Attended Weaver College (was located in Weaverville, NC; it is no longer in existence), graduating in 1912,1 where he was a member of the Delphian Literary Society2 and where he was awarded medals for Bible scholarship and Delphian Declaimers.3 While there, he took courses in English, Mathematics, Latin, Greek, History, German, and French.4
World Events: The RMS Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. Woodrow Wilson was elected U.S. President.
At some point after graduating from Weaver college in 1912, Charles Norburn went to stay with his aunt and uncle in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Indianapolis City Directory in 1913 shows his address as that of his aunt Mary Strickland Tarpenning and uncle (Charles T. Tarpenning) on S. Ritter Avenue in Indianapolis, and that both he and his uncle were working at Indianapolis Corrugating Company (Mr. Tarpenning as a Superintendent, Charles Norburn as a draftsman). It was likely these drafting skills that enabled Charles Norburn to create his own patents for the pipe organ (see timeline item 1930s). A few years later in 1920 Mr. Tarpenning co-founded, and was President of, the Tarpenning-LaFollete Company (LaFollete was co-founder and VP).1 His aunt, Mary Strickland Tarpenning, later came to live with Dr. Norburn and his family after Mr. Tarpenning died (see timeline item 1953-69 below).
Personal Note: Charles Norburn appears in a few newspaper mentions in Indianapolis for chess tournaments in 19132 (at the age of 22 1/2), and later in life he was well known by his children and grandchildren as an avid and highly skilled chess player.
Charles Norburn left Indianapolis for his home state of North Carolina sometime in 1913, and that fall, he began attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), graduating with a CMED in June, 1915 (at the time, UNC did not have an M.D. program). At that time Caldwell Hall (still in use as an academic building) housed the UNC Medical School (map) (see timeline item 1990 for a picture of him in medical class there). One of the dormitories he stayed in included the Smith Building1 (map), also still in use. He worked in the infirmary as a student (Abernethy Hall, still standing).
Personal Notes: He followed in the footsteps of the medical tradition of his mother's side of the family, some of whom also graduated from the CMED program at UNC before going to an M.D. program at other universities.1,2 He was also very close to his older brother Edward (Edwin), who in 1914 was Managing Editor of the Asheville Gazette-News3 (which later became the Asheville Citizen-Times).
World Events: In 1913 Ford invented the first moving assembly line for building cars. On July 28, 1914, WWI began. In 1915, Albert Einstein published the general theory of relativity.
Dr. Norburn attended the University of Virginia1 where he was a member of the Pi Mu Medical Fraternity and the North Carolina Club, graduating in 1917 with the degree of Medical Doctor (M.D.).2 During his time as a student, he was Assistant Health Officer in Forsyth County, NC.3
Personal Note: On March 17, 1916 Dr. Norburn's beloved elder brother died, having been ill since around September of 1914,4 at around the same time as Dr. Norburn was reported as returning to school at UNC (see timeline event above). The summer of 1916 Dr. Norburn volunteered his time at typhoid dispensaries, providing hookworm investigation and treatment to children in Forsyth County, NC, along with his maternal uncle Dr. Edward (Edwin) Fountain (E. F.) Strickland,5 who was at that time the Forsyth County, NC Health Officer, at no cost.6 It is likely he stayed with his uncle in Bethania in the same county, and there are newspaper mentions of a Dr. Norburn and Chas. Norburne acting in plays in that area.7
Dr. Charles Norburn enlisted in the Navy on April 10, 19171 after he visited his uncle, Dr. James Thomas (J. T.) Strickland of Roanoke, Virginia.2 Dr. Norburn would not ever have been required to serve, since his height (5'2") was well under the minimum required. He also had a brilliant career ahead of him; The Asheville Citizen stated that “His marks received on the final examinations at the university were so unusually high that in the physical examination for the navy (sic)...certain minor points were waived [height].”3 Dr. Norburn had originally intended to accept an instructor position at the medical department of the University of Wisconsin.4 He enlisted solely as a patriotic act to his country, and due to his significantly shorter stature—much less than minimum required by the Navy—the U.S. desired his skills so strongly that Congress passed a ruling specifically to allow him to serve.
