The life of Dr. R. Lester Hudgins

Published 10:47 am Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dr. Ray A. Gaskins

Professor Emeritus, HSC

Dr. Stephen Thompson, an anesthesiologist in Orlando, Florida, and grandson of Dr. Robert Lester Hudgins (1879-1929), has recently gifted his grandfather’s ambulance jacket to the Farmville Historical Society.

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Hudgins was born in Buckingham on July 12, 1879, the son of R.H. and Lucy J. Hudgins. After graduating from Richmond College, now University of Richmond, he went on to medical school at the Medical College of Virginia, now Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating in 1906. He interned at Richmond City Home and spent some time with the city ambulance service, which is where he acquired his ambulance jacket.

Jimmy Hurt
Pictured is Dr. Robert Lester Hudgins. Notice that he is holding a riding crop, not a set of car keys.

Dr. Hudgins moved to Farmville in 1907 and practiced for five years with Dr. William Edward Anderson, 1866-1926, whose office was in the rear of his drug store at the northwest corner of Third and Main streets. In 1911 Dr. Hudgins married Miss Julia Barnes, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R.L. Barnes, of Richmond. They had two daughters, Sarah Frances, born 1916, and Julia Audrey, born 1924. He specialized, as much as one could in those days, in obstetrics.

Bradshaw (1955) states: “The writer has heard that Dr. R.L. Hudgins was the first person in Prince Edward to own an automobile.”

The Farmville Herald correspondent Mrs. Nannie Bell Zeigler, 1870-1949, remembers things differently. On April 28, 1933, when she was 62, she wrote: “The first automobile in Farmville was owned by (Mayor) W.T. Blanton, 1861-1911.”

The first automobile ever seen in Farmville was one that passed through town on Thursday, July 3, 1902. The driver, J.F. Herman, was on a history-making mission — the first trip ever made by a “horseless carriage” from Richmond to Lynchburg. This event made the front page of The Herald, causing a stir among the more affluent Farmvillians. Is it any wonder that the first locally-owned automobile was purchased by Mayor Blanton in 1903? Closer to the arrival of Dr. Hudgins, The Herald reported that on July 7, 1907, “Edloe Spencer had his new auto on the streets for the first time.” Before 1912 there was no automobile agency or garage in town, making the purchase and maintenance of an automobile difficult.

In 1912 Dr. Hudgins moved his practice to the second floor of 204 N. Main St., over L.J. Verser’s general store. In The Herald of Feb. 12, 1915, Dr. R.L. Hudgins announced: “that his offices are now located in his residence, No. 111 Third St., where with modern conveniences and equipment he feels that he can render more efficient services.”

On Feb. 20, soon after moving into his new residence, there was a mishap: “Slight blaze in the residence of Dr. Hudgins. Soon under control, loss slight.”

Street addresses changed from time to time in the early 1900s in Farmville. This can be easily verified by looking at the Sanborn Fire Maps from 1886 to 1942. When Dr. Hudgins moved into his new residence on the southeast corner of Third and South streets in 1915, his address was 111 E. Third St. By 1925 his address had been changed to 121 E. Third Street. This is now the home of Virginia’s Heartland Regional Visitor Center.

Dr. Hudgins spent the last 18 months of his life fighting his own illness. He died at Johnston-Willis Hospital in Richmond on July 2, 1929. He was only 50 but he

Pictured is Dr. Hudgins’ 1923 Lions Club Charter Member photo.

had made such a difference in the lives of others that Mayor E.W. Sanford declared the hour from 3-4 p.m. on the day of his funeral as an hour of respect and all businesses in Farmville were closed. His funeral was held at the Farmville Baptist Church, where he was a member, and he was given a Masonic burial in Westview Cemetery.

Dr. Hudgins served on the Farmville Town Council from 1920 to 1922. He was a member of the board of directors of the First National Bank and the Farmville Furniture and Cabinet Company, and a member of the staff of Southside Community Hospital. He was a member of the Farmville Masonic Lodge and a charter member of the Farmville Lions Club when it was founded in 1923.

NB: The only place you could buy gasoline in Farmville in 1906 was at Armistead Grocery and he sold less than 20 gallons a day. The first automotive agency in Farmville was Hunt & Duvall in 1909. This was evidently a bust because the only ad they ever ran was in the Herald on March 26: “Agents for the Ford Automobile, $850 FOB for Detroit touring car.” In 1912, when Duvall Motor Company contracted to sell 10 Ford cars per year, there were almost no autos in town. By 1915, one year after Henry Ford started mass-producing the Model T, there were 75 autos and four garages in Farmville: the Duvall garage, the Blue Ribbon Garage on 3rd Street, W.W. Jackson Garage corner of Third and Randolph Streets, and one built by N.D. Davidson on Third Street. On March 31, 1916, 10 autos were sold in one day.