Doctor Prescribes Petroleum

Stephen Smith

“At the annual meeting of the Skaneateles Village Improvement Association held on Saturday, Dr. Stephen Smith of New York addressed the meeting, giving an instructive talk touching upon many things of interest to the residents of Skaneateles. One thing particularly was to sprinkle the streets with petroleum, especially Main street, where the cars make so much dust rushing the way they do at such a rapid rate. They make it almost impossible for housekeepers on that street to keep their or doors open, without the dust pouring into the house.”

Syracuse Herald, August, 1907

Stephen Smith (1823-1922) was born in Skaneateles and went on to become a surgeon and a champion of public health, leading the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Health in New York City in 1866. He wrote of the conditions that prompted his crusade:

“Nuisances dangerous to life and detrimental to health existed everywhere. Large areas were undrained, giving rise to miasmatic fevers in the Autumn. The cobble-stone paved streets were lined and littered with garbage. Small butcher shops were in every section, requiring herds of cattle, sheep and hogs to be driven through the streets; the scavenger’s cart, loaded with filth, filled the night airs with suffocating odors; the river front was lined with fat melting and other offensive industries. Life in the streets, now made perilous by the automobile, was then even more endangered by stray cattle made furious by the hooting, chasing mob.”

Smith died just a few months short of his 100th birthday and left a cleaner world behind him; he is buried in Lake View Cemetery.

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