The following article was written following a recent fieldtrip taken by the Goldston United Methodist Church’s writers’ group, “The InkSpots”. We were blessed to have had the unique opportunity to tour the Street family homestead and to hear the stories of healing and faith. We found a treasure trove of inspiration from which to write and hope that someday, this precious gem of history will be preserved for generations to come to visit and be likewise inspired. Thanks to our hosts, Al Simmons and Paul Paschal whom without, this journey would not have been possible.
We turned off the main road onto the lane that led past a small pond to the homestead of the Street family. The structures were weathered and gray as one might expect from buildings that were over 100 years old. We were not there to learn as much about the buildings as we were to hear about the people that made them come alive with hope and relief. The family that lived here were as much about the spirituality of living as they were the physicality. The Streets, as they were named, would become known far and wide for their care and perseverance for their patients; this was the homestead of the Doctors’ Street.
Considering the age of the buildings, they were all in very good shape. There had evidently been many hands over the years that had maintained these aged edifices as well as preserving the story of the families that made them the historical structures for which they were known. Large oaks and cedars surrounded the buildings providing shade in areas of the fresh mown lawn. Here, often at the first light of dawn, the doctor would find the yard filled with wagons and in later years, cars, which had parked waiting for the good doctor to awaken. In other words, the grounds surrounding the office and home became the waiting room for patients who made the long trek during the night, being too ill to wait for morning.
The original structure of the doctor’s office was built in the late 1700s and used as a law office of a former governor of North Carolina. The law office would later be used by the first Doctor, Richard Street. The Richard returned from the civil war and took up medicine, practicing initially only in the former law office, and then eventually expanding the building adding on a back structure, shaped as a “T”, that would house additional rooms for examination, pharmaceuticals and an administrative office. It was not known if Richard had practiced medicine in the civil war, but there was an old medical saddle bag on display which was very worn that could have easily have been used on those ancient battlefields. What motivated the young Mr. Street to become a doctor one can only speculate. Having lived through the horrors of war, there were likely more than enough traumatic battlefield scenes which could have easily been the impetus for his lifelong pursuit.
Throughout the doctor’s office, there were large brown bottles of chemicals and compounds used to make medicines that the doctor would administer to his patients. Likewise, there were volumes of ledgers, medical manuals and various reference materials. I quickly got the feel that Dr. Street was a beacon of hope in the darkness in a landscape of medical poverty. He not only applied his craft but continually strove to further his abilities to do so. When we read the signs outside of most modern medical facilities we read the term, “Medical Practice of…”. In the case of the late Dr. Street, this was not only a statement, but a fact made obvious by his self-imposed continuing education. He was not only the doctor, but also the pharmacist, specialist, surgeon and even eventual caretaker. From the act of bringing life into the world to the act of consoling the families of those patients that he could not save, the dust on the books of memories belied the stories within that a painful heart would have been driven to pursue excellence beyond the weathered walls in which he inhabited. We were made aware that often, his patients would stay for extended periods of time in his home either to recover or to prepare for eventual medical needs like giving birth. As I stood in one of the upstairs rooms of the home, I could almost sense the lives that entered and passed to and from this world in that room comforted by the man they called Doc.
In addition to continuing his self-education, Dr. Street also strove to educate his fellow medical peers by speaking and writing about the need for more “Diagnostic Medicine”. He felt that too many young doctors were coming out of medical school and going into specialized surgery rather than focusing on the diagnostic medical practice. More than once our host and descendent, Al Simmons, found reference in letters to the doctor of how his diagnosis of some rare ailment or disease would sometimes years later be confirmed. In other words, when Doc Street told you that you were sick, you could count on it.
In the book cases filled with countless medical volumes, there were also several worn Bibles. My interest was piqued since I knew that many times the family genealogy would have been preserved in the “Family Bible”. Upon inspection of the Bibles on hand, I didn’t find any genealogy information but I did find line after line of scripture references, obviously favorites that someone had written for easy access, either for future reference or when a spiritual chord was struck. I was moved to find that the Street’s were as known for their strong Christian faith as they were for their medical practice. A local church even began in one of the front rooms of the house. This only confirmed my belief that this place was a haven of recovery and health for the whole being; an Eden in the wilderness.
Here I found the true meaning of “Practice”, with regard to medicine. Over the years, through countless struggles to preserve the health of those terminally ill, through tomes of medical literature the good doctor would pour until he had exhausted all known medical knowledge; he then would turn to the Almighty for prayer. Each painful loss only fueled his drive, his passion to prevent it from happening again. Each time, he would become better at what he did, continually striving to better himself, not only as a doctor, but also as a Christian. In essence, he practiced what he preached, and strove to become a better man while here on this earth for it.
As I watched my children observe, listen and record this visit to an underappreciated historical treasure and landmark, I could only hope that in some far away recess of their minds a spark was lit to pursue life in the same manner in which the good doctors had done. Dr. Richard Street had made such an impact on his community and family that eventually not only his son, but his grandson would likewise follow in his footsteps, practicing medicine and making the world a better place. In life, we often struggle and toil in the moment, sometimes losing focus for what matters most. When our livelihood entails life itself, our perspective changes and suddenly the reality of mortality changes us making us either better or worse for it, depending upon our character. It was obvious from the archives and treasures left behind by the family of doctors that they had all been better for it, and so were we.
What began as a casual conversation with Paul Paschal and I before Christmas of last year turned out to be a discovery of healing and faith. I saw a lady in her seventies turn into a little girl once more and saw teenagers enthralled by the antiquity of a medical practice almost unheard of in today’s fast paced world. God leads us in paths we never can imagine, and last Friday was one such day I’ll not soon forget.