Life around the Dwight Mill Village – another story


The other week the Vagabond mentioned about an incident about the old Dr. Burns at the Mill Village of Alabama City.

A pretty neat article on the doctor and information to contact Jeffie Burns Latham about her grandfather was received. Here’s a little bit about the Dr. Burns of Alabama City:

Robert A(braham) Burns, was born on a farm near Jacksonville, Calhoun Co., Ala., November 26, 1867. He was the son of Joseph Peter and Mary Clementine (Badgett) Burns.

His father was a prosperous farmer in Calhoun County who was a member of the Missionary Baptist Church. During the War Between the States, he served in the Confederate Army and died when he was 48 years of age.

Robert Burns gradated Piedmont (Ala.) High School and became a student of Walnut Grove (Alabama) College and then graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, M.D. In 1901.

He also did graduate studies in general medicine, obstetrics, and pediatrics, at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, New, York., and Cornell University Medical College in 1906, and Rush Medical College (University of Chicago).

He also was at Cook County Hospital, and Children’s Memorial Hospital, in Chicago, in 1914.

After attending Walnut Grove College he taught school until he enlisted in the Spanish-American War.

He served with the rank of corporal in Co. C, 1st Ala. National Guards. Prior to attending medical school, he studied medicine with Dr. Joseph Liddell, of Gadsden, Ala.

Following his gradation from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1901, he practiced medicine at Markton (now Southside), Alabama for 2 yrs.

He then served as surgeon to the Seaboard Coal and Coke Co. and the Vulcan Coal & Coke Co. at Coal City, Ala., until 1906, after which he did graduate study in medicine.

In 1907, he moved to Alabama City, Ala., where he was associated with Dr. William H, Acton as surgeon to the Dwight Manufacturing Co.

In 1914, Dr. Burns again did graduate study in medicine, after which he engaged in medical practice at Alabama City until December 1916.

He then served as resident house surgeon to the Cincinnati (Ohio) General Hospital.

On December 19, 1912, Dr. Burns was Commander Captain of infantry of Co. L, Etowah Rifles, Fourth Regiment, Ala. National Guards, but resigned his position in November 1915, when he went to Cincinnati.

On June 10, 1916, he returned to Alabama City, and on June 28 of that year was Commander Captain in the Medical Corps, Alabama National Guards, in Montgomery, Alabama

He then was stationed at Nogales, Arizona, until November 1916, after which he was on recruiting duty in Alabama until August 5, 1917.

At that time he was assigned to the 167th Inf ,, 42nd Div., U. S. Army, and was sent overseas, where he saw active service.

He was wounded and gassed at Chateau-Thierry, and was gassed in the Argonne offensive.

He read, regimental citation for meritorious service and bravery in July 1918, and because of that service was promoted to the rank of major in the Medical Corps.

Following the Armistice, he was sent to Brest, France, as post surgeon, and is September 1919, returned to the U.S. where he was commanding major in the Medical Corps of the regular Army. He then served at Post Hospital, Fort Brown, Brownsville, Texas, 14 months and at Post Hospital, McAllen, Texas, 18 months.

He resigned from the Army in September of 1922, and retired to Alabama City, Alabama, to accept nomination as mayor.

He was elected mayor by a large majority, and was re-elected in 1924.

He served as mayor of Alabama City five or six terms until Alabama City merged into Gadsden, and became a City Commission for Gadsden.

Dr. Burns became engaged in general practice of medicine at Alabama City.

He formerly served as medical inspector of the Alabama State Convict Department and as warden of Kilby Prison, 2 years, and acted as physician to the first man electrocuted in Alabama.

Dr. Burns, who is a Democrat, was a member of the following: Blue Lodge. A.F. and A.M., Chapter, Commandery (K.T.), Consistory (32nd deg.), and Shrine; Medical Assistant of the State of Alabama; Etowah County Medical Association, American Legion; Civitan Club; C. of C.; I.O.O.F.; K. of P.; Woodmen of the World; and Etowah County Chapter, Citizens Historical Association. His favorite recreation is breeding Rhode Island Red Chickens. Dr. Burns house was erected in 1937.