He attended a post-graduate course in surgery for 3 months over the summer at Jefferson Medical College5 (coincidentally, where two of his maternal uncles had gotten their M.D., see timeline item 1913-15 above, footnote 2). He was initially given rank Lieutenant (JG) and as of July 19, 1917 was appointed as Assistant Surgeon.6 He was then transferred to the USS Connecticut.7
Dr. Norburn transferred to the USS Comfort, where he served for the duration of the war. He was promoted to Senior Lieutenant on February 1, 19181 and from March 1918 to September 1919 was Operating Surgeon on USS Comfort, rising to chief of the surgical staff.2 From October 1918 to March 1919, Comfort ferried WWI wounded from France, Britain, and the Azores back to stateside.3 It was on its way to Bordeaux, France, on February 9 and 10 when it encounted a Gale and several SOS calls were made from area ships and intercepted by Comfort.4 It arrived in Bordeaux by February 19, but the fate of the ships in distress is not known.
See Dr. Norburn in the April 6, 1919, pictures of the Officers of USS Comfort (leftmost in picture on archives.gov), and the Operating room on USS Comfort (rightmost in picture on archives.gov—face overexposed due to porthole, image in poor condition—some correction has been applied here to bring out the details), both at the National Archives.
Personal Note: Dr. Norburn visited his Uncle E. F. Strickland, member of the Forsyth County exemption board, of Bethania in January, 1918.5
Historical Note: During the time Dr. Norburn was on the Comfort, the influenza pandemic of 1918 (also referred to as the “Spanish Flu”) occurred, and Comfort was briefly docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in mid- to- late 19186 to take care of overflow patients.7 A newspaper mentions him returning to New York City in December 1918, where Comfort was still stationed.8 Just over one hundred years later, a newer ship also named Comfort was also docked in New York to help with the Covid pandemic of the 2020s.
World Events: On November 11, 1918, WWI ended.
In 1919 Dr. Norburn transferred from the Comfort in San Francisco to the Naval Medical School in Washington, D.C.1 from October, 1919 through December, 1919.*
During his training at the Naval Medical School in the fall of 1919 (see timeline item, above), Dr. Norburn performed so well that he was awarded a special course at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota by the Surgeon General, being one of the first two men ever chosen for this course,1,2 where he studied from January through April 1920. He then returned to then Naval Hospital on League Island.3
World Events: The right of U. S. Women was finally recognized in 1920.
From May 1, 1920 to September, 1922, Dr. Norburn was Operating Surgeon on the U.S. Naval Hospital at League Island, Philadelphia,1 doing a stint as visiting surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for a month in 1922.2
In October of 1922, he was transferred to the Naval Hospital in Washington, DC where he was Instructor of Radiology.3
Personal Note: In the summer of 1920 he attended the wedding of his sister at his parents' home in Acton, NC.4
World Events: In 1922, Insulin was discovered.
Dr. Norburn was Operating Surgeon, first on SS Mercy from January through at least May,2 and spent some time as well on USS Relief.3
At some point during this time Dr. Norburn was chosen among a group of physicians to attend to Florence Harding, First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), at the White House, as noted in correspondence between Mrs. Harding and Dr. Norburn's mother.4
On May 28, 19235 he was appointed by the United States Surgeon General to accompany President Warren Harding on his Alaskan trip as his personal surgeon on on the USS Henderson, 6 leaving Asheville, N.C. on May 29 for Washington, D.C. to depart on June 1.7 Herbert Hoover, as (then) Secretary of Commerce, also joined the trip.8
Dr. Norburn resigned from the US Navy in September 19231 and moved back to Asheville, N.C. at least by the next month.2 Newspaper articles and city listing directories show him living and practicing surgery in Asheville, North Carolina,3 including delivering various speeches on medicine throughout the state,4 with large crowds gathering to hear Dr. Charles Norburn.5 At least one newspaper mentions him, along with his younger brother, who had recently graduated from medical school, practicing medicine in 1926 at Meriwether Hospital in Asheville.6
Personal Note: He was living with his family on Pearson Drive in Historic Montford,7 at the former home of Judge Thomas A. Jones,8 with an office in a physician's building just one mile away at 11 Flint Street he shared with two other physicians.9 Throughout this time he continued to build personal connections with prominent doctors in the region, including Dr. W. C. Johnson of Canton.10
World Events: In 1926 the first transatlatic telephone call was made, and in 1927 Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo non-stop trans-Atlantic flight. Also in 1927, the first entirely electronic television was invented, and the first long-distance use of television (between Washington, D.C., and New York City), and the first movie with spoken dialogue occurred.
