a Route 5 streetcar.

The conductor and motorman, not yet aboard, ran to catch the car, but its fender knocked Rene down, and she was seriously injured. Fortunately, she regained consciousness while resting at a neighbor’s home, where she recognized her mom.

“Dr. J.A. Benshoof, the attending physician, believes she has a good chance to recover,” reported The Seattle Times.

THEN2: A portrait of Jacob Benshoof, likely in 1905, when he graduated from Barnes University in St. Louis. (Courtesy Dina Skeels)

With automobiles a blossoming curiosity, the phrase “attending physician” painted a rustic picture 115 years ago. The doctor, Jacob Andrew Benshoof (1882-1979), who began work in South Park two years earlier, reached a wide swath of patients — including uphill in forested White Center, where he was the district’s first doctor — via horse.

“I would start out for some cabin in the woods in the morning, and by the time I got there a neighbor might have sent for me to come on another two or three miles farther to their home,” Benshoof told The Times in 1955 on his 50th anniversary of practice. “I’d go out to some tent or cabin in the timber to care for a woman in childbirth or a man who had been hit by a timber or caught in a saw or shot. Things happened in the timber country in those days.”

Born and raised in Iowa and trained in St. Louis, the busy Benshoof served as surgeon for the long-gone Meadows Race Track south of Georgetown and as Seattle medical examiner. He also joined the early staff of Providence Hospital and established offices downtown.

And he acquired a car. (He placed a 1910 Times ad to sell his “buggy horse and saddle, sound and gentle; new buggy and harness.”) But while building a family and becoming known as a prolific deliverer of babies, he never lost his early reputation for four-hoofed service, carrying a medical kit and rifle while riding or driving an ex-racehorse named Mabel Payne.

Two days after Rene Alarie’s streetcar accident, the Times reported that another South Park girl, Helen Taylor, 7, visited a neighbor’s home to get milk.

The neighbor’s chained bulldog startled the girl and bit her as she fell into a hole. A key part of the report:

“Dr. J.A. Benshoof dressed the wounds, and the little girl was removed to her home, where she is now resting easily.”