Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, January 23, 2012

Is there a pharmacist in the house?

Back in May, an on-line news source I regularly visit,, recounted the closure of a Prince Edward County institution - Teasel's Drug Store. Teasel's, they recount, is the oldest business establishment in Picton and the oldest pharmacy in the province. The store resided in an historic block built c.1860 by two partners, pharmacist Reuben Gerald Chapman and his brother-in-law, Gideon Striker. The block still stands as the Allison Block, the name changed in 1887 on the sale of the property after the partners' deaths. 'The Settler's Dream' contains photos and descriptions of the facade - the cast iron window detail masquerading as stone is magnificent. Must get some photos next time I'm 'in town'.

I can remember the drug store from when I was a kid - a long narrow, cosily dark shop, with a shiny chrome lunch counter and a pharmacist's domain through an archway to the rear. I seem to remember a mysterious staircase leading upwards, oiled wood floors, and the ornate globes shown in the countylive article. Lots of atmosphere, Teasels. Felt old. But it was the smell that transported me - a scent like no other - a combination of perfume, medicine and coffee. The lunch counter was terra incognita - the idea that farm folk would linger to have coffee or a float at that counter was a foreign one. That was the preserve of the town kids. Teasels was a place to pick up Tweed or Evening in Paris for a special gift for mom.

Gideon Striker house, East Main Street, 1868
But this pharmacy is more a part of my story than the occasional stop for discretely dispensed prescriptions or beauty supplies that promised to transform me from a gormless farm kid into a Loretta Young making an entrance. These two Picton houses tell the tale.
Chapman house, King Street, c.1857

In 1786 two brothers left an increasingly awkward situation in upstate New York. James and Sampson Striker, my maternal ancestors, left behind the part of the world their family had inhabited since migration from Holland in 1652, and found their way to Prince Edward County. Tory James was sentenced to death for 'harbouring spies', then had his property confiscated on his reprieve. Sampson (origins of my line) settled on farming in Prince Edward County. His brother James must have been the 'city mouse', for among the family tangles I am trying to unravel is Gideon, who partnered in the pharmacy, built a fine home in a fine neighbourhood, and went on to three terms in the provincial legislature as PEC representative.

Chapman's great house also still stands, though its good Georgian lines are blurred by a Victorian two story bay, a more modern sunporch at the front, and a box on the west. Fix your eyes on the parapet walls and end chimneys, and the picture becomes clearer.

As does my story.

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