On Oct. 20, 1908, in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Robert A. Burns married Jeffie Davis Bell, a native of Shelby County, Alabama.

Her parents, Austin Fuller and Mary Ann (Morton) Bell were natives of South Carolina and Alabama, respectively.

Austin Fuller Bell was a planter in Shelby and St. Clair Counties, Alabama.

Dr. and Mrs. Burns are the parents of 2 children: (1) Mary Roberta, born in 1910. After graduating from the University of Alabama, she traveled abroad, and also attended the University of Mexico.

She married Dr. John Sheppard. (2) Charles Robert (Bob) Douglas, born in 1912.

He graduated from the University of Alabama and attended the University of Arkansas.

Bob took his father’s place and became a medical doctor for Alabama City.

The Vagabond also noted many on Welcome to Gadsden Facebook group page mentioned about Dr. Burn and especially his son, Doc Bob. These are just a few:

Donna Atkins said that “He was my family doctor when I was a kid. He made house-calls.”

Mike Chitwood commented that “Doc Burn’s looked just like his dad.”

Howard Aulsbrook said the old Dr. Burns “ also helped push for the creation of Emma Sansom High School.”

Donna Endres also wrote “… I remember that my grandmother went to him. I went with her at least once. And I think my dad went to see him at least a time or two. His office was on a corner, upstairs in a red brick building on Wall Street as I recall. He was short and stout.”

Charles Hawkins said “Dr. Bob Burns lived on Kyle Ave but his office was upstairs on the corner of Wall Street and Sansom Ave. across the side street from Jerry’s Pharmacy which Burns office would have been on the south west corner. At one time several years ago there was a Jitters cafe down stars. Bob Burns was my mother and father’s family doctor. Dr. Robert Cruitt and Bob Burns were fishing buddies. Dr. Burns house is still there. I think of Dr. Burns every time I pass it. some boys carried me to his house with my hand split open and I was bleeding like a stuff hog … he told them in that very slow voice ‘Welllllll Takkkke Himmmm Overrrrrr to Theeeeee Hospitalllllllllll. I left quite a bit of blood on his front porch!’”

Judy Balthrop said: “I started first grade at Elliott Elementary School, which is where the Elliott Community Center was and I walked past Dr. Burn’s house every day. That was in 1945 and it was a lovely two-story home at the time.”

Ruth Foote Brock said “We went to Dr. Burns for our check-up before going to ACYC at Skyline Ranch in Mentone. I don’t know what exactly was going on, but he signed the form so we could go to camp!”

Gerald Waldrop also commented “The older Dr. Robert Burns in question I did not know as he died when I celebrated my first birthday – Sept. 7, 1943. However, I knew his son, “Doc” Burns, as my father called him. Dr. Burns office was on the second floor of a building on the corner of Wall Street and Sansom Avenue. Bob Burns was a very good surgeon. I went to Elliott Grammar School with his son, Douglas Burns, who is now deceased and taught his youngest daughter at Gadsden State. I knew “Jeffie” only through her husband, Whitt Latham, who was a DA at one time (if I remember) in Cherokee County. Also, I think I may have taught Whitt in the Upper Division Program at GSCC.”

My mother’s sister, the late Myrtle Mae “Squat” Shirley, lived directly behind Dr. Burns on N. 32nd Street. “Doc” (Jr.) was a running buddy of my father as they hunted, fished and/or enjoyed life to the fullest.

I remember Dr. Burns sewing me up twice after serious injuries between about 1946-48 when (I was) a small boy.

Another time I was with my father when he saw Dr. Burns as a patient. Bob said, “Lowell, you have got to quit smoking and drinking or its going to kill you.”

Doc said this to my Dad with a straight face as he had a cigarette in his hand after taking a draw.

It was a classic case of the old preacher who said “Don’t do as I do, but do as I say do.”

Bob was a character and a half but a good doctor who loved his flock.”

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