Lyman Wheeler diaries, 1852-1855
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Wheeler, Lyman, 1820-1897
- Lyman Wheeler of western New York wrote two diaries from February 1852 to June 1855, recording his experiences as a house painter, teacher, and adherent of medical practices like phrenology, hydrotherapy, and vegetarianism. He wrote of his social, intellectual, and professional activities in the region, and described trips he took to cities and towns in western New York and New York City. The second volume includes much content related to his involvement in the "water cure," including time as both a patient and worker at the Forestville Water Cure, and a visit to the Orange Mountain Water Cure in New Jersey.
- 2 volumes
- Collection processed and finding aid created by Jayne Ptolemy, June 2022
- Scope and Content:
Lyman Wheeler of western New York wrote two diaries from February 1852 to June 1855, recording his experiences as a house painter, teacher, and adherent of medical practices like phrenology, hydrotherapy, and vegetarianism. He wrote of his social, intellectual, and professional activities in the region, and described trips he took to cities and towns in western New York and New York City. The second volume includes much content related to his involvement in the "water cure," including time as both a patient and worker at the Forestville Water Cure and a visit to the Orange Mountain Water Cure in New Jersey.
Volume 1 opens in February 1852 with Lyman Wheeler working as a house painter in Buffalo, New York. In addition to describing his work and its negative impact on his health, Wheeler also commented on the social scene in Buffalo, including religious services, lectures, concerts, and steamer arrivals. He occasionally described buildings in detail and mentioned notable events, like the visit of Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894) in May 1852, viewing "Mr. Craven's Panorama of a voyage to California..." (June 6, 1852), a funeral procession for Henry Clay (July 6, 1852), and events like fires, trials, and cholera (June 29, 1852).
In July 1852, Wheeler took up residence in Villenova, New York, where he helped family with farming, painted houses and buggies, and in November 1852 secured a teaching position, which he held through March 1853. While in Villenova, he wrote about his daily activities; religious activities; visits to nearby towns like Dayton, Fredonia, and Forestville; his dissatisfaction with the town's morals, education, and intemperance; lawsuits; and musings about women and marriage. In January 1853, Wheeler appears to have been participating in a debate group, which discussed issues like capital punishment, immigration, the relative merits of Christopher Columbus and George Washington, the abolition of slavery, and others. In mid-July 1854, Wheeler travelled to New York City, and he described his journey there and back. While in the city he saw a procession with President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869); visited P. T. Barnum's Museum, describing the "Whiskered woman" in detail; went to the Crystal Palace; attended Fowlers & Wells Phrenological Cabinet and had L. N. Fowler perform a phrenological exam of his head; and visited other tourist attractions.
Throughout the volume, Wheeler commented about temperance efforts and his displeasure at alcohol usage, and occasionally referenced other reform movements like the Graham diet (April 12, 1852) and abolitionism. He wrote frequently about his health, describing himself as an "invalid" (June 14, 1852), and wrote of his efforts to manage his wellbeing, including purchasing medicines. On May 4, 1853, Wheeler commented about his interest in phrenology, calling it "one of the sciences that is to aid much in the great work of reform that must be carried on to ameliorate the condition of mankind." His investment in the field appeared to be growing, as he noted arguing with "opposers" (May 27, 1853; June 1, 1853), attending the "Phrenological Cabinet" in New York City, and having an exam performed (July 18, 1853 and July 21, 1853).
This volume also includes a description of the Crystal Palace on the first page, and several original poems composed by Wheeler are interspersed.
Volume 2 begins with Lyman Wheeler in Hanover, New York, on December 3, 1853. Wheeler was engaged with teachers' institutes, which gave lectures and debates on instructional issues, and he was teaching his own school. Throughout the volume, he continued to visit school districts and attend lectures and meetings relating to education, including a lecture by Horace Greeley (December 9, 1854). He actively attended religious services, critiquing the social scene, and engaging with temperance affairs.
