“We’re in Enosburg Falls,” Mike Hoey said. “And Steve, a physician — and a nationally-known patent medicine that he developed — are what bring us here this week.”
“Yes; definitely, Mike! Dr. B.J. Kendall of Enosburgh came home and made this medicine which brought a ton of wealth to this community at the end of the 19th and the early 20th century,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “We’re going to go talk to Tim Camisa, who owns the Kendall Building right here — and we get to go inside.”
“Dr. Kendall graduated from (UVM’s Larner College of Medicine in) 1868, (and) proceeded to come back to Enosburgh and make something called the Spavin Cure,” Camisa said. “Spavin is the ankle joint in a horse; early bottles that I have say ‘For Man Or Beast’. The main ingredient was opium. (It) came down through Montreal; I have a bunch of the crates that they were shipped in.”
“But completely legal at the time that they were doing this, and that’s part of this whole patent medicine industry in the United States,” Perkins noted. “This made a fair amount of money.”
“I have all his medicine sales (from when) he was just down the street before they built this (facility) in 1880,” Camisa noted. “This was the most state-of-the-art printing plant in 1880.”
Perkins asked, “Why would a patent medicine company need a state-of-the-art printing house?”
“The company printed broadsides, and they sent out 17 teams of horses every spring,” Camisa answered. “Those wagons carried full-color broadsides and were put in every livery stable, blacksmith shop and every horse-related business across the United States.”
“You were telling us about some information that the author Gary Shattuck uncovered in his book about Vermont and opium that I found really eye-opening,” Perkins continued.
“Yeah, Gary wrote a great book called ‘Green Mountain Opium Eaters’ — and in 1890, in the state of Vermont, we consumed 33 million doses of opium/heroin,” Camisa explained. “It was sold on every street corner and almost in every store.”
“No one is immune from addiction, including Dr. Kendall himself,” Hoey added.
“Yes. Dr. Kendall took on some business partners and then, around 1880, he was falling into addiction,” Camisa said. “He ended up being committed to a sanitarium in (the) Chicago area and never came back.”
Perkins asked, “When did the Spavin Cure business go out of business?”
“We had the (Pure) Food and Drug Act of 1906 (that led to the creation of the FDA); obviously, we knew we were having some problems,” Camisa replied. “We have found shipping records as late as 1915, 1918.”
“Tim, you’re working on a project here to build a museum and exhibits about this topic,” Perkins said. “Can you tell us about that?”
“Yes; a few years ago, we hired Newton Rose, who is a graduate of the UVM history department. He’s drafted us up basically a museum plan,” Camisa said. “You can send an email — email@example.com . I like to show people the building.”