The good deeds of Century's Dr. Sam
April 9, 2020
If you are not already aware, our society has canceled our Sawmill Day festival and Car Show in May due to the national health threat. The society has held this event every year since 1990 as our major fund raiser and as an opportunity to bring the community together. We hope this setback simply gives us time to prepare an even better event next year. We have also decided to close our museums for the near future. In the meantime, repairs are being made on the buildings and museum displays are being updated to better share the history of the town and region. One of the displays that we hope to improve was donated by Dorothy Ptomey in 2001 and recalls a time when Century was home to one of the best hospitals in the South, run by a man who was known by many as Dr. Sam.
Sam Turberville was born in South Alabama in 1875. As a young man he attended medical college in Alabama. While there, in 1900 he married Julia Ptomey. After graduating he spent a couple of years as physician in the newly established rail town of Peterman, Alabama, just north of Monroeville. In 1903 he brought his young family to Century to care for the workers and families of the Alger-Sullivan Lumber Co. as surgeon at a small clinic called the Bonaventura Sanatorium. In 1907 he purchased the wood-framed sanatorium from Dr. JC O’Gwynn. For several years afterwards, Dr. Sam’s wife Julia would be his primary assistant at the hospital while she also raised their seven children.
During its first few years, this was the only hospital in the Florida Panhandle except the U.S. Naval Hospital at Pensacola. It was also the only hospital between Selma, Alabama and Pensacola. This gave the small town doctor much stature among his peers and by 1928 he was President of the Florida Railway Surgeons Association, the first of many major medical association positions.
About 1932, Dr. Sam rebuilt his hospital with a Spanish style stucco exterior. To honor his parents, he named it Turberville Memorial Hospital. It was described as a thoroughly modern hospital with an interior of polished wood floors and white walls and ceilings, spacious operating room and an added wing for colored patients. In 1938 another addition gave the hospital a 40-bed capacity as well as a separate nurses quarters. It was described in the Pensacola papers as “the largest and best equipped between Montgomery and Mobile.”
By this time the hospital was being run by Dr. Sam and his two oldest sons, John and Joe. At the beginning of 1939 an article was written in a local paper about the doctors. “Wisdom is knowing what to do. Skill is knowing how to do it. Mix the two together and you have a good combination. Dr. Sam Turberville and his two sons, Dr. Joe and Dr. John of Century, have a hospital that is modern and well-equipped and these three fine physicians are well-known all over the state, and their names carry weight where ever they go. The world needs skilled doctors and I think we are lucky to have these three skilled physicians in our midst.”
Due to the large number of poor needing care at the hospital, requests for status changes of the facility were made for the “treatment for the indigent sick”. In January 1939 the hospital was accepted as a non-profit sharing corporation in trust. The intention was that any profits would go toward continually improving services.
In 1940 Dr. Sam became President of the Florida Medical Association and for the next four years much of his time was involved here. Dr. John and Dr. Joe were already joint administrators of the hospital at this time, while Dr. Sam gained the title of chief surgeon. The stature and work of the hospital continued to grow. In 1945 a clinic on cancer research drew surgeons from across the country to the small hospital and in 1946, along with its other duties, the hospital delivered 157 babies.
Then tragedy in September 1946. Dr. Sam Turberville died in a head-on collision north of Atmore at the Wet Weather Creek Bridge. He was 71 years old. A local newspaper, the Brewton Standard, wrote an epitaph. “Dr. J Sam Turberville, had an air of quiet cheerfulness and competence about him. A small man, with sparse gray hair and tired eyes that looked coolly from behind his glasses, he could walk unhurriedly down the corridor of his clinic to the most delicate and serious operation. He always hummed or whistled softly to himself a tune that no one knew and he never named. And with his calm gait and patient manner, Dr. Sam worked prodigiously at mending and healing the people who came to him for help.”
The hospital continued to operate, but with a large financial loss each year. As a result, in 1951 it was reorganized by the family as a for-profit operation.
Then, tragedy again struck the family near the end of 1951. In October Dr. Joe Turberville was killed in an auto accident near Grove Hill, Alabama. Less than a month later, with the stress of his losses, Dr. John Turberville died from a heart attack in his office above the pharmacy near the hospital. He was 46 years old. The administration of the hospital would then fall to the family of Julia Turberville. Due to the early work of Dr. Sam and his sons, the region would continue to have an excellent hospital for most of the twentieth century, but this was the end of the Turberville era.
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