Historic Palmer house facing demolition

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Dr. Palmer's family home, community doctors office, pharmacy, and hospital is set for potential demolition. Years of vacancy and neglect have deemed the iconic structure uninhabitable. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Restoring a historic home is a massive, overwhelming undertaking. However, these structures depend on innovative thinkers to protect and celebrate the history they hold within their walls. Historic homes connect us to our past, and help us understand our traditions, keeping history alive and ensuring their stories remain a part of our lives for generations to come.  

Dr. Carson William Palmer

Carson William Palmer was born in 1882 to parents Henry and Lavina (White) Palmer. He grew up near Osterdock with his six brothers and sisters and was educated in the local country school, eventually graduating from Elkport High School. He studied pharmacy at Valpariso University, Ind., and surgery and medicine at the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery. He received his PhGMD in Chicago in August of 1912. 

Following his internship at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, he went on to practice medicine in Eagle, Neb., Cassville, Wis., and Hull, Iowa, before returning to the area. 

Dedicated physician

Dr. Palmer's original intention was to become "the country doctor," but a demanding practice would find him up early in the morning and retiring late in the evening as the town's pharmacist, surgeon and general practitioner.   

Dr. Palmer married Kathryn "Katie" Elizabeth Zaph and from that union had one daughter, Marguerite. Their two-story home on the northwest corner of South Second and Herder Street became the community's pharmacy, hospital and doctor's office. Dr. Palmer served Guttenberg and the surrounding area for 47 years. 

Dr. Palmer was well known throughout the community for his famous black pills, spontaneity and daring cures. The pills were reported to cure whatever ailed you, and were still coveted long after he closed his doors. 

He was described as a tall, thin, distinguished man who embraced a healthy lifestyle long before it became popular. His dedication to medicine would leave an imprint on the community for years. 

The Palmer House

Dr. Palmer's family home, community doctors office, pharmacy, and hospital is set for potential demolition. Years of vacancy and neglect have deemed the iconic structure uninhabitable. The home's most recent owners have abandoned the property, and the City of Guttenberg is in the process of procuring the property. 

A recent conversation with Jane Elsinger, daughter of Dr. Palmer's second wife, also named Marguerite, brought back many memories. "My mother married Dr. Palmer in his later years," Elsinger recalled. "He was quite a bit older than she was, and his health had started to deteriorate. She took very good care of him."

"The house is actually designed for two families. I couldn't see it at first, but there are two similar sides," Elsinger reported. "Frederick Kann built the house in 1853 and was the original owner. There are two sets of stairs. One was used for the personal residence and the other was for hospital patients. The Palmer family lived both up and downstairs. The hospital rooms were upstairs and to one side."

Frederick and Dina Kann

Dr. Palmer purchased the home from Frederick and Dina Kann. Mary Eulberg, great-granddaughter of the Kann's, shared her connection to the home. "I was born in that house. My mother was pregnant with me, and had not felt any movement so she made an appointment to see Dr. Palmer," Eulberg shared. "He gave her Pitocin and in five minutes I was born. The umbilical cord was double wrapped around my neck. If it were not for Dr. Palmer's medical knowledge and quick action, I would not be here today." 

"When the 'Palmer House' was cleaned out several years ago they discovered an old file cabinet filled with statements, receipts and billing. The Elsinger family gave me the receipt for my birth. It cost $37.50 to deliver me," she chuckled. 

"After my great-grandfather passed away in 1923 my great-grandmother remained in the home. Dina would clean the ashes out of the big stove and carry them down to the railroad tracks," Eulberg continued. "She slipped, fell and a train ran her over and killed her in 1927. My grandfather had to come into town from the farm with a bushel basket to pick up her remains."

Elsinger noted, "At one time I considered renovating the home myself, but it was already in a deteriorated condition and too big for me." 

Fond, and not so fond, memories came to mind. Elsinger commented, "I remember, as I am sure many my age do, sitting on the little bench in the waiting room. I recall sitting there with my legs swinging below me in dread of my upcoming appointment. Dr. Palmer was a busy man and did not have much of a bedside manner. I was eighteen and in college when my mother married him. I remember a strong familiarity with the home in a good way." 

Forward thinking

Eulberg commented, "I always thought the home could be restored, and would make a wonderful veterans home. Placing veterans out in the middle of the country means nothing. They need to be in an area where they can walk to the post office, get a cup of coffee, attend holiday celebrations and be part of a community."

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