Apothecary Museum: Hidden treasures in Old Town Alexandria

WASHINGTON – Wooden shelves and bell jars line the walls of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Old Town Alexandria.

The names of famous customers — Martha Washington, Robert E. Lee and Nelly Custis — adorn the countertops, while Victorian door locks remind customers they have just stepped back in time.

The quiet museum, located at 105-107 Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Va., is easy to miss when strolling down the brick sidewalks of this historic city, yet a world of wonder waits inside for those interested in medicine, herbology and pharmacology.

Operated in its current location from about 1805 to 1933, the apothecary was Alexandria’s premier general store. Aside from offering remedies to everything from headaches to seasonal colds, the family-owned business also sold everyday incidentals like toothbrushes and acted as a wholesaler for other pharmacies in the area.

Generations later, the apothecary has been transformed into a museum that houses Dragon’s Blood, Mandrake Root, tincture of Cannabis and liquid morphine in their original containers.

“You would come, describe your symptoms, the pharmacist would diagnose you and he would pull ingredients off the shelf,” says Lauren Gleason, museum site manager.

He would then mix up the concoction, put it inside a vial and send patients on their way.

When the original business went bankrupt at the turn of the 20th century, it was repossessed and a bank auctioned off everything inside. Residents bought all the items back and kept the space open as a museum, Gleason says.

Click through the gallery to take a mini-tour of the museum.

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. November through March. April through October, it is open Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday and Monday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Call 703-746- 3852 for more information.

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