Dr. Holt’s dental plan

I’ll be the first to admit I sometimes have issues with too many choices. I love living in this country, though it can be tough selecting the “right” toothpaste or deodorant. When my wife and I moved to Webster City, I thought everything would just naturally fall into place. Smaller community, less traffic, quieter — all those things I’m looking for as I approach that “don’t buy green bananas” phase of life. So, honestly, how difficult can it be to choose a dentist in our new locale? There are lots of fine dental offices in Webster City, enough to make a choice rather difficult. Really, how many cavities and crowns does it take to help pick the right one? Oh, for those golden oldie days when it was so much simpler …

Elias T. Holt was born in Woodstock, Vermont, in 1832. During the American Civil War, Holt served as a saddler in what became the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, attaining the rank of sergeant in a unit that saw victories and a defeat that cost nearly 140 of the 170 members involved.

After the war, Elias moved with his wife, Martha, and two children to Iowa, settling in Webster City. Arriving in mid-summer 1866, Elias started a successful business making and selling just about anything connected with saddlery, leather items used with horses. His shop’s location moved a couple of times and advertisements in the local papers show Elias also sold plants and trees he would bring up from Boone County nurseries to sell in Webster City.

The family prospered, but there was also competition in “the industry” — a form of being one of several auto repair or detail shops today.

In the early 1870s the family took a trip “back east” after Elias sold his saddlery business, perhaps not to return. But a couple of years later the Holts did come back. It seems Martha’s health liked the climate here better. Another daughter, Bertha, was born in Webster City in 1874. Elias began advertising a new business; he was now the first (and only) dentist in Webster City.

I don’t know what, if any, schooling he received; statistics show that around 15% of dentists in 1880 went to dental school. The majority learned by a form of apprenticeship or just started on their own.

Elias Holt’s love for fine horses and his attention to detail as a saddler served him well as a dentist. He was quick to embrace new technology; nitrous oxide was administered to create a form of “painless dentistry.” Just a decade earlier, dentists primarily pulled teeth, making room for dentures, which was not much better than 100 years prior. His business and family life seemed set and secure.

In 1883 he announced a trip out west was in store, informing his patients of his plans. He traveled by light wagon, driving a team of his horses some 1,300 miles overland to New Mexico and Colorado. On his return he again resumed serving Webster City. In 1891, his beloved Martha passed away at home after a long battle with tuberculosis (then called consumption because of the constant weight loss it brings). Sometime later, Elias Holt moved with his children to Primghar, Iowa.

In 1891, Holt’s younger daughter, Bertha, also succumbed to tuberculosis, dying on September 24. She was brought down to join her mother in Our Neighborhood a few days later. On his return to Primghar, Elias suffered a heart attack and died on October 12. A final trip to Webster City and a reunion with his wife and daughter followed.

Our Neighborhood is a column by Michael Eckers focusing on the men and women whose presence populates Graceland Cemetery in Webster City..


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