Pioneering Cabarrus Dentist Dr. W. C. Houston

31 Aug 2015

Dr. William Cyrus Houston. Photo courtesy of D. Rudge,

It’s fascinating to see how far we have progressed over the past 125 years or so when it comes to the field of dentistry. When Dr. William Cyrus Houston set up his practice as the third dentist in Cabarrus County history on April 8, 1890, it was a crude and painful business by today’s standards. Located in Concord, Dr. Houston rented the rooms on the second floor over what was then Misses Benson & Fisher’s millinery store at 14-1/2 South Union Street (now Angela’s Gift Boutique), and spent all of his 54 years of practice in the same office. The only other dentist practicing in Concord when Dr. Houston arrived was H. C. Herring.

In a 1964 newspaper article, Dr. Houston recalled that those were the days before local anesthesia. In fact, at that time, general anesthetics were almost never used by dentists. He described his patients as “hardy people.” It was reported that he winced when telling the story from the early days when he once pulled 27 teeth from one woman at one sitting without using an anesthetic. “That was bad judgement; I realized that later,” he said. “I never would pull more than six teeth at a time after that.” He also confessed to not having a license to practice when he first started. 

Advertisement, The Concord Times, September 17, 1891

About 1895, local anesthetic–cocaine–came into wide use among dentists, but many people were suspicious of its use. He said, “They got it in their minds that the anesthetic was what made their teeth hurt afterward.” The disadvantages of cocaine soon became self-evident. Fortunately, less toxic local anesthetic drugs were developed.  

Dr. Houston pioneered the use of electricity in the dentist’s office in Cabarrus County when he returned from the Chicago World’s Fair in 1903 with a newly-developed electric motor. He previously had used pedal power, and then a water motor to operate his drill. There were no laboratories in the early days to make plates for dentures. He made his own using rubber.

The Victor Barringer house located at 25 North Union Street in Concord, was last owned by Dr. W. C. Houston and his wife Nina. Photo courtesy of the Concord Library Lore Local History Room.

Dr. Houston was born in Monroe, Union County in 1867, the son of Benjamin Franklin Houston and Mary Elizabeth Hudson. He enrolled at Bingham Military School in Orange County at age 17. After leaving the academy, he clerked in a grocery store for a year and then studied dentistry under his second cousin, Dr. W. B. Houston of Monroe. David Franklin Houston, brother of W. B. Houston, was Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of the Treasury under Woodrow Wilson.

W. C. Houston then attended Vanderbilt University and received his degree in dentistry in 1890. He came immediately to Concord and opened his office where he practiced until his retirement in 1944.

In 1893 he married Nina Adams, also of Monroe, and 10 years later they bought the oldest, most historic house in Concord. Called the Victor Barringer home, it was widely known as the one in which Jefferson Davis spent a night during his journey south following the surrender at Appomattox.

In addition to his dental practice, Dr. Houston maintained substantial farm and business investments. Throughout his career, he was on the board of directors of the Cabarrus County Savings and Loan, Concord National Bank, Concord Telephone Company, and Kerr Bleaching and Finishing Works. In 1948 he founded the Houston Preaching Mission.

Marker in front of the Concord library.

Dr. W. C. Houston died in December of 1965 at the age of 98. He and Nina never had children. They are buried in Suncrest Cemetery in Union County.