I’m glad I finally took the time to do a short detour to the Country Doctor Museum Bailey NC on on of my road trips South.
It is located less than 8 miles off I-95, so you can be there within minutes.
Whether or not you’re interested in medicine, this museum gives you a unique look back in time at how the medical field developed and changed. From leeches (yes, they have live leeches) to an “iron lung” you will never look at medicine the same again.
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What Is The Country Doctor Museum?
The Country Doctor Museum in Bailey NC is the oldest museum in the United States dedicated to the history of America’s rural health care.
Created in 1967 by a group of women from North Carolina, its original intent was to build a lasting memorial for rural physicians.
Over the decades, the Museum’s collection has grown to more than 5,000 medical artifacts and many volumes of historic texts. The exhibits and displays also expanded from rural doctors to include topics such as nursing, pharmaceuticals and home remedies.
Just like the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., I learned a great deal about the evolution of medical practices and how some advancements in medicine were made quite by accident.
What Are The Exhibits At The Country Doctor Museum?
The Country Doctor Museum is made up of three buildings, two of which were built from 19th century country doctor’s office buildings.
The “Freeman-Brantley Building” houses the museum’s displays on pharmacy, surgery, and a turn-of-the-20th-century sick room.
Country doctors were special, making up only a small percentage of doctors. Even in the 1920s, when half of Americans still lived in rural areas, 80 percent of doctors were located in cities.
This quote from “Country Doctor” in Life Magazine from 1948 sums it up:
“These 2,000 souls are constantly falling ill, recovering or dying, having children, being kicked by horses and cutting themselves on broken bottles. A single country doctor, known in the profession as a “g.p.”, or general practitioner, takes care of them all.”
The guided tour at the Country Doctor Museum provides insight on how country doctors operated, with exhibits that include early medicines, instruments and remedies.
Visitors will be amazed at the wide array of “medicines” and medical techniques that we now know are not safe or useful.
There is also a display of a typical country doctor’s office and information on medical schools in the early days.
The Country Doctor Museum Tours
This unique NC Museum invites people of all ages to visit and learn about the history of rural health care in the United States.
Docents lead tours through three buildings of exhibits and are available to answer questions.
Visitors can see hundreds of artifacts relevant to the practice of medicine between the late 18th century and the first half of the 20th century.
One of the most interesting parts of the tour for me was seeing how pills were made. The ingredients were mixed and then hand-rolled into a long slim cylinder shape before being placed on a piece of wood with slats.
A blade would come down and slice the cylinder of medicine into individual pills. This was the earliest “mass production” of pills.
In addition to those who just stop by, the Museum also offers educational tours to public, private and home school students of all ages.
Each group is guided through the Museum’s extensive exhibits by a docent who encourages participants to discover, appreciate, and inquire about nineteenth and twentieth-century rural health care.
As part of the student group tour experience, the Country Doctor Museum offers a hands-on educational activity for elementary and middle-school aged students.
History Of The Museum
The museum was founded in 1968 by a group of volunteer female community leaders and physicians, led by Dr. Gloria Flippin Graham and Dr. Josephine E. Newell, both of whom were North Carolina physicians.
The primary mission of the Country Doctor Museum is to create an appreciation and understanding of rural medical history.
It’s really interesting to see the evolution of health, medicine and the medical profession as a whole, through the many different displays and exhibits.
Modern medicine was built over centuries with each succeeding era witnessing important additions to the body of medical knowledge.
Obviously, the practice of medicine continues to improve every year as new technological advances continue to enhance patient care and outcomes.
Speaking of early medicine, did you know that a female doctor during the Civil War is the only woman to receive a Medal of Honor?
The ‘Sick Room’
The Sick Room in the Country Doctor Museum is set up to show what a home might look like when dealing with an ill person at the turn of the 19th century.
The display cases were full of remedies like “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup.” This medicine, which contained morphine and alcohol was used to relieve millions of babies of teething pain and diarrhea. It was widely marketed with images of contented mothers and their children.
Also on display in this room was also an old-fashioned pitcher and bowl for “washing up,” and hundreds of artifacts, remedies and medicinal advertisements during that time period.
Country Doctor Transportation
The Museum has a third building that contains early modes of transportation for country doctors, all of which were actually used by doctors in the area.
From a saddle to carriages and early cars, the exhibit lets you see the details of these early modes of transportation.