In April 1928, Dr. Charles Norburn's maternal uncle, Dr. Edward (Edwin) Fountain Strickland of Forsyth County, NC, with whom he had worked in 1916 at typhoid clinics providing free hookworm treatments to children (see timeline item 1915-17), and with whom he had developed a close relationship with, secured the funding for the building at 346 Montford Avenue1 in Asheville, NC, in order for Dr. Norburn to begin a hospital there with his brother. The best surgical equipment obtainable was ordered and the building was completely remodeled with a modern elevator installed.2 Two months later, in June,3 Dr. Norburn opened The Norburn Hospital & Clinic at that location with his brother. This was to be later moved to 509 Biltmore Avenue to allow for an expansion (see timeline for 1946 further below), but not before treating 19,124 patients.3
Personal Notes: Dr. Norburn was living at Waynesville Road in West Asheville.4 Here is a video of Dr. E. F. Strickland.
World Events: Penicillin was discovered.
Elected Fellow in the American College of Surgeons in the Grand Ballroom at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, Illinois (now the Hilton Chicago) on October 18,1 ten days before the stock market crashed on October 28 and the Great Depression began, and a little more than a year after founding The Norburn Hospital & Clinic.
World Events: Herbert Hoover becomes U.S. President. Beginning of the Great Depression.
On September 30, 1930, The Norburn Hospital & Clinic was Incorporated,1 with Dr. Charles S. Norburn as President.2 In 1939, the charter was amended to make it a non-profit institution.2 Dr. Norburn, who was a general surgeon and performed all types of surgery (including the brain and skull),3 continued to operate and provide medical care while acting as hospital president.
World Events: Pluto (Celestial Body) was discovered
Dr. Norburn, along with his brother, purchased the hospital building at 346 Montford Avenue on January 29, 1938 from their uncle, Dr. Edward (Edwin) Fountain Strickland.1 While Dr. Norburn continued to carry out his duties full-time as a surgeon and as a hospital president, he also served the wider community,2 and even created and held the patents for four pipe organ inventions; now all are used on all pipe organs made. See his pipe organ inventions on Google Patents.
On February 17, 1936, Dr. Norburn purchased 19.59 acress of land on Valley Springs Road adjoining both Biltmore Forest and the Biltmore Estate,3 and later began designing and creating the plans for a home there to be completed in 1940 in preparation for his upcoming wedding. He installed a pipe organ in his home, and he has owned at least three different pipe organs. More research is being done in this area; it is thought he bought a pipe organ that was originally installed in All Souls Episcopal (and personal correspondence to Dr. Norburn from George H. V. Cecil about a pipe organ and console may be relevant, as Mr. Cecil served on the All Souls Vestry).4
Personal Note: By 1935 he was living with his parents in a house at 16 Stuyvesant Road in Biltmore Forest,5 known as the “Norburn House”6 where his parents had moved in 1933,7 continuing to live there until at least 1938.8 His parents continued to live in the house until they passed,9 and it remained in the Norburn family until the 1980s.
World Events: WWII began in late 1939
Dr. Norburn married Helen Sophia Johnson on November 22, 1940 in Maryville, Tennessee,1 and raised four children at his estate on Valley Springs Road (see timeline item above and background picture, right). The original gardens that he built, including the reflecting pool and statue for his wife, was the site of many events including family weddings; the reflecting pool survives as of 2022 (the house and statue are no longer standing). See a video of Dr. and Mrs. Norburn in this garden ca. 1940.
