Still standing outside a former drug store in the 100 block of East Main Street in Hillsboro is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, a large, black and red mortar and pestle that dates to 1867.
Most recently, the mortar and pestle marked the location of the Ayres Drug Store, but for many years it was known as the W.R. Smith Drug Company, a business that began in 1808.
The 1907 photo accompanying this story was submitted to The Times-Gazette this week by Christopher Duckworth, a Columbus resident with ties to Hillsboro and Greenfield, where his father was born. Duckworth is a grandson of Edwin Billingham Ayres, who started working at the drug store in 1905 before he graduated from Hillsboro High School, and became the sole owner of the business in 1925.
Ed Ayres passed away in 1964, but his wife, Elsie Ayres, kept the store open several years after her husband’s death.
Ed Ayres worked his way up in the business from clerk, to manager, and then partner before he purchased the business. He never attended college, but instead “read” pharmacy with Walter Smith and obtained his pharmacist license in 1912, according to Duckworth.
He kept the W.R. Smith Drug Company name for many years and still used on occasion until his death, said Duckworth.
“This image, by the way, was taken prior to my grandfather’s graduation from Hillsboro High School, when he was working part-time at the drugstore as an errand boy and so forth,” Duckworth said.
Duckworth has a large collection of glass-plate negatives that he purchased in Chillicothe. He said he does not know who took the photos, but suspects that it was the owner of the Hillsboro studio later owned successively by Nicholas Boris, “Byrde” Ayres, and Fred Milles.
“I made (the photo) from one of those glass-plate negatives, and astonishingly it is the one that I first saw when I drew a negative from the several boxes that were being offered for sale to me,” Duckworth wrote in an email. “This is the W.R. Smith Drug Company decked out in bunting for the 1907 centennial and homecoming. Imagine my surprise when I saw my grandfather, Edwin Billingham Ayres, the young man without a jacket standing at the far right. I do not know who the other people are, nor did my mother, Clara Elizabeth Ayres Duckworth.
“I have a 1909 photograph, also taken in the front of the drugstore, and identified in it are clerk C.O. Brown and porter William Hancock. Clearly, neither of them is present in the 1907 image.”
The late Harold Powell, longtime former Hillsboro newspaper editor, wrote an article in 1967 provided by Duckworth that was published in the Columbus Dispatch Sunday Magazine detailing the history of the drug store.
Powell wrote, “The store was founded in 1808, within the year during which Hillsboro was chosen as the county seat. Dr. Jasper Hand, from Pennsylvania, began dispensing drugs from his saddle bags when virgin timber still stood in the main streets and his pay was a cut quarter or produce from the land.”
Powell described how Dr. Jacob Kirby of Virginia, a graduate of the Cincinnati Medical College, “became a partner of Dr. Hand in 1823. When Dr. Hand died in 1828, Dr. Kirby helped settle the estate and continued to run the apothecary shop. He was a practicing physician in Hillsboro for more than 50 years.”
Powell wrote that Dr. Kirby was married to Rachel Woodrow “and their daughter, Anne, became the wife of Dr. William Robinson Smith of Greenfield. In 1847, the latter became associated with his father-in-law in the drug business.”
Later, according to Powell’s account, Smith’s sons, Walter, Kirby and Charles, began working in the store. “When their father died in 1900, they inherited the business. Walter and Kirby were both registered pharmacists and Charles was a doctor. It was known as Smith’s Drug Store for many years and still by that name by a lot of old-timers,” wrote Powell.
In 1905, when the Smiths were looking for a young clerk, “they watched the newsboys and their particular habits and from a group f 12 selected one and asked him if he would like to work in the store. Thus, Ed Ayres began his career…” recounted Powell.
Ayres wanted to take the state pharmaceutical examination, so he applied for his papers early in 1912, “but because he was under 21 years of age, he could not take the test. Instead, he took the exam for qualified assistant, becoming a registered pharmacist later,” wrote Powell
“The store makes a specialty of spray materials and veterinary and poultry medicines. Most of the old-time remedies, hard-to-get herbs and spices and rare chemicals are still carried in stock. When a druggist or a doctor in Southern Ohio cannot supply the wants of his customers, he says, ‘Try Ayres in Hillsboro.’ The store has more than 10,000 items,” wrote Powell.
Powell wrote that the mortar and pestle insignia in front of the store “was purchased by Walter Smith when he visited the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. It originally sat in the street and was used as a hitching post.”
The two large, colorful show globes, hallmarks of the store, were both originals, hanging from solid brass brackets in the windows. Powell noted that George Chandler, for whom a foundation in the Cincinnati College of Pharmacy is named, used them as patterns for reproduction to be sold nationally.
This week, Duckworth wrote: “Funny thing about the show globes in the front window. They always were filled with a special colored water-based liquid that wouldn’t leave residue or break down. One of the last things that I did for my grandfather was to follow his notebook, which I have, mix two batches of fluid in different colors for the globes, and then fill them. That was fifty-one years ago.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.