SERVING A WIDER MARKET: Fairlee pharmacist Will Chapman (1866-1947) began as an Abbot's Drug Store apprentice in 1907. After taking ownership of the store in 1925, "he was favorably known by a large clientele." He also held a number of town offices. Known for his athletic preparations, he supplied liniments and ointments for the Byrd Antarctic expedition in 1939.
Journal Opinion April 26, 2023
Bradford Drugs: "H. B. Poole takes great pleasure in announcing that he is opening a New Drug Store at the Union Building in this Village. He has a full selection of Medicines of every kind.” Orange County Journal, Sept 22, 1855
For over two centuries, area druggist and pharmacists have sold remedies and medicines to both physicians and the general public. Some were stand-alone businesses, and others were part of general stores.
This column covers the local history of available medicines and cures as they transition from home remedies and patent medicines to modern drugs offered by registered pharmacies. Local histories and vintage newspapers are the sources of information.
Early physicians had few effective weapons against disease, especially in the face of epidemics. Standard treatments, such as bloodletting and blistering, often resulted in a high death rate.
Herbs were often used to combat the symptoms of diseases. Native Americans introduced both physicians and the general public to plant-based medicines. Those included hemp, red willow and white ash bark, and various roots.
Many residents relied on home remedies, some of which may have actually had curative properties. Vinegar and honey were recognized as helpful both as cures and for maintaining good health. Garlic clove were used for insect bites and spruce gum for toothaches. Bread poultices were used to draw out infections.
On the other hand, some home remedies did little good or worse. A dirty sock or salt pork wrapped around the neck did not cure a sore throat. Neither Skunk oil to relieve congestion, or skunk cabbage root for asthma brought much relief.
Apothecaries were chemists who produced and distributed medicines. Their shops served both professionals and the general public. Many physicians also prepared their own drugs.
The profession started to take shape when colleges of pharmacy were established in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York in the 1820s, but some locals still gained their knowledge as apprentices. For a time, those who were trained used the title pharmacists, whereas those without formal training were known as druggists. There were no legal qualifications for either of these practices.
In 1852, a national organization of pharmacists was established in Philadelphia. In 1873, pharmaceutical associations were established in both New Hampshire and Vermont. However, it was not until 1894 that Vermont established a state licensing board for both pharmacies and pharmacists. The following year licenses were granted to 325 applicants.
During this time, the ill often turned to patent medicines for relief. These proprietary preparations, often with exaggerated claims, were trademarked but not patented by the government.
Throughout the 19th century, there was an unregulated market for patent medicines. Easily accessible and inexpensive, they were sold as “healing elixirs, nostrums, salves, liniments, and tonics,” and guaranteeing cures for a wide range of illnesses. Some patent medicines actually provided the promised relief, whereas others did not.
These products were numerous and widely available and they used extensive advertisements in newspapers, and almanacs, featuring first-hand testimonials as to their effectiveness,
Many patent medicines contained alcohol and drugs such as opium as active ingredients and could do more harm than good. For example, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, used to treat colic in babies, contained morphine. It was advertised in Orange County from the 1850s to 1898.
Many popular soft drinks, including Pepsi and Coca-Cola, were initially marketed as patent drugs.
Local druggists and doctors marketed their own versions of patent medicines too. F. H. Keyes of Newbury developed a broad market for Dr. Carter’s Pulmonary Balsam. It was developed by Dr. W. H. Carter of West Newbury, who practiced there from 1827 to 1853. The product was later sold to the Keyes, who peddled it locally and wholesale to a national market.
In 1849, Carter wrote to a Boston Medical Journal that he “never designed it to be a secret remedy or nostrum; but it had been passed off as such.” As late as 1873, the Keyes were still placing ads warning about counterfeits of their camphor-laced product.
Between 1866 and 1877, Bradford’s C. C. Doty was a manufacturer and dealer in Doty’s Mandrake Bitters. His advertisements promised “warranted cures” for a wide variety of ailments including piles, liver complaints, and “fluttering of the heart.” It assured relief for “depression of spirits and constant imagining of evil.”
The unsavorness of patent medicines eventually invited scrutiny. The Progressive movement brought about the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 with federal interstate regulation to “prevent the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious food, drugs, medications and liquors…” New regulations demanded listed ingrediencies, fewer false claims and truthful advertising.
Although the law helped curb medical claims, the impact was not immediate. Mrs. Winslow’s morphine-laced soothing syrup remained on the market until 1930, even though it was potentially lethal to infants.
Lee’s Save the Baby cough suppression came to market in 1874. Despite containing toxic camphor, it was marketed for both external and internal use. In the 1940s, it was a standard remedy in my mom’s medicine cabinet. She would warm the bottle and rub a bit on my congested chest, followed by a spoonful administered internally. It tasted terrible but seemed to help.
Almost every local community, at one time or another, had physicians or druggists who manufactured, distributed, and/or sold medicines. Following are four legacy pharmacies that were mainstays in the commercial centers of the area for decades.
Woodsville’s E. B. Mann & Co. was that community’s premier drug store from 1872 until its sale in 1974. After 1890, it was located in the Opera Block. At the time of its sale, it was described as “the oldest drugstore business in the country continually owned and operated by the same family.”.
As with other area drugstores, Mann’s sold more than drugs. After 1895, there was a soda fountain. Blaisdell’s history of Haverhill describes the store’s other offerings in the early 20th century, “they sold soaps, sugar, ketchup, razors and strops, paints and wallpapers, and, except during Prohibition, a full line of spiritous beverages.”
The store also offered a selection of patent medicines, including several of Mann’s own making. Those include Mann’s Bitters and Mann’s Little Liver Pills.
