Upland Chronicles: Dr. Yarberry made many house calls in the county

Jan. 28, 2013 @ 12:14 AM

On a humid summer afternoon in the early 1940s, family members and neighbors gathered at the home of Joseph Leak McMahan and Dixie Stover McMahan on Burden Hill to help “Miss Dixie” convert her dining room into a suitable site for Dr. H.O. Yarberry Sr. to perform an appendectomy.

The patient, Mary Parton, was not an immediate member of the McMahan family. Earlier that same day, Dr. Yarberry examined the young girl at her home and diagnosed she was suffering from appendicitis. He told the family to acquire a suitable place for surgery and he would return in the afternoon to operate on the girl.

Once the news spread throughout the small close-knit African-American community, the McMahan family offered their home, which was much larger than the Parton’s modest home.

For years Dr. Yarberry performed medical procedures in homes throughout the county, but this was not an ordinary case.

Mary was one of the 11 children of Henry and Alice Garrett Parton. Their mother was both speech and hearing impaired, as were all of the children except Mary.

Although she was capable of hearing, Mary had not developed adequate communications skills living with a family who communicated primarily with sign language.

When Mary enrolled in Pleasant View School she had trouble communicating with her classmates. Her teacher, Mary B. McMahan, somehow managed to acquire a place for Mary at the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville.

When little Mary returned home for summer vacation she was stricken with appendicitis and Dr. Yarberry was summoned.

When Yarberry arrived after lunch the McMahans’ yard was full of curious onlookers who watched silently as he entered the house with his black bag of medical instruments. After the procedure was successfully completed, the exhausted doctor walked out of the house and stretched out in the grass under a shade tree for awhile before re-entering to check on the patient. He stayed with the young girl most of the night and returned early the next morning and daily for several days to check on her progress.

While not a typical case, the care he provided the poor little black girl is an example of dilemmas often faced by physicians in the days of house calls.

Dr. Otha Horace Yarberry Sr. was born Jan. 15, 1895. He was a son of Dr. Jacob L. Yarberry and Martha Ann Atchley Yarberry. His father practiced medicine out of his home in the Allensville community, which was later flooded by Douglas Lake.

His father drove a horse-drawn buggy on house calls. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, the elder Dr. Yarberry is said to have worked day and night for several months attending to his patients throughout Sevier and Jefferson counties.

After attending Murphy College in Sevierville, Dr. Yarberry earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Lincoln Memorial University and entered the University of Tennessee Medical School, where he was honored with a special award for the highest scholarship when he graduated in 1921.

Following an internship at Knoxville General Hospital, Dr. Yarberry set up his medical practice in Sevierville. Later he studied surgery under the tutelage of the renowned Dr. Barney Brooks at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. He also studied at New Orleans Medical Assembly and Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Yarberry married Stella Henderson in 1924. Stella was a daughter of William Catlett Henderson and Maude McMahan Henderson. They had one son Otha Horace, Jr. who also studied at the University of Tennessee Medical School in Memphis and became an anesthesiologist.

Stella Henderson Yarberry inherited her family’s 800-acre farm on the north side of the French Broad River which includes the 1850 house where she was born.

The farm has a panoramic vista which encompasses an unparalleled view of the main ridge of the Great Smoky Mountains and the whole of the Little Pigeon River Valley. It remains in the Yarberry family.

After practicing in several offices in downtown Sevierville and more than two decades of house calls, Yarberry built a new hospital on Cedar Street in 1945. He acquired the property from E.W. “Cap” Paine and his wife, Juanita Massey Paine.

The old house was where Juanita Paine was raised. Ironically, her father, Dr. Z.D. Massey, was a popular doctor who practiced medicine in Sevierville for many years. Dr. Yarberry operated the hospital for 10 years before his retirement.

Interestingly, Dr. Yarberry built his hospital only one block from Broady’s Hospital, which opened in 1940. But both physicians seemed to have all the cases they could handle.

Although his greatest interest lay in the treatment of those who were ill, Dr. Yarberry was known to never get in a hurry.

Often when he made house calls he would take time from his busy schedule to converse with his patients and their families about subjects of mutual interest other than their health.

Yarberry was a stockholder and director of Sevier County Bank for many years. He gave his best thought, service and knowledge of local citizens and economic conditions to the bank.

Several years after Dr. Yarberry’s retirement Sevier County acquired the hospital building. After renovation it was used as the Sevier County Public Health Building until 2012.

Currently the building houses the Sevier County Public Works. The old hospital is now called the Yarberry Memorial Building and stands as a fitting tribute to one of the many well-respected physicians who served the needs of the sick in Sevier County before the days of big compartmentalized medical centers.

— Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact McMahan at 453-6411 or email to cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to ron@ronraderproperties.com.