Lyman Wheeler continued to experience poor health and was often frustrated at being unable to pursue steady work. He attempted to find medical remedies. On January 7, 1854, Wheeler made the acquaintance of Dr. Charles Parker of Forestville, who presided over a water cure program, and by April 9, 1854, Wheeler had begun treatment. Wheeler described the treatments he received, their impact on his health, other patients, and his general thoughts on the water cure and the connection between the mind and body. At several times throughout the year, he made agreements with the doctors and administrators to allow him to stay on the premises, possibly in exchange for labor. He commented on the sense of community he experienced at "the cure." He also explored other medical avenues, including vegetarianism (May 10, 1854; February 1, 1855) and phrenology. He subscribed to phrenological journals and critiqued people's diets regularly.
When not undergoing treatment, Wheeler continued to work as a painter and at shingling. In June 1854, he travelled to Bolton, Connecticut, where he helped with farm labor and visited nearby locales. He described stops along the way, including in Buffalo where he and his travelling companion made make-shift baths using a washtub. While in New York City, he visited Fowlers & Wells Cabinet and Bookshop, and in Connecticut, he visited several cities, including Hartford and New Haven, where he attended events like 4th of July celebrations, a balloon ascension, and religious services. On his return journey, he again stopped in New York City, where he contracted as a book agent for Fowlers and Wells (see July 13-15, 1854) and proceeded to attempt to sell books in New Jersey, unsuccessfully. He went on to stay at the South Orange Water Cure, also called the Orange Mountain Water Cure. He described the facilities, the labor he performed there, and other patients (July 17-31, 1854), before returning to New York where he investigated other publishers he could contract with as a book agent and visited the Crystal Palace. On his travels back to western New York, Wheeler noted a circus at Bridgewater, New York (August 8, 1854).
Wheeler again took up residence at the Forestville Water Cure in late September 1854, working as “Bath Man & Servant of the Sick & the Afflicted” (September 26, 1854), and he wrote commentary on the patients. On December 8, 1854, Wheeler described the accidental burning of the Forestville Water Cure due to a stove fire. Wheeler stayed in the area, maintaining his interest in baths, vegetable diet, and temperate living. He commented on social visits and occurrences, including the trial of Elam Hoag for assault and battery on Rosaltha House, and the books he was reading (February 3, 1855). After a tour around several sites in western New York, Wheeler briefly stayed in Jamestown, New York, in March 1855, working at the new water cure Dr. Parker had established, before returning to Villenova.
Additional content in volume two includes a recipe for medicinal treatments for warts and corns (on the inside front cover), an entry for a "Great Rail Road Route To the Pacific," and an original poem penned by Wheeler (July 9, 1854). Near the end of the volume, Wheeler copied three articles from the "Universalist Code of Faith" and listed out details of his students in Hanover from November 23, 1853, to February 8, 1854.
- Biographical / Historical:
Lyman A. Wheeler was born on April 26, 1820, in Brookfield, New York, to Josiah Wheeler (1784-1833) and Eunice (Crandall) Wheeler (1784-1868). On March 20, 1864, he married Mary M. Rogers (b. 1836), and together they had two children: Mitta C. Wheeler (1865-1869) and Herbert L. Wheeler (b. 1869). In the 1880 federal census, he was listed as living in Dr. Charles Parker's household as a painter and farmer in Harmony, New York. He died January 13, 1897.
"Cold water cures," or hydrotheraphy, can be drawn back to Vincent Priessnitz who opened a resort in Gräfenberg in the 1820s dedicated to using water therapies like application of wet compresses, taking various types of cold baths, drinking cold water, among others. His techniques proved popular, and by the 1840s they were adopted by practitioners in Europe and the United States, spawning a variety of hydropathic colleges, resorts, and publications.
- Acquisition Information:
- 2022. M-7523.2 .
The collection consists of two bound volumes arranged chronologically.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
- Additional Descriptive Data:
Legan, Marshall Scott. "Hydropathy in America: A Nineteenth Century Panacea." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 45, no. 3 (1971): 267–80.
"Lyman Wheeler," 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
"Lyman Wheeler," New York, U.S., State Census, 1855 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.
Wheeler, Albert, comp. The Genealogical and Encyclopedic History of the Wheeler Family in America. Boston : American College of Genealogy, 1914.
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Debates and debating.
Hydrotherapy--United States--History--19th century.
Phrenology--United States--History--19th century.
Teachers--(New York State)
Temperance--(New York State)
- Fowler & Wells.
Chautauqua County (N.Y.)
Crystal Palace (New York, N.Y.)
Hanover (N.Y. : Town)
Villenova (N.Y. : Town)