Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

Emmitsburg Drug Stores of Old

Ruth 0. Richards

It was the smell. Not just a smell, but an aroma - or maybe even a Perfume - whatever it was, it was the one thing that Houser's Drug Store and the drug store of my memory had in common. There were other things too, of course, things that I can find and buy elsewhere - but never will ever again experience that smell.

The drug store of my youth, actually my childhood, too, was on the ground floor of the building where my father had his law office. And my father's office was on the main shopping street of my hometown. My father loved "his little girls" to come to his office, and what with shopping and seeing my father we also stopped into the drug store often.

Druggist - Drug Store - Pharmacist - Pharmacy - Greek meaning "to heal." Chemist - The Chemist and Doctor - the name used in Emmitsburg to refer to the provider of medicine.

The word Chemist is closest to what went on in the back room years ago when the druggist literally concocted the potion prescribed by the physician that would make us all well. And after it was concocted it was brought to the customer in a little cardboard box or in a vial labeled with instructions for administering to the ailing one.

The druggist of "our" drug store wore a white coat, making him look very professional. I don't remember ever seeing Mr. Houser in a white coat, but by his manner, he gave his customers confidence in his ability to fill the prescription correctly. Mr. Kreiser, my druggist, and Mr. Houser would disappear into a back room where there was, no doubt, a mortar and pestle, test tubes, miniature scales, chemicals and bottles, all necessary items for concocting medicines.

Both stores had fountains where ice cream treats and soft drinks were also concocted. The fountains were marble-topped and the dispensers of these delicious treats were metal and were kept shiny. From this fountain delicious treats would appear.

My mother would take my sister and me for an occasional treat after we had been shopping. And it was a treat, too, as we sat at the special ice cream table on wire-backed ice cream chairs, with that lovely smell all around us. I felt like I was in fairy land - ice cream drowned in chocolate or butterscotch syrup with nuts on top, served in shiny, footed, paper cup-lined dishes to be eaten with tiny ice cream spoons. The Druggist would stop by our table to talk with us and to tell my mother what attractive good little girls she had.

Houser's also had a fountain. John's and my favorite from that fountain was a milkshake. Actually, we would have preferred a malted milk, but that cost 25 cents, 5 cents more than a plain milkshake. Our budget allowed us but one milkshake, and so we asked for two straws. The Housers were very understanding and without comment, provided two straws, knowing that when we ordered milkshakes, it was a two-straw order.

Another treat was a fountain coke. Coke syrup with lemon syrup added to it with a shot of carbonated water gave us a treat for the gods. Cokes cost only one cent so we could each have our own. Both stores were Rexall Drug stores, a chain of drug stores around the country. Once a year, Rexall's had a big, two-for-one sale. I remember this sale well from my childhood. Mom would go to the store and come home with a shopping bag of the drugs we might need for a whole year: milk of magnesia (my parents were big on that), aspirin, Bay Rhum (for dandruff and a good smell, too), toothpaste and shaving cream, among other things. And in the bottom of the bag would be two very large chocolate bar that were meted out one square at a time. Houser's too, had the yearly Rexall sale but I never had the need to buy a shopping bag full of patent medicines.

The Housers seemed truly interested in hearing about our homes in the Middle West. They had heard about the dust storms, but wanted the description of them first hand. They had many questions and we were happy to provide the answers.

This was a generous couple. I remember two instances of their generosity, both of which really pleased me. When Kathy started to school, Marge who was two at the time, also wanted to go to school. She especially wanted a book bag. Mrs. Houser knew of her desire and one day when we were in the store gave Marge a red and blue plaid one. Marge packed her book bag every day and carried it as we walked Kathy to the bus.

When we built our house in 1954 the Housers were interested in the day by day progress of it. When it was finished and we had moved in, Mrs. Houser gave us some plants from her garden, among which were lilies of the valley. They are still growing on the north side of the house.

Did Mr. Houser concoct drugs for prescriptions? Of course he did. It wasn't until after WWII that the new drugs - antibiotics - were available. I can see him now, consulting with Dr. Cadle about a certain drug or another. Do druggists concoct medicines now? Can we buy ice cream or a fountain coke there? You know we can't. Does a modern day drug store smell like a "real drug store?" Definitely not! If I could find a bottle labeled "Old Drug Store Smell" on the shelves, I would buy it and every once in a while I would remove the top, take a whiff, and allow memories to wash over me.

Have your own memories of Old Emmitsburg drug stores? 
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ruth Richards

Back to Previous Page >