New pieces of Greencastle history surface

Written prescriptions jammed onto spindles are no longer legible, and the paper is brittle. Containers boast the products used in the creation of medicines early in the last century.

The remedies of the past may no longer be on drug store shelves, but they are on display at the Allison-Antrim Museum this month, courtesy of Frank Ervin. The former owner of Carl’s Drug Store pulled hundreds of items out of storage. Visitors can ponder whether they would have dared try some of the products sold in the country’s longest continuously operating drugstore.

“It’s a cool bunch of stuff,” said Ervin, who purchased the business in 1974 from Edward Carl.

The family-owned store opened in 1825 under Dr. Adam Carl. First a pharmacist, he later attended medical school in Baltimore, and his diploma is part of the collection. Carl’s grandson Charles B. Carl took over the store in 1888, and then his youngest son Edward Carl assumed proprietorship in 1935. Ervin sold the business to Rodger Savage in 2013.

Ervin inherited the contents of the stockroom, and treasures the historical memorabilia. He can’t count how many items there are, and some still have never been on display. He keeps everything in his basement, attic and garage.

Old time pharmacy

The claims of some of the products are dramatic. There are “pink pills for pale people”, ear oil “to relieve deafness and head noises”, Nature’s Hair Restorer, and fever pills “for bilious and malarial diseases”.

“Many over the counter things had to do with laxatives and purging your gut,” Ervin said.

The druggists from the past made suppository molds in different shapes. They manufactured their own citrate of magnesia. They also made pills using several methods. Ervin’s father Richard, an assistant pharmacist, helped roll five-gallon bottles back and forth, mixing syrup.

Within the files of brittle physician prescriptions, Ervin has samples of scripts for alcohol during Prohibition. They had to be signed in triplicate.

“You could talk your doc into brandy,” he said. “It calmed them down before the era of tranquilizers.”

Ervin’s stash includes the original outdoor sign, bottles, tins, boxes, mortars and pestles, scales, labels, photos and newspaper articles from the past 190 years, as well as items of a very personal nature.

Of some of the products and promised results, Ervin said, “They were crude and people were crazy.”

His artifacts are on exhibit in the barn. The house continues to display AAMI’s permanent collection of Carl’s Drug Store artifacts, such as Dr. Adam Carl’s leather medicine kit, tooth keys, apothecary bottles and a coffee grinder used for medicines.

The exhibit may be seen from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and during an open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12. Ervin will be on hand to share his knowledge of the antiquities.

Allison-Antrim Museum, 365 S. Ridge Avenue, will host a special open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, for the public to see the Carl’s Drug Store exhibit – a one-of-a-kind collection. The exhibit commemorates the 190th anniversary for the oldest, continuously operating drug store in the U.S. For 149 years, three generations of the Carl family owned the pharmacy.

Dr. Adam Carl arrived in Greencastle in April 1825. He opened his drug store on April 27 in his residence at 13 S. Carlisle Street. Throughout the 190-year-old history of the drug store, the business has been located at seven different addresses in the Borough of Greencastle.

Allison-Antrim Museum is partnering with Frank Ervin, former proprietor of Carl’s Drug Store, and Carl’s Drug Store in celebrating this momentous milestone, with never-before-seen artifacts and memorabilia. Ervin will be present to meet and greet visitors and answer questions. The Carl’s Drug Store exhibit closes at the end of September. 

The story of Carl’s Drug Store is not only part of Greencastle-Antrim’s history, it is also part of American history. Allison-Antrim Museum is regularly open Monday to Friday, noon to 4 pm.  For more information, visit www.greencastlemuseum.org, on Facebook, Twitter @greencastlemuzm, or by calling 717-597-9010. There is no charge for admission, but donations are gratefully accepted.

Carl's special exhibit to be featured in open house