Fremont Drug Company in Seattle, Part One: Beginnings

Looking southward from Second & Cherry Streets in July 1889, we see tents set up for businesses in the burned-over downtown district. Photo courtesy of MOHAI.

In the 1880s the City of Seattle had been growing slowly and was only the second-largest city in Washington Territory, after Walla Walla.  At the end of that decade, Seattle experienced a growth spurt from an unexpected source:  a major fire in its downtown business district.  Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, caused the rebirth of the city.  The post-fire rebuilding boom made Seattle the most populous city in Washington, a position which it has never lost since then.

The Great Fire did not reached the residential hillsides surrounding downtown Seattle.  After the Fire the residential areas began to grow as new people streamed into Seattle to get work in the reconstruction-of-downtown building boom.  Fremont was one of the neighborhoods which grew with the population growth of Seattle.

The Fremont neighborhood grows in Seattle’s post-fire construction boom

All of the previous legal issues of the land ownership of Fremont were resolved in 1887-1888.  The new neighborhood, located about four miles north of downtown Seattle, was opened up to settlement in the summer of 1888, about a year before Seattle’s Great Fire.  It was advertised as the town of Fremont, Denny & Hoyt Addition.

By 1889 the price of lots in Fremont had gone up to $100 per lot, as per this ad in the Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper of April 9, 1889.

At that time there was no City of Seattle department of construction permits, but the Daily Intelligencer newspaper often listed land transactions, and that is how we know of some of the earliest residents of the new Fremont neighborhood.  William L. Preston, for example, was listed in the newspaper in September 1888 as buying a residential lot in Fremont for $1, the promotional price promised by the real estate agents of the new Fremont plat.  Preston was a house carpenter who knew that he could find plenty of work in building the new Fremont neighborhood.

The Seattle City Directory listed names of businesses and residents of Fremont as early as 1890, and that is another way of tracing the development of the Fremont neighborhood.  The Cheadle family, for example, were listed in the newspaper in December 1888 as buying property at the southwest corner of 38th & Aurora, and the city directory of 1890 listed the Cheadles as proprietors of the Fremont Grocery on that corner.  (See source list at the end of this article for more info on the census, city directories, construction permits and search of early newspapers.)

Fremont Drug Company begins in 1890

The Seattle City Directory of the year 1890 listed the Fremont Drug Company at “north side Ewing, east of Lake Avenue, Fremont.”  (North side of N. 34th Street, east of the corner of Fremont Avenue.)  The storefront business was at sidewalk level in the Abbott House, a lodging house, and the drugstore proprietor, Thomas B. Shoebotham was listed as living at the Abbott.

When I saw the name “Thomas B. Shoebotham” I thought it might be a typographical error or maybe even a fake name, but as I traced this name I found that Thomas B. Shoebotham really existed.  Thomas had Irish grandparents who had immigrated to Canada.  Thomas’s parents, Thomas and his brother were all born in Canada.  By or before 1880 the family had immigrated to Port Huron, Michigan, not far from Detroit, where Thomas’s father practiced as a physician.  In the 1880s the practice of medicine and pharmacy were very close, as medicines were mostly derived from plant sources and a doctor might compound something to cure a patient’s headache, for example, and administer it to the patient himself.

The Fremont neighborhood in Seattle is located at the northwest corner of Lake Union. Map courtesy of HistoryLink.

Having grown up in a medical household, Thomas Shoebotham became interested in pharmacy.  He may also have caught a disease called Western Fever, that is, the desire to explore the possibilities of life Out West.  By or before 1889 Thomas, age 25, was in Seattle but he only stayed about three years; by 1892 he had gone back to Michigan.

We may wonder if Thomas Shoebotham was merely a businessman looking for good opportunities in Seattle, or perhaps he was a restless person not yet ready to settle down.  Thomas returned home to Michigan and married.  Then in 1900, temporarily leaving his wife and infant son in Michigan, Thomas made another short foray Out West to Fort Benton, Montana, a railroad town, where he worked in a pharmacy.  Thomas went back to Michigan and stayed for nearly twenty years until, circa 1920, the whole family moved to Billings, Montana.  Thomas had a drugstore there and he and his wife Mary stayed in Billings the rest of their lives.

The Fremont Drug Company and Sidney S. Elder in Seattle

Sometime by or before Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, Sidney S. Elder, age 33, came to town with his wife Lillian.  The Territorial Census of July 9, 1889 recorded that Sidney & Lillian lived east of the burnt district of downtown Seattle and Sidney worked for the G.O. Guy Drugstore at Fourth & Main Streets.

