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April 24, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Dr. Asahel Clapp

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY —

William Augustus writes that in December 1818 Clapp attempted to treat another New Albany founder, Nathaniel Scribner, in a farmhouse off of Corydon Pike after his ill-fated return from then capital Corydon. Unable to stop the sickness, Nathaniel died that night. 

In 1819, the young doctor married Joel’s daughter Mary Lucinda Scribner who died subsequently in childbirth in August 1821. That following January he then married Elizabeth Edmonds Scribner, Nathaniel’s widow, not to mention his own aunt by marriage. 

Through the settlement of her first husband’s estate, Elizabeth received a plot of land next door to the Scribner House where the couple built a home. Now known as the South Side Inn Café, it still stands today. 

Of course, Clapp did a lot more than marry Scribners. He immersed himself in the study of medicine, geology and botany with a deep curiosity. In 1820, the doctor became the first president of the newly formed Indiana State Medical Society. A pioneer of this time, Clapp also became the first fire chief of the New Albany Volunteer Fire Department in the same year. 

By the 1830s, Clapp had begun to travel, mostly in order to buy medicine for his drug store. Always interested in learning, the New Albanian visited other prominent doctors and professors, particularly enjoying the time he spent at Yale University. 

“He became well known on the East Coast. He went back several times. He was highly entertained at Yale,” Caudill said. 

Scientists went out of their way to find Clapp too. In 1849, renowned English geologist Sir Charles Lyell paid a visit to Clapp and inquired about his research and fossil compilations from the Falls of the Ohio. Later, Clapp’s complete specimen collection from the area would be donated to Harvard University. As a botanist, Clapp also compiled a 222-page catalog detailing medicinal plants in America which the doctor presented at an American Medical Association meeting in 1852.

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