WHEN DR. HARRY and Dorothy Plut moved to Port Townsend in March 1936 after the closure of their lumber mill medical clinic in Port Ludlow, they brought with them their energetic and community service-oriented lifestyle, as well as their 10-month-old daughter, Anne.
From 1936 to 1939, they lived in a rented house near Lincoln School.
They added three more babies to their family between 1937 and 1940 (Harry George Jr., Thomas Leo and Margaret Mary), so Dorothy was soon occupied with four children under the age of 5.
When asked how she managed during those years and during the two-week hospital stays when each child was born, Dorothy replied, “You had to have help … My mother always took one of mine, usually the one closest to the new baby.
“In those days, you could get a girl to come to live in for $35 a month and that was good pay.
“I usually had an older woman at the time the babies were born.”
Harry purchased the practice of Dr. Larry Schueler and took on his patients, including 22 maternity cases, as well as continuing to see his patients from the Port Ludlow area.
Four doctors in PT
At that time, there were only four doctors in Port Townsend: John Crist, Harry’s former medical school classmate who had interned with him at Providence Hospital in Seattle and then purchased the Port Townsend practice of Dr. Frosty Miller; Frank Delaney, the Public Health doctor; and Jesus DeLeon, who owned his own clinic.
Within a short time, both Delaney and DeLeon died.
Harry’s office was on the second floor of the Mount Baker Block building.
He shared a receptionist with dentist Larry Campbell, whose office was next door, and he used Delaney’s X-ray machine across the hall.
After Delaney’s death, his wife served for several years as Harry’s office nurse.
Soon, Crist convinced Dr. Milford Clayton Schaill to share his practice, and the three of them served all the residents of East Jefferson County.
They all shared a contract to serve the employees of the Crown Zellerbach paper mill.
Crist also served as customs medical officer with Harry as his assistant, checking crews of ships in the port for contagious diseases.
Harry was appointed county public health officer for $25 a month, and he served in that capacity for many years.
He also served as deputy coroner and conducted most autopsies that were needed for 12 years.
Harry charged $3 for office calls and $7 for house calls.
At first, the county’s economy was so poor that he only collected about 30 percent of his fees. Later, as the mill’s growth improved the economy, he collected 50 percent but not more than that for nearly 20 years.
In spite of that, Harry told his oral history interviewer, “I never turned anybody away. I never refused a patient in my life.
“There were times when I couldn’t take care of them because I had so many calls it was impossible.
“When we had emergencies, the other doctors were available.
“We agreed everybody would come at once when somebody called for help.”
In 1939, the three doctors formed a partnership and built the Port Townsend Medical Clinic on Water Street.
They bought the lot, which Harry later described as a “big sump hole full of oil barrels and junk … it was just a mess” for $2,000.
The clinic building cost $22,000.
(A remodel of the clinic in the early 1970s cost $380,000.)
Also in 1939, to improve his surgical skills in orthopedics and more complicated abdominal surgeries, Harry took a three-month post-graduate course in Chicago at the Cook County Hospital, taught by professors from Northwestern University.
That same year, Dorothy and Harry purchased two lots on which to build a home at 1054 Quincy St.
Dorothy loved the location because it was within walking distance from the school, the Catholic church and the store on Lawrence Street where she did her shopping.
She said, “I took a correspondence course with New York University in interior design and … I got a lot of ideas.
“I drew the plans for the house, but I had an engineer do the blueprints.
“We had a wonderful old Swedish carpenter, Peter Peterson, who built it.
“We broke ground the 19th of August, 1939, and we moved in on the 19th of December.”
There were three bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom and nursery room downstairs.
“I wanted a good sized kitchen … and [a] sunroom where the children could be and I could see them. On a wall space, I wanted the view.”
They also bought the two lots behind them on Madison Street for a second garage space, a storage shed and a playhouse.
Later, when their children were older, they built a tennis court on one of those lots.
The World War II years were very busy for both Harry and Dorothy.
