Before Dr. Richard Buckley Potter arrived on Lake Worth in 1882, the closest doctor was 150 miles away in Titusville. On one occasion, Elisha Dimick traveled that far for his daughter, Belle:
When I was four years old, I jumped out of the bow of the skiff one day on the shore on my hands. Broke both of the bones right off. So put my mother and my grandfather and myself in the boat—sailboat, little 15-foot boat—went out this inlet and up to the Indian River Inlet and way up to Titusville ... So you see, we had to do just what we had to do.
Mildred “Millie” Gildersleeve was one of the first African Americans to live on Lake Worth when she arrived from Georgia about 1885; she married M. Jacob “Jake” Gildersleeve in 1889. About 1886 Millie started a long career as midwife to Dr. Potter, who would call for her in a naphtha launch at her dock with a toot of his whistle. Together they attended both settlers and Seminole Indians.
Dr. Potter had earned the Seminoles’ trust when he had lived on Biscayne Bay, and they continued to seek out his care on Lake Worth, as his niece, Marjorie Potter Stewart recalled during a 1962 interview (HSPBC):
I heard him tell about one old Indian that came in with his leg nearly gone with snakebite, and he cleaned that out and the old Indian got well, and they thought he was sort of a miracle man.
[My uncle] took his meals at our house. And a lot of people knew that, so … they’d come to the house looking for him. And I remember one night, I was a little girl, I guess about six, seven, eight years old—I remember it anyway. I went flyin’ out to the kitchen for something and this old Indian was sitting in front of the wood stove getting warm. It was a cold night. It surprised me—I didn’t know he was there and it surprised me and startled me so I screamed and started tearing back into the house. That poor old Indian was broken-hearted to think he’d frightened a little girl.
By the 1890s, another medical doctor, Dr. Hood, arrived on Lake Worth. At the turn of the century one of first African American doctors, Dr. Leroy Jefferson, was providing medical treatment to African Americans living in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.
© Historical Society of Palm Beach County.