Column: Beverly Hahs: Dr. William Berry Wilson: ‘No voice for help was disregarded’ (11/12/22)

A popular Cape Girardeau physician, William Wilson was born near Old Appleton on January 12, 1831. He served bravely as a physician during the cholera epidemic and the Civil War. He was also a stalwart leader of the Cape Girardeau Masonic Lodge, founding the Wilson Chapter of Royal Arch Masons in 1872.

Photo courtesy of descendant, Charles “Chip” D. Wilson of Cape Girardeau

As a young man, William Wilson grew up near Old Appleton, the son of carpenter Benjamin Wilson and his wife Jane. His education was in the country schools until a family friend, Dr. Moses S. Harris of Perry County, Missouri, did not suggest that he could tutor William in preparation for medical school. Eager to enter medicine, William attended and graduated from Bellevue College Medical School in New York.

Shortly after returning to Cape Girardeau County, Dr. Wilson, age 21, volunteered to attend to the victims of the great cholera epidemic of 1852 that ravaged Jackson, leaving 123 recorded deaths. After his illness, he organized the Old Medical Society of Southeast Missouri where doctors pooled their knowledge to better help the citizens of the county.

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He married Anna Eliza Juden in 1853 and established their home at 344 N . Ellis and opened a drug store at 111 N. Main.

Always up for a challenge, Dr. Wilson was a young doctor who met the victims of the Civil War. The Union provost of Cape Girardeau granted the doctor unlimited passage through the Union and Confederate lines.

During the war, there was much excitement about their farmhouse on the corner of North Ellis Street, just east of Fort B (the present site of the university).

After six children were born into the family, the Wilsons decided to move “to town” near the river, where they had more room for visitors and family. The three-story plaster brick building was located in front of the cliffs of Fort A, facing the river. Each of the numerous rooms had high vaulted ceilings trimmed with walnut and poplar woodwork. Beautiful carved rosewood furniture and marble-topped tables graced Riverview’s rooms.

After Anne’s death in 1886, a Baptist minister, the Reverend JC Maple of Cape Girardeau, married the doctor to Louise Gibboni.

With patients and pharmacies, the doctor, known as the oldest doctor in 1888, was busy. However, he always found time to stay involved in the community. He served on the early Board of Trustees of the Normal School, as president of the Southeast Missouri Agricultural Society and the Cape Girardeau-Jackson Gravel Road Co. In addition, he held high positions in Masonic circles and was instrumental in keeping the Masonic Lodge alive during the Civil War.

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After several years of declining health, Dr. Wilson, 69, died on October 18, 1900, at his home. His will allowed Louisa to remain in their “cottage together with all the furniture, pictures, silver and gold plate, china, clock, stable … and the mare Elsie.” Son, J. Maple, won the right to buy the original house at Ellis and North streets for $2,000. He and his wife, Emma, ​​restored the Queen Anne style house that today stands next to Centenary United Methodist Church.

The Masonic Lodge was in charge of Wilson’s services at New Lorimier Cemetery. The ceremony was attended by a large number of citizens from all walks of life.

The Water Street house was razed in the 1930s.


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