MOYER BROTHERS

By Patricia Vance Moyer Parker

Moyer Brothers, one of the earliest commercial enterprises in the town of Bloomsburg, was owned and operated by Lucas Moyer, John L. Moyer I and William S. Moyer.  They started in 1854 in the Market Street home of John R. Moyer, my great-grandfather.  Although I never knew any of them, Uncle Luke and Uncle Will were familiar names when I was growing up. In the interest of preserving history, this is a description of an important phase in the expansion of an early Pennsylvania town. 

Moyer Brothers was a combination drug, dry-goods and sundries operation with a considerable trade in items on special order (such as window glass) which were brought by horse and wagon from ports at Sunbury, Harrisburg, etc.  They carried various patent medicines and remedies of the era as well as early household necessities.

After a few years, the brothers bought a former hotel building at the corner of Main and Center Streets.  There, under the auspices of Dr. C. T. Altmiller, a chemist who was married to Uncle Wills daughter, Martha, the brothers created and sold their own Moyers Little Liver Pills, Oil of Gladness, White Liniment and vanilla.  They bottled and sold under the Moyer label, Spirits of Turpentine, Spirits of Nitre, Lemon Extract, and boric acid, among others.  Eventually they divided the building into Wholesale and Retail departments.

 
The business was incorporated as Moyer Brothers Wholesale and Retail Drug Company in 1868.  That date could be plainly read on the top of the tall four story building.  In the early days, mostly family members - nephews, cousins, etc. - were employed as commercial travelers, clerks, packers, and delivery boys.  The retail store, at 1 W. Main Street, occupied the right front of the building and the wholesale store occupied the left.  A wide stairway to second and third floors divided them, but access to the second store was provided at the rear of the building, which included a freight elevator and loading dock.  Behind the first floor wholesale room, steps led to the business office, additional storage, and stairs to the rear of the second and third floors.  (In the 1940's, Freddie Trump, who became president of the Bloomsburg Fair Board and a Columbia County commissioner, was secretary to the company.)


A barn in back housed horses and wagon, a toboggan, and later, a Model T delivery truck.  As a child, I have fond memories of my dad and uncles taking all my cousins and me tobogganing down Third Street hill.  We
'd fly from West Street to Leonard Street, then hitch the sled to the back of the old Ford and pull it up Main Street and back to Third for another ride.  This only lasted a few times before the Ford=s radiator would start to boil over, and often we had to walk home.

When Moyer Brothers no longer had wagons, and the car had given up the ghost, the former barn on Center Street became the first home of The Brave Winona Fire Company, of which William Vance Moyer was a charter member.


The third floor of the store, from which we always watched parades, was utilized as a laboratory and workplace for the manufacture, bottling and labeling of the aforementioned company remedies.


On the second floor, over the retail store, offices were rented with my first recollection being in 1937, those of Lutz Insurance and Real Estate Agency.


By 1916, the original Moyer Brothers had died and the business was taken over by grandfather
=s three sons: John Lewis II, William Vance (my father), and Harold Lucas.  Lewis (Uncle Jack) served as office manager and treasurer; William (Bill), who received a Dr. of Pharmacy Degree at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, was the druggist, and Harold (Unc or Shorty), who was also a chemist, was a traveling salesman, assisted by William Logan.  The photo, from left to right, are the three sons of John L. Moyer the first (whose brothers were also named William and Harold), John L. Moyer III, John L. Moyer II, William Vance Moyer, Harold L. Moyer Sr. and Harold L Moyer Jr.  Harold Jr. also has three sons named John, William and Harold.

We can find very little recorded concerning a wholesale outlet of Moyer Brothers in Wilkes-Barre, outside of a few letterheads and return envelopes.  I presume this was just an outlet for the products labeled Moyer Brothers.  I remember dad telling of taking the train to Wilkes-Barre and it must have been in the vicinity of 1919-1921.  The Wilkes-Barre portion was then bought by Pennsylvania Wholesale, and I have no idea what happened to them!

Of course in those days there were not the federal regulations concerning content, use and claims for cure.  We kids all loved Oil of Gladness (a smelly, yellow oil) because it was served on a teaspoon of sugar (which, I'm sure, is where Julie Andrews got her song about making the medicine go down! ) It was used for sore throat, whooping cough, croup, and when rubbed on the skin, was very soothing for sunburn. 

 
Another Aremedy@ they sold was called Good Samaritan Ointment, made by a company of the same name, whose creator took the formula with him to the grave.  It contained olive oil, oxyqouinoline, sulphate methyc salicylate, carbonate of lead, oil of sassafras and beeswax.  When used as a poultice, it would draw out thorns or splinters, treat scalds, windburn, dry or cracked skin, abrasions, and provide relief for corn pains, and was guaranteed not to dry up!  (It made a great furniture polish, if you could stand the smell.)

