Pharmacies and drug stores played a central role in the life of every town and city. So ubiquitous, they often appeared to be on nearly every corner. In addition to dispensing medicine — they dispensed medical advice. If a doctor was not available or affordable, a pharmacist could make recommendations for whatever ailed you. They also sold a variety of goods including tobacco products, candy, soda and ice-cream and later film and camera services. Because Colorado Springs functioned as a health resort from its onset, pharmacies provided a range of services to generations of tubercular invalids prior to and throughout the sanatorium era.
Drug stores were among the initial businesses opened shortly after a town was created. The first pharmacy in Colorado Springs was located on the ground floor of the Foote Building on the southeast corner of Huerfano (now Colorado Avenue) and Cascade in the early fall of 1871. By 1879 there were five and the number continued to grow. Interestingly, drug stores within Colorado Springs city-limits also functioned as de-facto liquor stores. Due to the prohibition on the production and sale of intoxicating liquors in any home or business located in the original town plat, an inventive solution was devised. With a valid prescription, a patient could receive a bottle of alcohol for “medicinal” purposes.
Some of the best-selling products in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries pharmacies were patent medicines. Often made with high alcohol content, patent medicines were technically neither patented nor medicines. Instead, many of these “remedies” contained morphine, opium or cocaine. They claimed to cure almost any ailment including tuberculosis, rheumatism, colic, dyspepsia and even cancer. They were dispensed to men, women, children and even infants; sometimes with tragic results. Physicians sought to prohibit these dangerous concoctions but patent medicine manufacturers fought back. Finally, with the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, false or misleading advertising and unlabeled or dangerous ingredients were prohibited.
In 1917, Colorado Springs had 28 drug stores for a population of 40,000 people. Opened in 1909, the Phillips-Smith Drug Company was originally located at 117 South Tejon Street and operated under various owners for 60 years. Initially, Clyde Phillips Sr. was the pharmacist and Dr. Charles Smith had an office on the mezzanine level of the building. Mr. Phillips was said to be highly respected and never turned away any patient that needed medicine but lacked money. He owned a stable of racehorses and knew most local ranchers. As a result, his pharmacy carried a wide range of veterinary medicines in addition to traditional pharmacy products. The museum is indebted to local pharmacist Ronald Wreath, who collected the medicines, equipment and fixtures from three pharmacies that are on exhibit in The City of Sunshine exhibit.