The buggies were designed to be lightweight so horses could pull them for long distances. They also sat high so they could go over obstacles more easily.
Lanterns could be attached to the surreys or horse-and-buggies for when the doctor was traveling at night.
The cars include a 1912 Ford Model T, owned by North Carolina country doctor H.B. Shields, who did the first successful appendectomy in Moore County where he practiced for 45 years.
Also on display is a 1926 Ford Model T, owned by Dr. W. T. Craig who also practiced in North Carolina.
This building includes a display case showing artifacts the country doctor may have carried with him while visiting the sick.
The Herb Garden
I visited the Museum in February, so didn’t see a lot of this “secret garden,” but I’m sure it’s beautiful in the spring and summer.
Herbs with traditional medicinal value are planted in the beds each year, so the garden is part of the museum tour in the spring and summer months.
The Mercer Reeves Hubbard Medicinal Garden is patterned after a botanic garden in Padua, Italy, one of the oldest medicinal gardens still in use.
According to literature, many factors such as the environment, harvesting season and processing techniques can influence the effectiveness and potency of herbs.
The ability to isolate and modify the active ingredients from these plants happened in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, allowing scientists to derive and produce more reliable and reproducible agents and drugs.
The Museum celebrated the garden’s 50th anniversary in 2021.
Plan Your Visit To The Country Doctor Museum
If you’re traveling through North Carolina on I-95, the Country Doctor Museum is an easy side trip to take.
Museum Tickets and Tours
Tours are guided and take between 45 and 60 minutes.
Admission prices are:
- $8.00 + tax – Adults
- $6.00 + tax – Seniors, persons 55 years or older
- $4.00 + tax – Students, age 5-18 years old and college students with ID
Pro Tip: This Country Doctor Museum in Bailey NC provides tours for lots of students in the spring. Call ahead to make sure they aren’t booked during field trip season.
In 2001, the Museum was donated to the Medical Foundation of East Carolina University. Through an agreement with the Foundation, the Museum is managed today as part of East Carolina University’s Laupus Health Sciences Library.
Where To Eat Nearby
Need a quick bite before heading home?
If you’re into fast food, you can stop by Hardee’s, which is 0.3 miles from the Museum.
El Paso Mexican Restaurant offers affordable Tex-Mex in Bailey NC, and is 0.6 miles from the Museum.
Other places to grab a meal or snack include Tacos Matehuala, Ming Garden Chinese restaurant, The Leaning Tree Italian restaurant, or the The Dessert Cake Company for a delicious slice of cake.
Other Things To See Nearby
Dan Finch Pottery
Tobacco Farm Life Museum
Sylvan Heights Bird Park
Nash County-Rocky Mount Travel & Tourism
Where To Stay Nearby
If you’re ready to stop for the night, there are plenty of hotels along the interchange in Wilson, N.C., or you can drive a little farther to the west to Raleigh.
Country Inn and Suites by Radisson is a quality affordable hotel.
Hampton Inn and Suites is less than 6 miles away.
There are a number of restaurants at this interchange including a Cracker Barrel.
When Is the Country Doctor Museum Bailey NC Open?
The Country Doctor Museum is open Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for guided tours that are offered on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where Is The Country Doctor Museum Located?
The Country Doctor Museum is located at 7089 Peele Road, Bailey NC. It’s about 30 minutes east of Raleigh and 10 minutes from I-95.
Wrap-Up Of The Country Doctor Museum Bailey NC
For those of us who are older, the Country Doctor Museum offers a touchstone for memories of rural physicians and home remedies. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember house calls from our doctor).
For the younger generations it is a wonderful glimpse into the past.
This museum focuses on educating visitors about the contributions of country doctors, but it’s done in a fun and interesting way. Kids won’t know they’re learning something, but they will remember their visit for the rest of their lives.
By the way, I visited the Country Doctor Museum while on my way to coastal North Carolina where I explored historic Fort Macon. It’s always fun to mix a beach vacation with a visit to local historic sites.
I love visiting these off-the-beaten-path places and realized after this trip that the Country Doctor Museum NC is only about an hour away from a small family cemetery I wrote about a few years ago.
(And speaking of cemeteries, North Carolina has the best, most historic and spookiest cemetery I’ve ever been to, called the Old Burying Ground).
I have lots more photos of the Country Doctor Museum NC! Stop by my Substack site if you want to see more pictures.