Other people whose names I remember include Hattie Shutt and Gertie Eastman, who did bottling and labeling; Boyd Eyerly, in charge of packing, loading and unloading in the wholesale store, Bill Lanyan, Joe Bredbenner, Reber and Peg Krum and Charlie and Katy Gerber, who clerked retail and also made Moyer  Brothers own home made ice cream - 9 flavors when fresh fruit was in season.  Additional druggists were Abbot McKelvy, Fritz Kahler, and George Alleman.

Sometime before 1940, the wholesale side was divided halfway back and the front portion turned into a commercial store operated by Harry Logan, who repaired clocks and sold jewelry.

The retail store contained a soda fountain with glass-topped tables and wire-back chairs.  There were metal straw-dispensers, and fresh-fruit sundaes were served with homemade marshmallow toppings and pretzels on the side.  In addition to prescriptions and medications, one could buy spices, flavor extracts, toiletries, fragrances, boxed candy and numerous other convenience items.

Later, in the 40's, the tables were replaced by booths, which were inevitably filled with high-school kids every day after school, while the fountain serviced all the bankers who took a ten-minute break and had a ten-cent coke.

Following the death of Lewis Moyer in 1957, Moyer Brothers was broken up into a retail store, sold to Robert Shive who took the name Moyer Pharmacy, and a wholesale operation called Moyer Brothers Inc., with a new location on East 7th Street.  This was undertaken by my dad and cousin George Hemingway, and eventually sold to The Weyland Company, a wholesale outfit with headquarters on South Market Street.

Harold and Shorty Moyer Jr. started a repackaging business they called The Moyer Company, using a building on Catherine Street near Ninth Street.  They bought in bulk, as had the original Moyer Brothers, and repackaged with the Moyer label, things like Oil of Gladness, Epsom Salts, White Liniment, and vanilla.  This lasted 8 or 10 years, but was wiped out by an unscrupulous
customer who ordered thousands of dollars worth of goods and couldn't, or wouldn't, pay.  
 
horizontal_old_bottle.jpg (715705 bytes)

Shortly thereafter Harold Jr. moved to Texas, and following his father
s death in 1979, provided a wonderful home for his mother, Minnie. Dad retired and George became a Realtor with the Lutz Agency - a greatly expanded and successful enterprise since its beginnings on Moyer Brothers second floor.

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Although the drug store was for many years an important mainstay of the town of Bloomsburg, it is now remembered only by the oldest generation.  But now and then, if you really look for them, you just might find, in a flea market or at an auction sale, a bottle, can or box, still bearing the label Moyer Brothers Druggists, corner Main & Center, Bloomsburg, PA. And if you're really lucky, you may have inherited from your great-grandfathers medicine cabinet, a bottle of Oil of Gladness, White Liniment for Man or Beast, or a can of Good Samaritan Ointment!

Additional information and memoranda which provide a mental image of the Moyers and their business can be found in two scrapbooks which I plan to place with the Moyer genealogy in the Columbia County Historical Society.  The books were compiled by Harry L. Magee, who was a voracious collector of everything, and another individual responsible in many ways for the development of Bloomsburg.

He was the son of James A. Magee, who built the first spinning mill here which was to become the Magee Carpet Company, one of the areas largest employers.  He never forgot, at a time when his father was struggling and in need of cash to keep the mill going, the Moyer brothers provided a loan he was unable to obtain from anywhere else.  Harry returned the favor and bailed out Moyer Brothers when times were lean in the 1930's.

 
Where and how Mr. Magee obtained all the items in the scrapbooks I do not know, but they tell an interesting story both about Moyer Brothers and the man who preserved its history.  He presented them to me shortly before his death.  The books are labeled Old Moyer Brothers I and II.

  Bill Logan in front with hand on fender; next is Shorty Moyer, Sr.  The first man in the back is John L. Moyer, then Clare Hidlay. Below: the Store, all dressed up for the 4th & an old sales slip of sorts.

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Copy of an ad found in grandmother White's cook book, 1898  Inside is the original "MAMIE'S GINGER COOKIE" recipe!

MOYER'S OIL OF GLADNESS

Is a Specific for

CROUP, BURNS AND SCALDS.

We believe no Remedy has  yet   been   discovered   to   equal   it   for  relief of

WHOOPING COUGH.

A few drops will relieve the worst case of HOARSENESS. When applied to cuts, or any flesh wounds, it acts almost like magic.

Horsemen should not be without it in the stable. It is invaluable for sore neck and collar boils.

The above Medicine           MOYER BROS.   Wholesale Druggists,

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Additional Notes from Barbe (Barbara Moyer Kaelberer) follow:

The old bottle of Oil of Gladness, which used to be in Dad’s medicine cupboard, now stands on the bottom shelf of an antique curio in my living room.  Our children and grand children call our home, THE MUSEUM because of all the old furniture and memorabilia which fills our home.  If you look closely at the second photo, you will see in the glass bottle, Moyer Brothers Wholesale Druggists, Bloomsburg, PA. I believe it was filled with a dark colored cough syrup.


