Photos From
A 1937 Edition Of The Searcy Daily Citizen

Searcy’s First Drug Store – Robertson’s

For more than a century Robertson’s Drug Store, located at 101 West Arch Street, Searcy, soothed the aches and pains of the people of White County and the surrounding area. When it finally closed, it was believed to be the only drug store in the state operating continuously in the same building, by the same family, since before the Civil War. The building is now occupied by Quattlebaum’s Music Center.

Arkansas Democrat, March 1963

In 1836, when Arkansas was an infant state, P. A. Robertson was born in Summerville, Tennessee. He grew to manhood on a farm, then made a place for himself in the future of White County and Arkansas by establishing Searcy’s first drug store in 1860. The requirements for a pharmacist were quite different in those days, and in preparation for his work he took a job as drug salesman with Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Company (the original founders of McKesson) in Memphis.

Little is known about his educational background, but if handwriting is any indication he must have been well educated and a perfectionist. He made selling trips into Arkansas on horseback and there was plenty of time to look over the country and come to know his territory. Sharp-witted and practical, under the tutelage of his brother-in-law, S. Mansfield, he learned with accuracy, weights, measures and symbols and how to compound mixtures of the known drugs of that time.

He saw a need in the growing town of Searcy, with a population of about 700, and decided he was ready to open his own drug store. Not depending entirely on his own judgment he asked his father to come with him to Arkansas and evaluate his decision. They traveled by boat and on horses as far as Fort Smith before deciding that young Robertson had been right when he said, “This is it. Searcy is the place for me.” He rented a building north of the Court Square and began to build up his trade while a two-story brick building was being erected for him across the street from the southeast corner of the Court Square (The hand-made brick were laid by the father of Congressman Stephen Brundige.) Robertson moved to the new location, one of the finest buildings in Searcy of that date, and was well established in the drug business before the Civil War. The building was set back in order to leave a row of shade trees on the east side and a hitching rail ran the length of the store for the convenience of his farm customers. (Later he let the city of Searcy have the strip of land west of the store and the street was widened. It remains the widest part of the street south of the Court Square.)

According to older residents, drugs were his business, but it was almost as much a general store as today’s drug store. There was a long counter down the center of the store loaded with all kinds of seeds. Robertson had the only glasscutter in Searcy and was often called upon by his customers to cut windowpanes and glass for pictures. He also sold paint, oil and other miscellaneous items.

Soon after coming to Searcy, P. A. Robertson was married to Miss Francis Jones, sister of Major B. M. Jones. Of the three children born to them -- Felix Otey Robertson, a pharmacist during his life, Judge Perry S. Robertson and a daughter, Pauline -- all are deceased. The first Mrs. Robertson died in 1876.

His business had flourished, but success had not been achieved the easy way. Early each morning Robertson came to the store, replenished the fire, and carried his day’s water supply from Spring Park, three blocks away. Before leaving in the evening he brought in wood in readiness for the next day, to supply the huge fireplace -- the only heat in the store. His only lights were kerosene lamps.

Approximately a six-month drug supply had to be ordered at a time. There were no railroads in White County until 1860 and none into Searcy until 1872. Drug supplies were shipped by boat down the Mississippi River to the White River then up the White to the Little Red River, and up the Little Red as far as West Point. From there they were brought to Searcy by wagon. Later, a mule-car replaced the wagon.

P. A. Robertson was on the City Council for a number of years. There was no stock law and he was instrumental in passing a city ordinance prohibiting hogs on the streets of Searcy. He pursued the knowledge of drugs with devotion, keeping abreast with the progress of medicine, and was respectfully referred to by every one as Dr. P. A. Robertson.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, organized in 1854, had twice outgrown its buildings. A larger church was constructed in the early ‘70s. A paragraph in the Searcy Daily Citizen August 5, 1936, reads as follows: “Among some of the laymen who not only made the church possible from the beginning, but left their posterity who have wrought well in carrying the good work on, are...”. There are eight names listed, one of them Dr. P. A. Robertson.

In 1883, Miss Susan Jane Dismukes became the second Mrs. P. A. Robertson. Something of his success in business may be measured by their wedding trip to New York--almost unheard of at that early date. There are three children by this marriage -- Mrs. Putman Dickinson, Miss Rhena Robertson and the present owner of Robertson’s Drug Store, Herbert D. Robertson. Miss Rhena has a picture of her parents made by a New York photographer, while they were on their honeymoon.

Herbert D. Robertson treasures a book of prescriptions, numbered 521 through 1150, filled by his father in 1869. The prescriptions were written by Dr. E. Trotman and Dr. Folsom, with a few by Drs. F. Chrisman, J. A. Snipes, I. B. Crane, L. C. Baker, R. Query and A. A. Denton. Many of the prescriptions contain opium or morphine, the only known painkiller of the time. Calomel, tinc. of cinchona (quinine), potash, strychnine, gum camphor, chloroform, oil of turpentine, oil of sassafras, oil of anise, bismuth and gentian (not as a combination) are prescribed frequently. Many of the liquid dosages are measured by half wineglass, or a wineglass full. Many had to be made into pills, ranging in number from three to sixty. The Harrison Act, a federal anti-narcotic law, did not become effective until 1915 and narcotics were sold across the counter as any other medicine.

Said Herbert D. Robertson, an efficient pharmacist who received his training at the School of Pharmacy, Atlanta, Georgia: “It took a lot smarter man to fill prescriptions in the old days. Now, most of the drugs come ready for dispensing. Then, they depended on the druggist to mix all compounds. Medicines had to be weighed accurately and the mortar and pestle were in constant use.” He remembers that there were some old forceps in the store for pulling teeth--an extra accommodation for the customers. A son, F.0. Robertson, assisted in the drug store for a number of years and in 1917 Herbert D. Robertson became associated with his father.

P. A. Robertson died suddenly in 1919 at the age of 83. Said Miss Rhena, ”Papa never seemed old. He loved people. He was so active and always went to the store every day. He was preparing to go to the store when he had a heart attack.”

Inherent in Herbert Robertson are the qualities of his father that helped to make business a success. Once an ardent fisherman and hunter he said “I guess I’m getting a little soft but I do have a 15-year-old cat, a bird and a Weimaraner dog.” The warmth, the friendliness and the willingness to help others are unchanged. In worthy and civic activities the name Robertson always appears.