Schaill was away during the war, so Crist and Harry were the only doctors serving the 11,000 East Jefferson County residents and the thousand or so Fort Worden dependents who were not served by the 14 doctors who took care of the servicemen there.
During one of the war years, they delivered 360 babies.
A typical day for Harry would include two or three surgeries, office calls during the rest of the day, then house calls in the evening — sometimes as far away as Quilcene or out at the Dosewallips River.
He remembered, “After I finished my house calls, I would go back to the office and write up my charts.
“I seldom got home before midnight … If I was up half the night delivering a baby, very often I wouldn’t get up until 9 o’clock in the morning … then after lunch … at home, I would lie down and rest for 15 minutes or maybe a half-hour.”
During the war, Dorothy became a Red Cross nurse and taught classes for volunteer nursing aides.
She helped set up aid stations that women who didn’t have children would staff when there were air raid alerts.
The community had practice bombing raids in which all civil defense workers would go to their stations.
Dorothy stated: “It was a real serious business. It wasn’t play.”
On the first night of the Battle of Midway, due to a belief at Fort Worden that a bombing attack on Puget Sound might be imminent, there was a red alert.
At about 3 a.m., Harry went downtown to open the clinic to be ready for casualties.
Dorothy took the four small children and a new not-housebroken puppy to the basement, where she was soon joined by a neighbor and her two babies.
Dorothy said, “The children wanted to eat right away because they knew I had food down there …
“I came upstairs and ran water in the bathtub and got the sand buckets out and the hoses and everything I was supposed to do.
“The ‘all clear’ signal sounded, but I didn’t hear it.
“Harry came walking in [and] I was still prepared for a bombing.”
After the war, Schaill came back.
A fourth doctor, Robert Fallis, was brought in to the practice, so there were fewer demands on each doctor.
Harry began to find time again for his lifelong enjoyments of hunting and fishing.
In 1959, he won the top prize in that year’s Port Townsend Salmon Club Derby.
In May 1945, the Pluts’ fifth child, Helen Elaine, was born.
As their children grew, Dorothy served as a Cub Scout den mother and a Girl Scout leader.
Harry taught Boy Scout first aid classes and was team doctor for the school sports programs.
Both of the Pluts were members of the congregation at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church from the time they came to Port Ludlow in 1934.
Harry was a 68-year member of the Port Townsend Rotary Club, and as Rotary president, he vigorously led a fundraising drive for a city swimming pool.
Those funds eventually partially paid for the pool at Mountain View School.
Harry and the other two doctors who were in Port Townsend in 1939 founded the Jefferson County Medical Society in order to ensure that doctors practicing here were adequately trained and licensed.
In 1937, they also organized the Jefferson County Medical Services Bureau, a private health insurance plan that was in existence for county residents until about 1970.
Dorothy continued to work with the Red Cross, teaching home nursing classes.
She served on many civic boards. Among them were the St. John’s Hospital Advisory Board, the United Good Neighbors board and the Cancer Society.
She was also a 10-year board member of the PTA while her children were in school.
She was a founding member of the Jefferson Healthcare Hospital Auxiliary, helping to lead many of their fundraising activities.
For 68 years she was a member of the Science, Literature and Art Club, attending their twice-a-month luncheons and cultural enrichment programs.
In 1978, Harry and Dorothy were recognized as Citizens of the Year and led the parade during the Rhododendron Festival.
Harry retired from practice in 1973 when he was 65 but continued to be active in community service until his health declined about a year before his death in June 1993.
The first paragraph of his obituary, written by Frank Garred for the Port Townsend Leader, read, “The gentle hands of Dr. Harry George Plut welcomed almost 2,000 Jefferson County natives into the world. Those hands nursed thousands more back to health when illness struck.”
Dorothy Plut continued her active life until her death at age 97 in November 2006.
Tom Plut still lives in Port Townsend, and Harry Plut Jr., Margaret Plut Palo and Helen Plut Marriott live in the Seattle area.
Anne passed away recently in Port Townsend, where she had lived after her husband retired from the Air Force.
Dorothy and Harry had nine grandchildren.
Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.
Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.
Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear Nov. 20.