Quick quiz: How many drug stores are there in Aggieville? Dan Walter in his “The Drug Stores of Aggieville…and a few other tangents along the way” answers that question.
He also tells us of the comings and goings of drug stores in the Manhattan area since 1866, while paying particular attention to Aggieville. You might be surprised at how many different stores have existed over the years.
Walter’s book has eight chapters. The first is mostly a history of downtown and the several drug stores that came and went during the period 1866 to 1931. The rest deal with the histories of downtown stores from 1910 to 1980s, and Aggieville stores from 1912 to 2012.
Some of the businesses have, or had, stores in both areas. His book ends with a chapter on Klaus Hass, who worked in the St. Mary’s Hospital (now Mercy Regional Health Center) pharmacy, and a section of miscellaneous pictures.
The photos range from slightly fuzzy nineteenth century black and white to clear, contemporary color.
They show people mentioned in the text as well as Kansas State University students and others. Walter shows us several pictures of the same locations so that we can see how things have changed over the years, as well as business cards and other advertising for a number of places, many of which are long gone.
The accompanying text tells us the history of businesses and the biographies of several drug store workers, owners and their families. We learn how the drug store business has changed over the years and how it has remained the same. While basic human needs have not changed, specific products and services have. Stores have had to keep up with the times.
For example, they do not have soda fountains and serve food anymore; we have chain fast food restaurants instead. However, they still sell various cards, toiletries, confections and other miscellaneous items.
They also sell medically related non-prescription items, some of which are the modern equivalents of the patent medicines of the nineteenth century, but now they have FDA approval.
Part of the enjoyment, and frustration, of doing historical research is that you find all sorts of things that are not directly relevant to your topic of interest, but are too good to pass up. Dan Walter, who calls himself “The Historian of Aggieville,” in his history of the Aggieville drug stores, has solved the problem in part with his sub-title “...and a few other tangents along the way.”
He writes about Manhattan’s hospitals and physicians, the 1951 flood that flooded the downtown drug stores, but did not reach Aggieville, the Ball Clinic on South 5th Street, the origin of the medical center at Claflin and College Avenues, the Palace Dixieland Band, the general history of Aggieville and a number of other topics. The topics all make for varied and interesting reading and viewing in what is basically a coffee table book.
Walter has written five Aggieville histories so far. He proposes to write a series of histories of different topics relating to Aggieville, but does not give us a clue as to when they will appear. We will just have to wait and see.
Writing the book, he used a number of printed sources, but more importantly, he interviewed fourteen people who were associated with drug stores over the years.
These interviews give us the information and authenticity that no amount of book research can.
So, how many drug stores are there in Aggieville today? Read Dan Walter’s “The Drug Stores of Aggieville…and a few other tangents along the way” to find out. If you want to cheat, you can look at the list of fifteen area stores on page 155 but be sure to look at the rest of the book, too.
Christopher Banner has been a Manhattan resident since 1971 and has seen several drug stores come and go.