Interesting Notes: In September of the same year, Rear Admiral Arthur W. Dunbar, who was Captain of the Naval hospital ship Comfort in 1918-1919, where Dr. Norburn was a surgeon at the same time, visited Dr. Norburn's parents at the “Norburn House” in Biltmore Forest near Asheville, N.C., spending several days.2 Dr. Norburn also took part in judging a poster contest.3
As Dr. Norburn continued carrying out duties as President of The Norburn Hospital & Clinic, and as a state leader in the medical field,1 he also collected art2 and antiques, and engaged in wood working, a hobby at which he was especially talented. Some examples of his woodworking include very intricately hand-carved mirrors (see inset picture, left). In January 1944 he purchased a 168-acre dairy farm known as “Cloudland Farm” on Butler Bridge Road in Mills River, NC,3 actively purchasing and breeding prized Guernsey cattle,4 and placing in agricultural fairs.5
Of Interest: Dr. Norburn's fee for performing skull decompression and evacuation of the cerebral cavity in 1944 was only $180.6 Using an internet inflation calculator, that amounts to about $3047.85 as of 2022, for a surgury that would in 2022 typically cost in at least the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, illustrating how medical costs have far outpaced inflation.
Historical Note: On the night of March 10, 1948, a fire at a hospital unaffiliated with Norburn—Highland Hospital—sadly killed many patients, including Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Norburn Hospital nurses were some of the first who rushed to the scene to care for survivors.7
World Events: WWII ended in 1945.
The Norburn Hospital & Clinic moved to 509 Biltmore Avenue in Asheville, NC, purchasing the former Florence Stephenson Hall (also known as the “Asheville College” property and “Asheville Normal School”), along with several other adjoining properties,1 enlarging the hospital while still maintaining non-profit, non-stock, charitable status,2,3,4 to further steps toward the goal of a medical center to serve the people of Western North Carolina.5 The Montford Avenue location had seen 19,124 patients treated.5
According to a quote in 1950 by the Director of Jennings Memorial Hospital in Detroit, “The physical facilities at Norburn Hospital are considerably superior to the average small hospital.”6 This is borne out by the detail of the facilities provided in the Norburn Hospital Booklet, as well as newspaper mentions, including a picture and description of Norburn's “Deep Therapy X-Ray”, “Among the Many Complicated Machines at Norburn Hospital.”7 The geographic location of the Norburn Hospital was most ideal (see Norburn Hospital Booklet, pg 19) and desired by many other hospitals in the region, and efforts began underway to merge and consolidate the hospital system in Asheville at the site of Norburn Hospital,8 given both its central location (now the site of Mission Hospital) and superior equipment and facilities with which Dr. Norburn had installed in the hospital.
The extensive grounds and buildings also served as meeting places for various community events.9
Leading up to 1950, area hospitals and physicians had long been working together for the care of patients in Asheville and Western North Carolina. In January of 1949, Dr. Charles Norburn wrote to the local paper extolling the importance of the Buncombe County Cancer Clinic which was held at a different hospital, stating “...our real purpose is to work harmoniously together to save every life we can.”1 Dr. Norburn also had amassed the most complete medical library in WNC and one of the most complete in the entire country—several thousand volumes—and had made this library free for use for all medical professionals, regardless of hospital affiliation. That is, at his own expense he made sure that all area medical professionals had the knowledge they needed to best care for their patients (see timeline item immediately below for more information on this famous medical library). This meant that patients in Western North Carolina had physicians who had some of the most up-to-date medical science information than most areas of the United States, due to Dr. Norburn's efforts.
In preparation for a merge onto the “coveted” site of the Norburn Hospital, extensive reorganization within The Norburn Hospital & Clinic included a name change to Victoria Hospital,2 eventually merging with other Asheville area hospitals (now Mission Hospital)3 (despite heavy financial losses from these other hospitals from 1943-1948, leading up to the recession of 1949, of which Memorial Mission sustained the greatest loss4). It was Norburn Hospital, Inc. who had done the footwork of purchasing several adjoining tracts of land in that location that made this large medical center and mergers possible (see timeline item 1946 above, footnote 1).
