A magazine rack that will turn 100 years old next year has been donated to the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum through the family of Dr. Lewis Wetzel Spradling. The furniture piece was handmade by the doctor in December of 1919. Dr. Spradling was a special person who proved to the community that he could not only help with the various ailments of people, he could also create interesting pieces through his gifted ingenuity.
He was a doctor loved by the community.
Author C. Stephen Byrum wrote in the “Tennessee County History Series: McMinn County” that “Dr. L.W. Spradling was well known for his avocations; he was a mechanic, writer, and landscape painter and according to Sharp (J.M. Sharp, a local author) an all around and versatile genius, a radiator of sunshine.”
The magazine rack appears to be brand new standing proud and strong, not even a wobble can be found.
It appears to be a solid wood such as walnut, a popular wood that he frequently used. This unique piece of furniture has a mirror at the top with a cherub on each side.
It was specifically built to hold magazines because the word “MAGAZINES” is engraved on the front and on the back is engraved: “BUILT BY DR. L.W. SPRADLING, ATHENS, TENN. DEC. 1919.”
It is obvious that Dr. Spradling took great pride in his creations and that these particular engravings were possible through the special tools that he made.
Originally, Dr. Spradling was going to become a blacksmith and worked for a while in Decatur learning the trade.
He soon put aside that idea and went to college to become a doctor of medicine.
He graduated from the University of Nashville in 1899.
He continued his education through 1919 taking courses from colleges around the country.
He came to Athens and set up his practice — a practice that showed great compassion for the people.
It is written in the “McMinn County and It’s People 1819-1997” book that an article published by The Daily Post-Athenian in 1939 tells that Dr. Spradling kept precise record books and would accept trade as a method of payment for his services.
It was not unusual for him to get his shoes repaired or his ironing done or maybe a side of bacon from people who needed his services, but did not have any money. This was a time when doctors made house calls when child bearing was done at home and the doctor was only called in for an emergency.
In 1915, he was experimenting with an electrical transformer to make a small buzzer when he discovered a process in tempering steel quite by accident.
It all happened one day when he heated a screwdriver and then placed it in an oil mixture that he had made “which put the finest temper in that piece of steel that I have ever seen in any steel before,” he said.
He decided that he would try an edge tool and made a pocket knife that he said had the “best edge” he had ever seen. He goes on to explain in his journal the process he discovered in great detail and continued to make his own tools for his woodworking hobby.
He was never able to find anyone interested in learning the process, which enabled him to make in addition to pocket knives, revolvers, meat saws, and several types of woodworking tools of excellent quality.
The items he made he gave away to friends and family.
He was known for creating a really fine violin; it is written that he made six of them.
He said he had never seen a violin made before and made his first one using a laryngoscope and a model Cremona violin made by Rudolph Wurlitzer of Cincinnati, Ohio.
He had the ability to use his tools and inquisitive mind to create whatever he wanted.
It is written that he successfully removed his own appendix using mirrors to guide his gifted hands.
He was born in 1876 in Rogers Creek Valley of McMinn County and lived in Meigs County from when he was 13 years of age until after he married Martha “Nettie” T. King in 1891. By 1895, they moved back to Athens, where he began his practice on a temporary license.
After receiving his full degree, he had his first shocking revelation in 1900.
He found that his wife suffered with tuberculosis already in the late stage.
She died of the disease in 1900. In 1905, he married Lyda May Burn.
She died in 1912.
There were a total of four children, Bertha, Vivian, Sarah, and Richard.
Dr. Spradling passed away on Jan. 1, 1936, with some of his family present after a period of illness from cardiovascular disease — complications were pneumonia and a cerebral hemorrhage.