The family sold the store in 1974 to partner Harold Wheeler who had worked for them since 1963. In 1985, it relocated to Butson’s supermarket and renamed the Woodsville Pharmacy.
In Newbury, there were a number of stores that sold drugs in the 19th century. F. & H. Keyes of Newbury Village advertised a selection of patent drugs in 1851.
In Wells River, Thomas Barstow’ general store sold medicines as early as 1814. In 1878, W. H. Eaton opened a drugstore on the village’s Main Street. It went through a series of owners and locations.
Around 1900, W. H. Buck was the druggist in Wells River. He is credited with developing the formula for what became known as “Bag Balm.” The Buck family continued to operate a pharmacy until 1924, when it was sold to W.A. Knight. Fourteen years later, in 1939, Knight’s Pharmacy was sold to James G. Thomas.
Thomas Pharmacy “became a fixture on Main Street.” In 1974, the pharmacy was sold to nephew Robert Brock and Duane Hobbs. The lunch counter was known as the “hub of the community.”
In 2002, the pharmacy was sold again and became known as the Wells River Pharmacy and continued to operate until 2017.
In Fairlee, L. H. Granger operated a general store on Main Street as early as 1807. For a time, it was operated by H.F. Bickford. In 1891, Dr. Chase from Orford opened it as a drug store with F. W (Fred) Abbot operating it. Abbott promised that the store’s White Pine Cough Syrup would “positively cure your cough.” In the early 1900s, Abbott’s advertisements included testimonials offered as news items for various patent medicines, with satisfaction guaranteed.
The history of Fairlee mentions that Abbott’s penny candy counter included Zanzivars, cinnamon imperials, Ju-Jus, and licorice. Its soda fountain offered ice cream treats.
In 1925, William Chapman, who had studied with Dr. Francis Gerald of Warren and been an apprentice for Abbott, took over the store. In 1939, Chapman supplied Chapman’s Liniment and Chapman’s Ointment for Boils for the men of the Byrd Antarctic expedition. Newspaper reports mentioned that he was known nationally for his athletic medicinal preparations.
Chapman’s son Leland assumed ownership in 1947 and ran the store until his death in 1988. Growing up, Lee Chapman was my family’s pharmacist, as he was for most of those who lived in Orford and Fairlee. I can still picture him behind the drug counter in his white coat. In a newspaper interview, Lee’s son Will said, “My father ran the store; prescriptions were 90% of the business.” Unable to find a new pharmacist, the store discontinued the pharmacy portion of the establishment.
In Bradford, Main Street served as the location of a series of stores that sold drugs. George Prichard and Son’s store opened in the 1840s. In 1854, H. B. Poole offered his services as a druggist. About 1856, Dr. A. A. Doty opened an apothecary shop.
H. G. Day’s Bradford Drug Store was opened in 1867, offering drugs, toiletries, patent medicines, and druggist’s groceries. Between 1888 and 1903, the store was owned by A. T. Clarke. Cunningham’s Pharmacy was opened at about the same time. Sisco Pharmacy operated in the Stevens Block from beginning around 1913 and introduced the Rexall brand. In 1925, Sisco sold the business to brothers William and Frank Gove.
In 1935, Kenneth Murdock and George Bancroft purchased the pharmacy. William Gove continued as a pharmacist and the pharmacy was renamed Gove and Bancroft. William Gove’s nephew, Fletcher Gove, began his career at Thomas Pharmacy in Wells River before becoming a partner pharmacist in the Bradford store in 1959.
Gove’s son Graham recently recalled his “dad’s patience and good-naturedness toward customers no matter their social or economic status.” He remembered that his father delivered prescriptions after hours to people who were unable to get to the store.
As with other pharmacies, Gove and Bancroft carried far more than prescription drugs. It was the place to go to have photographs sent for developing or to purchase reserved tickets for Bradford Academy’s senior plays. They carried a full selection of gifts and toys. Their “Rexall 1 cent” sales attracted many to what was advertised as “Your Family Drug Store.”
In 1968, pharmacist Howard Search Jr. joined the pharmacy. In a recent telephone conversation, Search indicated he purchase the business in 1980 when Fletcher Gove retired. In about 1989, the pharmacy moved east across the street to occupy a newly-built store and remained there until it closed in 1992.
Search went on to explain that the practice of pharmacy had evolved dramatically during his career. When he began in 1962, there were lots drug compounding locally. which he described as a mixture “between the art and science of pharmacy.” By the close of his work, work had become somewhat easier as it was more likely to be dispensing of pre-made pills and other pre-packaged prescriptions.
In about 1984, pharmacist Linda Michelsen opened Crossroads Pharmacy on the Lower Plain. At first, it was in a small location at the four corners and, in 1968, it moved to the former Green Frog store, now the location of East Coast Van. In 1999, New York-based Kinney Drug took over from Crossroad Pharmacy and occupied a new building on the Four Corners.
In the past two decades, new local pharmacies have opened and others have relocated to new sites. In Woodsville and Haverhill, there are now instore pharmacies at Walmart and Shaw’s. There is also a Rite Aid pharmacy, part of a national chain of pharmacies. Bradford’s Hannaford’s has an in-store pharmacy on the Lower Plain.
Many locals now have their prescriptions filled through mail-order pharmacies or online pharmacies such as Express Script, Optum RX, and Caremark. While the customers of mail orders pharmacies may get to interface with a distant pharmacist they lack the close personal contact they may have received from local and well-established community pharmacists.
Built over decades of operation, familiarity with the primary pharmacists at the four pharmacies mentioned above gave customers confidence in their work. Locals took their advice with the belief that the prescriptions they prepared would provide a path to improved health.