Interior of the Fremont Drug Company circa 1900. Photo courtesy of UW Special Collections Item 1345.61

By 1892 Sidney & Lillian Elder had moved to Fremont where Sidney was listed as the manager of the Fremont Drug Company, having taken over from Thomas Shoebotham.  The drugstore seemed to be successful, because in 1895 Sidney Elder applied to build a new building for the Fremont Drug Company.

After the Seattle Great Fire in 1889 the city instituted application for construction permits.  The purpose was for the inspector to assure that buildings would meet the new safety standards.  These construction permits help to trace the growth of Fremont as we can find the records of houses and business buildings being built.  In 1895, Permit #1054 was issued for a two-story frame building to be built at 3401 Fremont Avenue, the new site of the Fremont Drug Company.  The new location was on the northwest corner of Fremont Avenue and North 34th Street.  The store was directly across from the Fremont Pharmacy, 3217 Fremont Avenue, which was operated by Dr. Howard Miller, but both stores had sufficient business in the 1890s.

The prescription and the death of the Cheadle baby

In November 1896 Sidney Elder of the Fremont Drug Company went through the worst experience a pharmacist could ever have:  he was accused of making a mistake on a prescription which resulted in the death of an infant.

The Cheadle family of the Cheadle Grocery at 38th & Aurora had five children.  When the youngest, nine-month-old Everette, appeared to be suffering from a cold, Mrs. Cheadle called Dr. Frank Ballard to come and examine him.  Dr. Ballard wrote out a prescription which Mrs. Cheadle then carried to be filled by Sidney Elder at the Fremont Drug Company.

Early photo of the Fremont Drug Company building located at the northwest corner of North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue. The kiosk in the foreground was for the McMullen Company, used to guide customers to their grain mill to the west (left of photo).

Without other remedies such as the over-the-counter cold medicines which we have today, in the 1890s it was common to use opium to relieve discomfort and induce sleep.  Pharmacist Sidney Elder made up the prescription for the Cheadle baby, containing opium in a liquid with an eyedropper and instructions to give ten drops.

Mrs. Cheadle gave the medicine to her baby boy at about 11 in the evening, and again at 3 AM.  By 5 AM the baby was unresponsive and Dr. Ballard was again called to attend him.  The boy died within an hour.  Accusations then flew back and forth between the doctor and the pharmacist as to whether the prescription had been filled correctly, and the King County Coroner called for a hearing on the cause of the baby’s death.

Dr. Frank Ballard was born in 1867 in Lebanon, Oregon, southeast of Salem, to parents who had come West on a wagon train.  Frank’s father was a doctor and he worked closely with pharmacists in town, so it is likely that, growing up, Frank got exposure and experience in both medical practice and in prescriptions.  Frank Ballard was 22 when he came to Seattle after the Great Fire in 1889.  He had his medical office in the eastern part of Fremont not far from where the Cheadle family lived on Aurora Avenue.  It is possible that Frank Ballard had known Mr. Cheadle or relatives of his, because members of the extended Cheadle family also lived in Lebanon, Oregon.  The Cheadle family in Fremont would naturally turn to Dr. Ballard, son of a well-known physician in Oregon.

The Cheadle baby died on November 10, 1896, and two days later the coroner held a hearing at the Cheadle home at 38th & Aurora.  Pharmacist Sidney Elder was represented by attorney Charles E. Remsberg, referred to as Judge Remsberg because he was a Justice of the Peace in Fremont.

At the hearing Judge Remsberg “brought out the fact that the most cordial relations did not exist between Dr. Ballard and Mr. Elder.” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, November 13, 1896, page 5.)  The nature of the ill-feeling between the two men was not specified in the news article.  Cause of death of the Cheadle baby was listed as “poison,” but no charges were brought against anyone.

Mr. and Mrs. Cheadle subsequently had one more child, a girl, in 1899, completing their family of three boys and two girls.  The Cheadle Grocery at 38th & Aurora operated for many more years.  Mr. Cheadle was nearly thirty years older than his wife, and after his death in 1918 the grocery was operated by their son Robert.  The grocery operated up until the early 1930s when the construction of a new Aurora Avenue overpass caused the elimination of all buildings in the 3600 block of what had once been an ordinary street in the Fremont neighborhood.

The January 1904 special edition of the Fremont Colleague newspaper ran this feature article about Sidney S. Elder. The article tells that Mr. Elder was beginning to transition out of the Fremont Drug Company as of 1903-1904.

