ALEXANDRIA, VA —Historic Alexandria announced this morning that the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, 105 N. Fairfax Street, has been selected as a new National Historic Landmark.
Revealed on January 13, 2021, the Secretary of the Interior designated 21 new and 2 updated National Historic Landmarks. These 23 historic sites illustrate important aspects of American history and represent a diverse array of historic periods, cultural groups, property types, and archeological sites from across the nation.
The museum was nominated for its contributions to fields of business and science, within the theme of developing the American economy. As noted in the nomination, “The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop is nationally significant in the history of pharmacy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly the evolution of drug stores and the changing role of pharmacists.”
According to Director of Historic Alexandria Gretchen Bulova, “This National Historic Landmark designation reflects the Stabler-Leadbeater’s Apothecary’s place in the history of medicine in the United States. We are honored to receive this special recognition for the Apothecary Museum on behalf of the historic preservation efforts of Alexandria residents since the 1930s to preserve this important site.”
About the Apothecary & Museum
Edward Stabler came to Alexandria after apprenticing in the apothecary business with his brother in Leesburg, Virginia. A devout Quaker and savvy businessman, he rented space in 1792 near the corner of S. Fairfax and Prince Streets to start his business. In 1805, Stabler purchased the land at 107 S. Fairfax Street and built the present day three-story brick building for his thriving apothecary business. By 1829, he had purchased 105 S. Fairfax and incorporated the building into his operation.
The typical products Stabler sold included medicine, farm and garden equipment, surgical instruments, dental equipment, soap, perfume, Congress mineral water, window glass, paint and varnish, artists’ supplies, combs, and brushes.
By 1806, Stabler began traveling extensively to Quaker church meetings throughout the region, often leaving his apprentices and oldest son William to run the business in his absence. After his father’s death in 1831, the business passed to William. Keeping with the family-run tradition, William brought several of his brothers and also his brother-in-law, John Leadbeater, into the business. After William’s death in 1852, John Leadbeater, a trained apothecary and dentist, purchased the business from William’s widow, as the couple had no children, and changed the name of the business from William Stabler and Brother to John Leadbeater.
In 1865, the business was operated by John’s son Edward and soon supplied to nearly 500 pharmacies throughout the Washington, DC, area. At its peak, the Leadbeaters employed 12 salesmen throughout Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina to promote their wholesale and mail order businesses. The company operated in 7 buildings in Alexandria, including the two main buildings on Fairfax Street, offices on King Street, warehouses on Lee and Prince Streets, and an office in Washington, DC.
The financial strain of new regulations and competition from chain drug stores caused the business to seek bankruptcy protection in 1916. Despite reorganizing, the shop again declared bankruptcy in May 1933. The business closed amid the financial collapse of the Great Depression and the death of its final owner, Edward Stabler Leadbeater, Jr.
Spurred into action to save the historic collection for future generations, a plan was crafted by concerned Alexandria citizens and the American Pharmaceutical Association to purchase the collection and archives with private buyers. The majority of the contents and archives were purchased at auction on July 19, 1933, by L. Manuel Hendler, a Baltimore ice cream merchant with an affinity for the history of pharmacy. The following year, the newly formed Landmarks Society of Alexandria purchased the buildings at auction. Hendler then donated the contents and archives to the Landmarks Society.
With the buildings and collection secured, the structures were conjecturally returned to their 18thcentury appearance by noted restoration architect, Thomas Tileston Waterman. The museum was officially reopened in 1939, free of charge thanks to the financial support of the American Pharmaceutical Association. After an extensive renovation adding a fire suppression system, and restabilizing the structure, the Landmarks Society donated the museum and its contents to the City of Alexandria in November of 2006.
Besides the Apothecary, one additional site in Virginia was designated – the Patsy Cline House in Winchester, VA. Also selected this year include the Surf Ballroom in Iowa where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson gave their last performances before the “day the music died” as well as the Grant Cottage in New York where former president Ulysses S. Grant completed his final memoirs and passed away in 1885.
About Historic Alexandria (OHA): The Office of Historic Alexandria preserves and shares the past to enrich the present and inspire the future. OHA shares these stories through museums and landscapes as well as tours, exhibitions, and a variety of public programs. Museums include the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, Alexandria Black History Museum, Alexandria’s History Museum at the Lyceum, Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site, Freedom House Museum, Friendship Firehouse Museum, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. Additional spaces including the African American Heritage Park, Archives and Records Center, Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery, Murray-Dick-Fawcett House, Lloyd House, and Union Station collectively tell the story of the City. Urban archaeology also plays an active role in uncovering and interpreting Alexandria’s history, recovering artifacts before they are lost to construction. OHA enhances the quality of life for City residents and visitors and is a partner in the City’s equity and inclusion initiatives. For more information about the Office of Historic Alexandria, visit alexandriava.gov/Historic.