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Charles Merwin Fenn, MD (1835-1907)

charlesfennCharles Merwin Fenn was born June 18,1835 in Hamilton, Ohio, the son of William and Ann Maria (Merwin) Fenn. His father was the son of Gamaliel and Lois Fenn who migrated from Kent, Connecticut to Dayton, Ohio in 1818. His mother was the daughter of Susan Lincoln and Elijah B. Merwin. In 1836 Dr. Fenn’s father William and two uncles Norman and Ira Ives Fenn purchased a large body of land on the Illinois River north of Peoria, Illinois and founded the city of Lacon.

Soon after their arrival in Illinois, the Fenn family became acquainted with the young lawyer Abraham Lincoln. They supported him, in his early political career. Dr. Fenn’s lawyer uncle, Ira Fenn, was associated with Lincoln in local legal matters.

Dr. Fenn’s early education took place at the Lacon School and the Amherst Academy in Amherst, Massachusetts. Later, he attended Illinois College and Yale University. In 1860 he arrived in San Francisco to study medicine with Dr. H. H. Toland, the eminent surgeon who founded Toland Medical School, soon to become the University of California Medical School. In 1865 Dr. Fenn graduated from medical school and worked as Dr. Toland’s assistant. In 1868 Dr. Fenn closed his private medical practice in San Francisco and visited San Diego. He immediately purchased twenty acres of land in San Diego and moved to the new community, recently founded by his fellow San Franciscan Alonzo Horton. Dr. Fenn opened his first San Diego medical office at 629 Fifth Avenue.

In 1870 Dr. Fenn was one of the seven founding members of the San Diego Medical Society and began his long career of medical practice and public service in San Diego. In 1871 he was appointed Surgeon of the U. S. Army Post in San Diego, succeeding Dr. David B. Hoffman. He held the position for a number of years. In 1872 he married Catherine Archambeau in Los Angeles where he had opened a drug store in association with Dr. Charles E. Simms of San Diego. In 1873 Dr. and Mrs. Fenn’s first child Lois Merwin Fenn was born. In this same year Dr. Fenn’s medical office was located opposite the Horton House, and he was elected to the position of County Physician and County Coroner. In 1874 he was elected to the California Medical Society. He was the only San Diego County member for a number of years. He served on several California Medical Society committees and began to publish a number of medical writings.

In 1875 Dr. Fenn invested substantially in San Diego lands and continued to do so for a number of years. In 1876 he was elected Director of San Diego County Hospital and continued to serve as County Physician and County Coroner. In 1877 he was elected San Diego County Public Administrator, and with Horton and other community leaders, signed a petition in support of railroad development. In 1878 he published additional medical writings, and in 1879 was reelected County Physician. In 1880 and 1881 he purchased additional lands and was elected Director of the San Diego Health Department. In 1882 and 1883 he continued to publish his writings and served as Chairman of a California State Medical Society standing committee. In 1885 he again served as San Diego County Physician.

In 1886 he built a new residence and medical office at the corner of Seventh and G Streets. In 1888 he was elected one of fifteen Freeholders to draw up the San Diego City Charter, and was an early buyer of land in the newly developed community of Coronado. In 1889 the City Charter was completed and Dr. Fenn was one of the fifteen signers. In 1890 he sold two blocks of land at La Playa to the United States government for a Quarantine Station. He was elected an honorary member of the Orange County Medical Society “for eminent services in the profession.”

In 1891 and 1892 he served as a member of the San Diego Board of Education. During the last ten years of his life Dr. Fenn gradually retired from his active medical practice. He died in San Diego on March 7,1907.

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