The family worked together at the store on several occasions.  My favorite was helping with the labeling high up on the third or fourth floor. Shorty (Harold Jr.) and I used to take a break and send things to each other from floor to floor on the old dumb waiter, and as Pat remembers, helping with the preparation of strawberries and peaches for ice cream made us feel important.  Many a day, on the way home from school, I would go in the back door of the store when Charley was making the ice cream.  We watched as it came out of the mixing machine still soft.  This was in the days before Foster Freeze and Dairy Queen, so soft ice cream was unheard of and was a royal treat.  Friends loved to walk home with me on ice cream days – we’d get a cone-full right out of the mixer!  Yummy!  Dad never minded.  He trusted us not to take advantage of him.  I often worked in the store (after I was 14) after school when all the kids would come in for ice cream sodas and floats.  It was fun.  One or two summers after I turned 16, I worked full time and got equal pay with the other clerks.  When the soda fountain wasn’t busy, I got to wait on prescription customers, bringing out the bottles of those I was able to read.  I placed them on the prescription table in the back for Dad.  I felt so important!

                    Copy of Copy of 7 Bill Moyer's girls 1934
To know Moyer Brothers, first one must know the man behind the prescription counter, my dad. IIt seems that everyone in town one knew and loved him.  Even after I went back to Bloomsburg after he died, I constantly ran into folks who remembered him.  For example: I needed a minor repair on the car one time and when I mentioned that I was Bill Moyer’s daughter, the mechanic had a story of some fond memory.  This happened everywhere I went.  I remember mothers bringing their babies into the store, young people  coming in with “teen age problems,” old folks with all sorts of pains and worries - all receiving free advice sprinkled with comfort and assurance.  Mother used to get so annoyed when some thoughtless person would call him on a Sunday afternoon, when the store was closed, in need of some Milk of Magnesia or some other over-the-counter medicine that could have been purchased at a more appropriate time.  But Dad would walk to the store without complaining.  Sometimes I went go along just to keep him company.  There was often a pack of gum given as a treat.  That reminds me, I remember once when I was “naughty” - after he scolded me, he brought home a pack of gum for me and I felt SOooo ashamed!  We were never allowed to have chocolate ice cream when we were tiny - only vanilla.  And I never even tasted Coke until I was in my teens.  Even then, I drank my first Coke at Rea & Derrick’s Drug Store where I hoped no one would know me. 

            On Saturday nights, Dad often brought home a box of Russell Stover Candies from the store for a special treat.  We could each have a piece on a Saturday night or after dinner on Sunday.  We were never allowed to eat candy in the morning and to this day, eating candy in the morning doesn’t appeal to me.  A favorite treat at home was ginger ale with grape juice in it. 

Family Mamie and Grandchildren            (Great Aunt Mary Vance with her grand nieces and nephews, children of the Moyer brothers and sisters)


He also taught us that we should pay for our after school floats or ice cream cones - they were only a nickel, but it came out of our allowance.  I remember my first allowance was 30 cents a week, the first fruits into my Sunday School envelope - a nickel for the church and a nickel for missions; then came 10 cents for the weekly Saturday morning movie; a nickel for some candy; and another nickel into my own little savings bank.  By the time I was in Jr. High, I was receiving 75 cents a week, with the same format of budgeting.  Needless to say, it was excellent training.  There are many more memories I could write about, but I will end this addendum with one last fond memory.  The wholesale side of the store was one very large room, the same length and width as the retail side.  Three of the walls were full of shelves for storing supplies.  Where the shelves were too high to reach even with small ladders, a “cat walk” circled the room.  The planks of the walk were narrow, with only a pipe size rail for safety.  They were probably between 10 and 14 feet high - not nearly as high as the rafters in the barn where we played on rainy summer days. The cat walk that went by the big windows looking into the store office had no railings.  One could choose to walk back and forth over the other three walls, or take a big breath and run across that one with no rail - just to be adventurous.  Not all the kids who played there with us would do that, so I felt very brave when it was my turn. However, I was not to be trusted like my sisters and my cousins...One time, I discovered some lip stick and rouge on one of the shelves.  I couldn’t resist trying it out.  I must have looked awful when I came down.  I don’t remember being scolded, but I know I never did it again.

Moyer's Witch Hazel bottle manufactured circa 1969. Courtesy of Jeff Edmunds

Additional writings by Patricia Vance Moyer Parker, namely: DISCOVERING BLOOMSBURG, A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY (contains a chapter entitled Moyer Brother's Drug Store); THE MUSEUMS OF HARRY L. MAGEE; and DO YOU REMEMBER FERNVILLE (includes interesting reading about the Penna. floods in that area) can be found in the “SHOP” section of the Columbia County Historical and Genealogical Society web site at http://www.colcohist-gensoc.org/

 

 

Ronald E. Hontz

33 Whitcraft Lane

Shrewsbury PA 17361

(717) 235-5791

cell phone (717) 309-1402

e-mail: Sweetvalleykid@gmail.com

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