Text and Photos Submitted by Terry L. Ommen
Over the years, Visalia, like other communities, has had its share of accident victims and those with illnesses requiring medical attention.
In the very early years, medical care was provided in the doctor’s office or more commonly dispensed at the patient’s home. During recovery, the infirmed were generally cared for by family or friends. But as the town grew, so did the need for more advanced care, and hospitals were established. Visalia had a city hospital and, for a time, was also home to the Tulare County Hospital. Then private health care facilities came along, offering supplemental or alternative medical services. One such facility in Visalia was the Fenwick Sanatorium, and during the decade of its existence, it became a well-known and popular place for care.
Dorothy V. Fenwick was born in about 1880 to parents big in the cattle business near Orosi. She was smart, ambitious and knew what she wanted — a career in nursing. As a young girl, she left home and in 1900 entered the nursing training program at the Los Angeles County Hospital. Two years later, she graduated and continued her training at the Children’s Hospital of San Francisco. Upon completion, she earned the title of nurse.
She returned to Tulare County and in the early to mid-1900s, started the Fenwick Sanatorium on South Court Street in Visalia, proudly advertising herself as a graduate nurse and proprietress. She operated there until about 1909, when she moved her sanitarium to 27 E. Mineral King Ave., later renumbered 627. The new home was ideal as it was “far enough from the city to ensure a quiet and pure atmosphere.”
She was happy with her new sanitarium, describing it as “not only an institution affording every facility in emergency and surgical cases, but a quiet retreat for persons desiring a restful environment in which to regain their strength.…”
The Visalia Delta was also pleased with Fenwick’s operation, calling it “one of the most modern sanitariums in the Great San Joaquin Valley.” The newspaper added, “The Fenwick is thoroughly equipped for any medical or surgical case, its rooms are large and airy, maternity cases are given special attention, with all the comforts of home and with the most scientific medical attention. The sanitarium is a two-story building with spacious verandas surrounded with beautiful trees and flowers, nature’s two great physicians — pure air and sunshine.”
Over the years, the facility offered modern medical care and had a good record of success such as the delivery of the Koenig’s baby daughter and the treatment and recovery of a young man named Garich who had been involved in a bicycle accident. But the Fenwick had unpleasant outcomes as well. Patients sometimes died there, including 36-year old cattleman James Bolton, who lingered for a long time until liver disease took his life. Then there was Charles Tilden, a 35-year-old Mt. Whitney Power Company worker who succumbed to tuberculosis. Even Sarah Fenwick, Dorothy’s mother, spent her last days of life at the sanitarium.
However, there was one case that cast a dark shadow over the facility, one that involved Dorothy personally — and one that would have a profound effect on her. Because of her need for a handyman, but more importantly out of kindness and sympathy, she hired a local man named Stonewall Jackson Hitchcock to do odd jobs. Stoney, as he was called, was well-known, but identified by many as a “character.” Some described him as feebleminded, but most considered him harmless. Initially, so did Dorothy, so she hired him and even let him stay at the facility. By 1914, her assessment of the man had changed.
During his time there, Stoney became infatuated with her. He started leaving her love notes and became intensely jealous of any man with whom she came in contact. One male visitor, Paul Kinzell of the Wunder billiard hall, visited Dorothy one evening and later recalled, “Stonewall made a rush at me, shook his fist under my nose and ordered me to stay away.”
More former patients of the sanitarium also reported being threatened by the jealous man. On several occasions, Dorothy told him to leave, but he always came back, begging on his knees to be allowed to stay. She always gave in. On one occasion, she said to him, “Now look here Stonewall, you have no business to get such ideas in your head about me, and if you stay here, you will have to behave yourself.”
But his obsession with her continued. He even talked of marriage. From time to time, his strange behavior would require a visit from the Visalia marshal, but still Stoney stayed. It was clear that he was “sadly, madly and emphatically in love with Miss Fenwick, and that this love developed into an insane fury.”
One day, Stoney reportedly told Dorothy that he would kill her unless she got rid of all male patients. After this blatant personal threat, a nervous and upset Dorothy contacted the authorities. She had him arrested on an insanity charge. A sanity hearing was held before Superior Court Judge Allen on Sept. 12, 1914. Attorney D.E. Perkins represented Stonewall and argued that the troubled man might be feebleminded, but was not dangerous.
Another court date was set, but on Sept. 15, 1914, prior to that hearing day, it was announced in the Visalia Morning Delta newspaper that a resolution had been found. Isaac Hitchcock, a relative, agreed to keep him under his care in Hanford. The insanity charge was dismissed and Stoney left Visalia.
The Fenwick Sanatorium was operated by Dorothy until early 1916, then ownership transferred to Ralph Colby, former manager of the Tulare County Hospital. Colby changed the name to St. Luke’s Hospital, and the Fenwick Sanatorium was no more.
Dorothy Fenwick’s history after the sanitarium is not clear, but she continued to live in town for a number of years.
She married J.B. Schmitt of Visalia and, according to her obituary, the couple had three daughters. Dorothy died in Fresno on May 31, 1950.