Odor flasks and pocket cutlery

Recently donated medicine bottles from Stafford’s Pharmacy. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Arriving from Detroit to Marquette in 1856, Henry Hinckley Stafford and his wife Catherine Kidder Stafford brought with them remedies a community was waiting for. Although only seven years old at the time, the growing village of Marquette had demand for a drug store. In 1859 the couple opened Stafford Drug Company on South Front Street, offering long sought after items to an eager public. Remedies such as Extract of Sarsaparilla, used for all things from pimples to rheumatism, or Gripe Water — claimed as “the only safe remedy for all disorders and diseases of infants and children,” were popular at the time. Marquette residents could finally purchase in their very own downtown: Ayer’s Hair Vigor, Nerve Tonic, or Swedish leeches.

This is not to make light of the importance of having a drug store in town, or the role of a pharmacist or “druggist” in the community. Stafford’s was the first of many necessary shops of its kind. In an 1886 city directory, the description for H.H. Stafford & Son Druggists reads: “While few, at this day, will be inclined to under-estimate the importance of the trained pharmacist as an essential factor in our daily lives, standing as he does beside the physician, and holding in his hand the greatest possibilities of good or evil, there are but few who appreciate the care and responsibility incident to, or the amount of training required by this highly necessary branch of trade.” It goes on to describe the quality and freshness of ingredients needed to maintain good products that save lives.

Although drugs and remedies brought customers into the shop, an abundance of other products tempted them as well. This was publicized in an 1873 Mining Journal print advertisement for Stafford’s. The print ad style of the day was often to use stylistic spacing and font size to get a reader’s attention. This ad used slanted lists of items and plenty of white space around the words to draw attention to all they sold, such as: playing cards, razor straps, lip salves, corn plasters, perfumery, French blacking, vanilla beans, odor flasks, and pocket cutlery.

The offerings continued to grow; in the mid 1880s, one could find “…a large and carefully selected stock of Books, Stationery, Artists’ Materials [sic], and those many articles of bric-a-brac so numerous of late years, and which make such graceful and acceptable presents together with the great variety of toilet articles, etc… that seem the prerogative of the Druggist to handle.”

Medicines were prepared and dispensed from Stafford’s, and they had a reputable offering through the eras of patent medicine and beyond, as the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act demanded more regulations and labeling on all medicines and remedies. Their advertisements began to assure customers: “Pure drugs only dispensed at Stafford Drug Store,” and “Prescriptions and private formulas carefully compounded at Stafford’s.”

In the 1890s the Stafford Drug Co. expanded and moved up Front Street by one block, now offering more to the community. A drug store at the turn of the century was a large community supply hub but a gathering place as well; at Stafford’s an ice cream counter offered seating, and the cigar department had a sizable display counter to linger at. Medicine was still dispensed although the drug store added more and more interesting products until they closed in 1969.

Marquette has been home to many more drug stores throughout its history, from small dispensaries to gathering places for full meals; the Marquette Pharmacy at one point boasted a “28-foot fountain and 23 modern, leather upholstered booths in which lunches and meals will be served.”

Although we may not know our remedy makers personally anymore, and the pharmacy is rarely a location for a sit-down lunch, the institution of a drug store is often key in a community. For our historic bus tours this summer we are including a 1918 druggist as one of our historical characters. This stop on the bus tour inspires looking back at what pharmacies once were and what they were known for. Join our bus tours to meet a downtown druggist and other entertaining characters, Tuesdays July 18-August 8 at 1:00, or Wednesdays July 19-August 9 at 6:00. See marquettehistory.org for tickets.


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