Sidney Elder hands over the Fremont Drug Company to a new proprietor in 1903

We may wonder how the Fremont community regarded the tragedy of the death of Everette Cheadle and whether people “chose sides” to blame either the doctor or the pharmacist.  From records of Fremont community activities we see that pharmacist Sidney Elder was still very active in the years following the tragedy of 1896, and presumably he was regarded with respect in Fremont.

Seattle Daily Times article of January 26, 1900, about the new Reading Room in Fremont.

Mr. Elder had been on the City of Seattle Library Committee and he led the organizing of a free reading room in Fremont in the year 1900, with a community fund drive to buy books.  The efforts of the Fremont Reading Room Association led to Fremont’s becoming the first branch library in Seattle in 1903.

In 1901 Sidney Elder was elected chairman of another group, the Fremont Improvement Club.  Forty people met at the first organizational meeting on March 19, 1901.  Committees were appointed for street improvement issues and street car service. (Source:  Seattle Daily Times, March 20, 1901, page 6.)

In 1903 at age 47, pharmacist Sidney Elder began to transition out of operating the Fremont Drug Company and giving it over to a new owner.  Mr. Elder took an office in downtown Seattle where he could meet with real estate clients.  He concentrated on selling lots in property he owned on the east side of Fremont, which he platted as Elder’s Orchard Addition.  Mr. Elder also built a commercial building at 4135 Stone Way North, which would be leased to provide him with rental income.

Plat map of Sidney S. Elder’s Orchard Addition. The top right corner is at 42nd & Stone Way.

Thomas W. Lough takes over the Fremont Drug Company in 1903

A young man, Thomas W. Lough, had taken training as a pharmacist and had been an apprentice at the Fremont Drug Company since 1895 when the store opened in its new building at 3401 Fremont Avenue.  Store owner Sidney Elder became a close friend and mentor, and was one of the witnesses at Thomas Lough’s wedding in 1898.  By 1903, Sidney Elder felt that his protege was ready to take over the operation of the Fremont Drug Company.  The January 1904 edition of the community newspaper, the Fremont Colleague, noted the transition in the following article.

The article tells of the degree in pharmaceutical studies which Thomas W. Lough gained at the University of Washington in Seattle, and his successful management of the Fremont Drug Company as of 1903.  The article contains info about the system of double-checking of prescriptions to prevent error, which may have been an allusion to the case of the Cheadle baby.

The next article on this blog, Part Two of the story of the Fremont Drug Company, will tell of the era when Thomas W. Lough and his brother Jacob were the proprietors of the store.

Fremont Drug Company article in the Fremont Colleague newspaper special edition of January 2, 1904. On microfilm at the University of Washington.


Census, City Directory listings and on-line newspaper search:  via the genealogy resources at the Seattle Public Library.  Some Seattle City Directories are available on-line.  There are more city directories and phone books on the 9th & 10th floors of the downtown library and at the Municipal Archives, third floor of Seattle City Hall.

Seattle photographer Asahel Curtis (brother of Edward Curtis) took this photo of the real estate sign at the new suburb of Fremont in 1888. Photo courtesy of UW Special Collections, Asahel Curtis #482.

Construction permits:  in the microfilm library of the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, twentieth floor of the Municipal Tower in downtown Seattle.

Fremont Colleague newspaper:  a few editions are on microfilm at the University of Washington Library.  Fremont businesses were featured in the special edition of the Fremont Colleague of January 1904.  Page 3 of that edition tells of the ownership transition of the Fremont Drug Company from Sidney Elder to Thomas W. Lough.

“G.O. Guy Drugs,” HistoryLink Essay #10753 by Phil Dougherty, 2014.

“Pharmacy in Washington: A History,” HistoryLink Essay #9453 by Phil Dougherty, 2010.

“The Seattle Public Library’s first branch officially opens in Fremont on February 2, 1903,” HistoryLink Essay #3968 by David Wilma, 2002.

Washington Digital Archives:  dates of birth, death and marriage; some City Directory listings and the Territorial Census.

“Whose Mistake Was It?  Child Dies at Fremont Under Peculiar Circumstances,” Seattle Daily Times, November 11, 1896, page 8.











About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in Fremont neighborhood in Seattle, research resources and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Fremont Drug Company in Seattle, Part One: Beginnings

  1. Lee says:

    Did he or didn’t he? One will never know.

  2. Isn’t it awful? Neither the doctor or the pharmacist were charged with any negligence. My suspicion is that the child died of an overdose because he was just given too much medicine by the mother.

  3. Lee says:

    Sounds logical. Even today, some don’t read the directions too well.

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