Thursday, June 5, 2014

Medicines & More

Imagine buying medicines, medical supplies, toiletries, hardware, and farm items all at the local pharmacy. Folks in Alexandria, VA could shop for these items and more from the 1700s to the mid 1900s at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary. 

This early apothecary, now a museum, remains nearly the same as it did when it closed in 1933. We visited during a recent trip to Alexandria, VAWhat's unique about the museum, is not only the variety of items, but its large collection of remedies and treatments. Most are still in the original containers with some exceptions as noted below.

Herbal botanical remedies have names that Harry Potter and friends would envy, dragon weed and snake root. And, back then, folks could purchase cocaine for pain relief and also heroin. While these drugs are not on display, they had been available at the time.

There are hand-blown glass bottles, medical equipment, a collection of archival journals, letters and diaries, prescriptions, formula books, orders and invoices with the names of famous customers: Martha Washington, James Madison, and Robert E. Lee.

This family business was operated from 1792 until 1933 by generations of a Quaker family. It represented one of Alexandria's oldest continuously-run businesses that combined retailing, wholesaling, and manufacturing.
Its founder, Edward Stabler, was a Quaker businessman, who settled in Alexandria after apprenticing in the apothecary business. He sold to city and country residents, local doctors and local farmers. Most remedies were made on-site using plants and herbs. 

Medical products could be found next to farm and garden equipment. Surgical instruments and dental equipment next to soap, perfume, mineral water, cigars, combs and brushes. No need to go to a hardware store as this apothecary business made and sold paints and varnishes too, as well as window glass.
By 1806, Stabler was traveling to Quaker church meetings throughout the region. His oldest son, William, ran the business, inheriting it in 1831. Keeping with the family-run tradition, he included his brother-in-law, John Leadbeater, a trained dentist. When Stabler died in 1852, Leadbeater purchased the business.
In 1865, the business operated by Leadbeater's son, Edward, supplied 500 pharmacies throughout the Washington, DC area.The company had 12 salesmen throughout Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina to promote its wholesale and mail order businesses and operated 11 buildings in Alexandria and a Washington office.
The turn of the century brought a faltering economy and later the Depression, which caused the business to declare bankruptcy in 1933, days before the death of owner, Edward S. Leadbeater, Jr.
The apothecary business closed and everything was left "as is." The second floor features a manufacturing room, where medicines were made for retailers and wholesalers. Like the main retail space, this space remains nearly untouched since the 1933 store closing.
Concerned citizens and the American Pharmaceutical Association purchased the collection and archives with private buyers saving it for historical purposes. The contents were purchased at auction by a Baltimore merchant who donated them to the Landmarks Society of Alexandria, which had purchased the building at auction. After an extensive renovation that re-stabilized the structure, the Landmarks Society donated the museum and contents to the City of Alexandria in November 2006.
The museum offers daily tours with hours depending on the season. There is a nominal charge due to ongoing costs associated with maintenance and operation. It's well worth a "look-see" if you are ever visiting the city.


Anvilcloud said...

Nice post. They could possibly use it to promote their tours.

Tammy@Simple Southern Happiness said...

Now that is a walk through time, We had an old pharmacy in our little town, this takes me back.

Great photos.

Out on the prairie said...

Neat to find a business that stayed so long. I ate in a restaurant in Salzburg, Austria that was started in 940.

Gail Dixon said...

Fascinating history. I remember reading a book called The Apothecary's Daughter...women were not allowed to be a pharmacist back in the day. It was quite eye-opening reading about that time in our history.

Montanagirl said...

What a great post! So interesting, the changes from then to now!! LOL.

barbara l. hale said...

What a cool place! So glad it has been preserved. Thanks for the tour!

Emma Springfield said...

That was a fascinating tour through the apothecary. It must be fate but I saw a commercial on TV just this morning for a pharmacy in a nearby town that still has an old fashioned soda fountain. I am going to visit soon. I seem to remember Leadbeaters products from long ago. I wonder if they are related?

A Quiet Corner said...

I can almost imagine all the shelves and bottles filled. Bet you could too!...:)JP

Ludwig Keck said...

A most delightful look into history, not just in your fine photos but your marvelous story. So well told!

It is very gratifying to see that these jewels from history have been preserved.

Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that it was apothecaries were the earliest "motorists" had to stop to buy gasoline. I suspect that was probably another item carried here to serve the community.

W. Latane Barton said...

How interesting!! I loved reading about that pharmacy/museum and all the things available so far back in history. I know you must have enjoyed your visit there.

William Kendall said...

It rather reminds me of a similar apothecary I remember in a town near where I grew up.

Daisy said...

Very interesting historical post. This was neat to see.

Anonymous said...


How I wish I could go there! All the strange things one could buy in places like that :-)

I love to read bout places like this!

Have a great day!

Elaine said...

Fascinating! Amazing the variety of items they sold. I really enjoying seeing places like this that are preserved like they were when they were open.

You might like the Gruber Wagon Works at the Berks County Heritage Center in Reading PA. It looks like it's just closed down for the day, and they could come back and work anytime. I don't believe I did a post on it, but perhaps I should do that.

Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

Just adore Old Town Alexandria -is that where this apothecary is?
As usual, your post is fascinating and so well done.
And in the coincidence department, I used the phrase "look-see" myself not 10 minutes ago! Don't remember ever having typed it before. Great minds, ya know?

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