The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary was a family business founded in 1792 by Edward Stabler. It operated continuously on this spot until 1933, when competition from synthetic drug companies and new food & drug regulations finally caused the business to go bankrupt. After the apothecary closed in 1933, it reopened as a museum in 1939. The bottles and instruments on display, along with their contents, are the originals from when the store closed, offering a snapshot of the operation of America’s oldest apothecary.
Having apprenticed under his brother in Leesburg, Virginia, Edward Stabler came to Alexandria to start his own apothecary in 1792. Quickly establishing himself, Edward sold to a range of people both in the city and in the surrounding area - on display in the museum are company ledgers showing purchases from Robert E. Lee and Martha Washington, to name two famous examples. Besides medicines, Stabler sold items such as farm and garden equipment, surgical and dental instruments, soap, perfume, cigars, paint, varnish, artist’s supplies, combs, brushes, and other useful items.
Much of the medicine was produced on-site in the upstairs workshop. At the height of the business in 1865, the apothecary owned 11 buildings and warehouses throughout the city and supplied nearly 500 pharmacies in the Washington, DC area. The apothecary remained a family affair, passing from Edward to his son, William, and then eventually to William’s brother-in-law John Leadbeater, who added his name to the business.
Eventually facing competition from synthetic drug companies, new food & drug regulations, and the economic downturn, the apothecary went bankrupt and was forced to close its doors in 1933. Recognizing the historic significance of the site, however, the site and its contents were purchased at auction by L. Manuel Hendler, a Baltimore ice cream merchant. The Landmarks Society of Alexandria was formed and the re-opened the site as a museum in 1939. The containers, bottles, and ingredients on display are the same ones that were in the apothecary when it closed, offering a unique snapshot in the life of an apothecary shop. Given the 141-year history of the shop, spanning the first days of the nation to the years between the world wars, the unique artifacts on display provide an important window to history.
Know Before You Go
The museum is one mile from the King Street Metro station and is accessible by bus. There is easy street parking in downtown Alexandria along with plentiful parking garages. The site is three blocks from the Torpedo Factory Art Center, so these two sites can easily be seen together. Tours at the museum occur every half hour at 15 minutes past and 15 minutes until the hour.