History Of Penn Drug Company

  • July 1, 2010
  • Written By William A. Penn (Bill)

Unique among the businesses and professionals in Sidney is the Penn Drug Co. Located directly west of the Fremont County Courthouse, it is housed in a building which was partly built in 1864. John Newton Penn was born and raised in Washington County Pennsylvania. While being involved in several businesses, he read medicine in his spare time and in 1852 began practice with his preceptor. In the spring of 1855 he moved to Athens County, Ohio. He was not satisfied by the opportunities or the locations available there, so he moved on West to look over the town of Sidney that had only been incorporated for a few years. He was very impressed with the richest farm land he had ever seen on both sides of the town. He decided to open his medical practice there and went back to Pennsylvania to bring his family to Sidney. They traveled down the Ohio River and then up the Missouri until the river-boat got hung up on a sand bar near St. Joseph, MO. They finished the trip in covered wagons. The first night they stayed in the Sidney Hotel (part of the building is still used today), and Dr. Penn's wife, Emily, was discouraged by the lack of houses. In later years she had been heard to say the only thing you could see from the hotel courtyard was gopher hills.

Dr. Penn soon had a large medical practice even going to Missouri and Nebraska and riding a horse to Manti weekly to care for the settlers there. During the Civil War he raised a company of men and went to Des Moines for training. He could not pass the physical because of failing eyesight so he returned to Sidney. In 1863, he purchased the drug stock of Dr. O. W. Sykes who wanted to move to the new town of Hamburg. The IOOF lodge purchased the building where the drugs were and built a two story lodge-hall that still remains today (home of Sidney Floral).

He purchased a lot, had the lumber hauled by wagon from Villisca, and built a new drug store in 1864.It has been remodeled and added onto four times (the latest remodeling is currently underway and began in June of 2017).The front of the building has been redone four times. Dr. Penn maintained an office in the balcony of the store and the south side of the building was devoted to the preparation of prescription medications. He treated the only Civil War casualty when a local group tried to stop the Confederates from Missouri who had come to Fremont County to steal much needed horses and one of the local boys was shot. In June of 1876, Dr. Penn's eyesight had failed nearly completely and he had to limit his practice to special cases and use of special and new medications.

Dr. Penn's oldest son, Alphonso Valdeze Penn, Sr. (Phon), fresh from Tabor College, took over the operation of the store in 1876. With the passage of the first Iowa Pharmacy Laws, he became one of the first registered pharmacists around 1880. He worked to keep an up-to-date drug store with usually one or two pharmacists to assist him. Everything was compounded to the specific order as written on the doctor's prescription. There were powders, elixirs, capsules, troches, etc. and finally in the late 1890s, manufactured tablets and capsules. They had to deal with suppliers from Burlington, IA as there were none closer in the fledging towns of Council Bluffs or Omaha.

The first soda fountain appeared around 1898 and Phon's son, Alphonso Valdeze Penn, Jr. (Val) joined the firm in 1910.

During the 1920s the store was completely remodeled with swinging doors with colored glass, a new front with a set back entrance and the store name in colored glass, and a new marble counter soda fountain. After all they had to keep up with the new bank built next door to the drug store. Val assumed control of the pharmacy in 1925. In 1949, Val's son, William A. Penn, received his pharmacy degree from the University of Nebraska and began working at the store with his father and mother, Christena E. Penn, who worked there for many years.

In 1946, another new fountain appeared that featured a lunch section as well as additional ice cream storage areas and, for the first time, booths replaced the little round tables that had become a feature of the first soda fountain. William and his wife, Patricia S. Penn became owners of the pharmacy in 1970. Patricia and their son, W. Jeffrey Penn (Jeff), also were employees. In November of 1977, the store was sold to a new corporation, Consultant Pharmacists, Inc. Share-holders were Patrick and Theresa Travis and William and Patricia Penn. Pat and Theresa sold their stock to the Penn’s in September of 1981. After completing work for a Master’s Degree from Indiana University, Jeff Penn returned to Sidney to manage the drug store. During the 1990s, he acquired most of the stock of Consultant Pharmacists, Inc.

In September, 1999, Jane Buck, a graduate of the Creighton University College of Pharmacy, became the pharmacist in charge and started to purchase shares of Consultant Pharmacist, Inc. Jeff Penn and Jane Buck co-operated Penn Drug Company for many years. They and the entire staff of Penn Drug were honored by the huge turnout for the store’s 150th anniversary in November of 2013. In March of 2014, the entire community was shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Jeff Penn. Jane and her husband were in the process of relocating to another part of Iowa and the total ownership of the store reverted back to William and Patricia Penn. In April of 2015, long time employee and pharmacy technician, Angie Ettleman and her husband, Leo, along with pharmacist, Mark Vogt, purchased Consultant Pharmacists with the intention of growing the business and keeping the history and sense of community alive in SW Iowa. The Pharmacist-In Charge, Lou Robinson, Doctor of Pharmacy is a real asset to the success of the store. He moved to Sidney in 2015 with his two children, Wyatt and Isabelle.

In 1963, the local newspaper, the Sidney Argus-Herald, honored the store by publishing a special

supplement on the hundredth anniversary of Penn Drug Co. In 1980, on the hundredth anniversary of the Iowa Pharmacy Association, all the pharmacies a century or more old were honored at their annual meeting. It was announced at that time that Penn Drug Co. was the oldest operating pharmacy in Iowa. There have been many stories written about the soda fountain and the fact that there are still four more in SW Iowa. Penn Drug operates their fountain with pride and it remains a friendly place to meet friends and to enjoy a treat while waiting for a prescription.

The management feels that, especially in a small community, a full service pharmacy is needed. The heart of the drug store remains as the prescription room. Just like in the early 1900s, there are gifts for every occasion, cards, and hundreds of over-the-counter drugs for every condition. In the 1800s Dr. Penn knew how to get parts for covered wagons that needed to go on West from Sidney and settled up with patients at the end of the year with so many chickens, fresh vegetables, etc. (according to old books). A century and a half ago, the drugs were in big bottles in the front of the drug store and everything was compounded. Now a few things are still compounded under strict regulations and many new drugs come out every year. The hours are probably different, but Penn Drug is still open to carefully dispense medicines for your good health!

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