Personal Note: This same year, Dr. Norburn purchased a historic home on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, one of the oldest houses on Pawleys Island, built in 17805,6 (a historical marker on site at 560 Myrtle Avenue refers to it as the “Nesbit-Norburn House”). At the time of purchase, it had endured years of neglect, and took many years for Dr. Norburn to restore; it is still standing. It was damaged again by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, but was relatively easily pieced back together due to the fact that, like other old structures on the island, Roman Numerals on the framework aided reassembly.5,7 See Dr. Norburn and Mrs. Norburn in a video at the beach ca. 1940.
Through this series of mergers, the people of Western North Carolina and Memorial Mission also benefitted from the unusually vast and complete medical library amassed by Dr. Charles Norburn himself, no doubt a major factor in raising the quality of care for the people of Asheville and Western North Carolina. Long before the internet, this library provided area physicians the most up to date medical information and Dr. Charles (as he was affectionately known by friends) had made this library free for use for all medical professionals, regardless of hospital affiliation. According to former Norburn Hospital librarian Hattie McKay, “Memorial Mission Hospital has indeed inherited a rare jewel.”1 A site at Appstate references “the large and valuable medical library formerly belonging to Dr. Charles [S]. Norburn.”
Dr. Norburn remained on staff at Memorial Mission Hospital2 so that he could continue to provide care to his patients, initially opening a temporary office in Biltmore Village near All Souls Cathedral at 12 Biltmore Plaza along with his brother3 (in 1951 moving a few doors down to 9 Biltmore Plaza).4
On June 15, 1953, Dr. Norburn briefly stepped out of his medical office to a grocery store just around the corner at 15 Brook Street in Biltmore, where cartons and boxes of canned food products fell on him,1 breaking his neck. At the time of the accident, Dr. Norburn had four young children. Sadly, he had to go through extensive rehabilitation and wore a neck brace for the rest of his life.
Later in the fall, a farmhand surreptitiously sold Dr. Norburn's prized Guernsey cattle (see timeline item 1940s, above), keeping the proceeds,2 Dr. Norburn's friend Rear Admiral Arthur W. Dunbar died in November3 (see timeline item 1940, above) and Dr. Norburn then lost his mother near Christmastime.4
Dr. Norburn then focused on family and his growing children, with a full household including his aunt Mary Strickland Tarpenning who lived with his family.1 His gardens, portions of which still exist, are mentioned above in timeline item 1940s; it was the place for family events in the 1950s and 1960s, including family weddings.2
He also spent summers with his family at his Pawleys Island home, which he restored as mentioned above in timeline item 1950-51. He built a five-foot seawall in front of the home in 1955, to protect it from Hurricane Diane3 (seawall is no longer standing).
Though he had long since retired from the medical profession, Dr. Norburn stayed mentally very active and dedicated himself to the service of his fellow country -men and -women in a different way, as lead author of a book that received reviews from the U. S. House of Representatives Banking & Currency Committee Chairman as well as the former Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors. Dr. Norburn had followed in the footsteps of his late father, Charles Arwed Norburn, who had previously written about the monetary system in 1944. In the late 70s and early 80s Dr. Norburn published additional works as sole author.
Congressman Wright Patman, in his review of A New Monetary System in 1972 wrote: “You have rendered a great public service...” Indeed, Dr. Charles Norburn was a true patriot, in the early 1980s calling the U. S. Constitution “the noblest document of fundamental laws ever penned,”1 “the best government ever devised,”2 and “Most of those who signed the Constitution were patriotic men of high character.”3 This is far different from the views of a more recent U. S. president who called for parts of the Constutution to be abolished.4
Throughout the 1970s Dr. Norburn continued adding to collections of antiques and art, including donations to museums,1 and continued to spend summers with his family on Pawley's Island, SC, including his grandchildren,2 at what he and Mrs. Norburn referred to as the “Norburn Cottage.” In 1972 this house was added to the SC Historic Property Record3 and also the National Register of Historic Places (referred to in both as the “Nesbit-Norburn” house.4
Personal Note: Dr. Norburn lost the love of his life, and his family lost a wonderful mother and grandmother, Mrs. Helen Norburn, in January 1981.
He will be remembered by all for his contributions to medicine and the people of Western North Carolina, for his significant contributions to the pipe organ, and also for his extraordinary and broad talents in woodworking, building architecture, farming, and writing.
He will also be remembered by his family for being a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather.