This Was Then: Dr. Orland Mayhew

A country doctor who made house calls.

Dr. Orland Smith Mayhew (1878–1944) of Vineyard Haven.

If you were born in Vineyard Haven before about 1935, the chances are excellent that you were brought into this world in the company of Dr. Orland Mayhew. The late Stan Lair of Vineyard Haven recalled, “Dr. Mayhew was a country-type doctor. He would come out any time of the night, in the morning, early morning. Give him a call, he’d be right there.” His office stood in downtown Vineyard Haven from 1903 until his death in 1944, and he was the last surviving Island physician who made his rounds on a horse and buggy. (He owned three horses before finally buying a runabout in 1908.)

The tireless doctor was born to 71-year-old Chilmark farmer Jared Mayhew and his 30-year-old wife, Emma. Jared died when his son was only 10, but Orland and his twin brother Osgood attended the Academy in West Tisbury, and eventually both went on to Harvard University. Graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1901, Mayhew soon returned to the Vineyard, practicing briefly with Dr. Meara in Oak Bluffs. In 1903, he bought the Vineyard Haven practice of Dr. Winthrop Butler, and occupied his predecessor’s office on Main Street for the rest of his career.

Basil Welch recalled Dr. Mayhew: “He was a very heavy man. God, he puffed and wheezed when he walked — and especially if he had to climb stairs. But he was an old country doctor, and you could call that man any time of day or night and he would come, and this I know because I used to have asthma when I was a kid, and more than once he would come to my house at two or three o’clock in the morning to give me a shot or something else.”

Mayhew left the Island briefly in 1918 to serve as a lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. (together with Dr. David Brush of the Dental Division, also of Vineyard Haven). But he returned to the Vineyard immediately after the war.

Dr. Russell Hoxie of Vineyard Haven recalled hearing stories of the old doctor: “I came to the Vineyard in ’55, well after Dr. Mayhew had died. I’ve heard that he made home visits to Chilmark and beyond. I think the fee was 75 cents. Imagine that! By 1955, my home-call fee was all of five bucks, office three.”