Teen digs through New Canaan pharmacy history
Published 9:14 am, Thursday, August 14, 2014
Andrew Schwartz has been fascinated with paleontology and archeology for years, and has gone on digs all over the country. Recently, while checking an abandoned area with a metal detector in North Stamford, he found an object that would take him on a historical journey in New Canaan.
The 17-year-old found a medicine bottle from New Canaan's oldest pharmacy, the New Canaan Drug Store.
"I was on one of my hunts in one of the woods of North Stamford, and there was a small trash dump in the middle of the woods with a bunch of broken shards of glass and a bottle lying on the ground," Schwartz said.
After closer examination, he shoveled the area and found a number of other bottles, including a small medicine one with the writings "New Canaan Drug Store" and "L.M. Monroe Sr. & Jr. Pharmacists."
That drug store was established in 1845 and originally was on Main Street. In 1855, pharmacist Lucius M. Monroe took over the store, and 34 years later his son, Lucius M. Monroe Jr., joined the business. A full replica of the pharmacy -- with original fixtures, merchandise and bottles, many still filled with medicines -- is located at the New Canaan Historical Society.
On Aug. 8, Schwartz took a trip there to learn more about the pharmacy.
He learned, for instance, that Monroe Sr. died in 1918 and his son died less than five years later, leaving the business to J.J. Cody, who then named the pharmacy the Cody Drug Store. He also learned that the bottle pre-dates 1920 and was hand-made because of its side mold seam, which ends on the neck of the bottle.
"If the mold line goes all the way to the top, it's relatively modern," he said.
"I think it's very important to know our history and where we came from, how our ancestors struggled to get here," he said. "A lot of people, especially in this part of the country, a lot of our ancestors, did not come here 300 years ago. A lot of them came here in the European migration about 100 or so years ago, and a lot of finds, especially in trash dumps, are from that time."
Janet Lindstrom, the society's executive director, gave Schwartz a tour of the Cody Drug Store life-size model, but she was not able to determine what type of medication was in the bottle.
"It's hard to tell," she said, adding that pharmacists used to compound medications at the store and use the generic bottles for different purposes.
Lindstrom noted, however, that Schwartz's bottle "is somewhat rare." In fact, there was only one there that resembled his find.
The bottle, he said, was just a few inches deep in the ground "because it actually had been covered by a recently fallen tree log," which he said helps stop the deposit of top soil, leaves and rotting material.
For Schwartz, who's a member of the Nor'easters Metal Detecting Club of Stamford, hunting metals in the woods means digging through the history of the area.
"When you're digging through a trash dump and you find this medicine bottle right here," he said, "other than the people on this bottle, you think, `who used this bottle?' Maybe this bottle held some sort of a painkiller medication for grandma who was living on the property ... It's just how something so small that we know so little about (but) possibilities and information are so endless and mind-boggling."
Some of his finds include a Great Seal World War II button, musket balls, horse rosettes, a Colonial shoe buckle, among other items. Schwartz said each piece, as small as it may be, has historical value.
"Even with these World War II buttons, there are hundreds of thousands, maybe hundreds of millions like it, but this was on someone's coat when they probably went into Normandy or fought in the Pacific," he said.
Besides metal detecting, Schwartz is also interested in paleontology and has been on dozens of trips across the country to hunt pre-historic materials.
"I really enjoy paleontology. Ever since I was 2, I loved watching dinosaur movies," he said.
Every year he goes on a trip to Big Brook Park in New Jersey, an active fossil site that's open to the public and "where you can dig and sift for 70,000,000-year-old shark teeth and marine fossils."
The Westhill High School senior also just launched a metal detecting club at his school.
Asked if he intends to work with either paleontology or archeology, Schwartz said that's out of question.
"I'd rather keep the paleontology and metal detecting as a hobby because then it's not work, it's pure fun," he said.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson