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Putnam Drug Company (1793-1982)



The Putnam Drug Company was one of the longest continuously operating businesses in the history of Hanover, NH. It had perhaps as many as eight different owners under several different business names from the time it opened in 1793 until its closing around 1982. Over the years, it existed in several different locations in Hanover, survived a major fire in 1887, and at different times operated as a general store as well as pharmacy. That the business existed for nearly two centuries of almost continuous operation under so many different owners and situations is unprecedented.

Its founder, Rufus Graves (1758-1845, Dartmouth 1791), was a very enterprising, energetic man who was involved in many ventures throughout his life: he studied divinity under Professor John Smith (Dartmouth 1773) shortly after graduating from Dartmouth; owned a tannery in town; was heavily involved in the planning and building of the second bridge over the Connecticut River (Hanover to Norwich) from 1792 to 1796; built and opened his store in 1793; was appointed lieutenant-colonel in the 16th U. S. Infantry in May 1799 and had a recruitment office in Hanover until 1800; and he lectured in chemistry at the Dartmouth Medical School from 1812 to 1815.

The store Graves built was on land just south of the present Casque and Gauntlet house on South Main Street. It is believed that Mr. Graves dispensed drugs through his store as a pharmacist without a medical background, although this cannot be verified. However, it is likely that medicines were part of Graves' stock in trade. An assertion that Dr. Nathan Smith (Dartmouth H1798), founder of the Dartmouth Medical School, sold pharmaceuticals with a Mr. Abraham Hedge (Dartmouth M1799) in Graves' store under the partnership Smith and Hedge, is substantiated. It is not known how long they rented Graves' store or sold medicines through it. Dr. Smith and Dr. Hedge also had individual accounts at Graves' store and it is thought that Graves and Smith were friends. The Smith & Hedge partnership dissolved some time in 1799, probably some time after Hedge's graduation from the medical school.

Mr. Graves' involvement in the bridge project and other ventures exhausted his finances, so in 1797 he leased the store to two gentlemen, Dr. Elisha Phelps of Chatham, CT, and Mr. John Ellsworth. This arrangement seems to have postdated the renting of the store to Smith and Hedge. However, apparently due at least in part to a scandal involving Dr. Phelps, the partnership between the two was dissolved and the store was purchased outright from Rufus Graves in September of 1799 by Dr. Samuel Alden (1768-1842, Dartmouth 1795) of Stafford, CT. Dr. Alden ran the general store and drug business as separate entities by moving the drug business into an addition built onto the south side of the building. He made his son-in-law, Otis Russell Freeman (Dartmouth M1843) proprietor of the drug store, which became a successful business by itself. Freeman is believed to be the first to employ the use of prescriptions in the dispensing of drugs in the drug store.

Dr. Alden died in 1842. Since the store is believed to have been sold in 1844, it was probably sold by his son-in-law, Freeman. Dr. Thomas Prentiss Hill (1781-1866, Dartmouth M1816) resident of Conway and Sanbornton, NH, purchased the drug store and ran it under the title of T. P. Hill & Company for about twelve years. Hill was an avid believer in temperance and often lectured on the subject. One such lecture is located in a cash book from Hill's business held in Rauner Special Collections, Dartmouth College (Codex 002213). Dr. Hill sold the store in 1856 to Dr. James Austin Smith (1821-1901, Dartmouth M1849), a Hartford, VT resident.

Dr. Smith ran the business under the title J. A. Smith & Company for another twelve years. Dr. Smith employed Lucien Bliss Downing (1838-1917) as a clerk in the store, which began Downing's more than fifty-year involvement in the business. He became a business partner of Smith's in August of 1867. The partnership dissolved one year later, with Downing becoming sole owner in 1868. Lucien B. Downing carried on the drug business by moving it in his first year to a location on the east side of South Main Street in Hanover, just south of the current location of the Hanover Inn. It was moved again to the old Tontine Block on South Main Street, which was destroyed by fire in 1887. After the fire, and before settling at its last location, 32, 34, and 36 South Main Street, it is said to have existed in the Episcopal church's unconsecrated chapel on North Wheelock Street. The business operated predominantly under the name Dartmouth Pharmacy.

Lucien B. Downing was a prominent and well loved citizen and business man in Hanover and was known to many as “the Deacon.” He was said to have been a strong temperance advocate and was also against the use of tobacco of any kind. Mr. Downing was one of many individuals whose responsibility it was to tend to the shade trees in Hanover village, trimming and planting them as needed for many years. Mr. Downing was a driving force behind the formation of the New Hampshire Pharmaceutical Association, as well as the passing of laws regulating the pharmaceutical industry in the state. As a result of these innovations, he became the first registered pharmacist in the state of New Hampshire, as evidenced by his pharmaceutical certificate of 1874.

It was during Downing's ownership that Robert Joel Putnam (1877-1961) came to Hanover and began work at the pharmacy in 1899. He started work in the store as a clerk and some of his early duties included helping with drug mixtures and grinding glass stoppers to fit bottles. He lived on the premises and worked long days for $2 a week. By 1914, he had become a business partner with Mr. Downing in the store operation. Mr. Downing died in 1917 and Mr. Putnam purchased the store from Downing's widow and family shortly thereafter. Mr. Putnam ran the drug store under the name Putnam's Drug Store until 1955. During that year, the store was incorporated and was renamed the Putnam Drug Company, Inc., with Mr. Putnam as president of the company. Grant Eastman, founder of Eastman's Pharmacy in Hanover (1938), was an employee of Deacon Downing from 1910 to 1912 and of Robert Putnam after he graduated from the Boston College of Pharmacy in 1916.

Robert J. Putnam was a respected citizen of Hanover and held many town offices and positions during his 62-year residency. He served on the board of trustees of the Dartmouth Savings Bank of Hanover for 43 years, as chairman of that board for the last six years. He was a member of the Hanover School Board for 27 years, six as chairman. Mr. Putnam also served as selectman for the town of Hanover for twelve years, chairman for three years. He was a trustee of the Howe Library of Hanover for fifteen years. He was also a member of several other public and civic organizations, including the Hanover Rotary Club.

Robert J. Putnam's son, Richard W. Putnam (d. 2002) joined the company shortly after World War II ended. When the store was incorporated in 1955, Richard became manager. Richard's wife, Viola (Melendy) Putnam (1918-2000) was also an officer and director of the company from 1955 until 1978. Their son, Robert S. Putnam, was involved in the operation of the company, as well. The Putnams retired from the business and sold it to Richard B. and Jane Evans around 1982.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Putnam Drug Company records

Identifier: MS-871
Date(s): 1795 to 1950

Putnam Drug Company (1793-1982). The collection contains prescription journals ("Recipe Books"), account ledgers, cash books, invoices, labels and printed materials related to druggists Lucien Bliss Downing, Dr. James Austin Smith, Rufus Graves, and Dr. Thomas Prentiss Hill.

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