The subtle science and exact art of potion making…

In Museums on June 10, 2011 at 3:16 am

After a tantalizing wander around Old Town Alexandria, I returned with the troops for a proper look. I really, really have to recommend this town again – it’s on the Metro (King St on the Blue and Orange Lines) and has a free shuttle (a cute trolleybus, no less) to the waterfront and back from the station (although it’s easily walkable) and there are lovely boutiques, gift shops, cafes, and some pretty awesome ice cream vendors, all sat on the picturesque Potomac River with a view over to DC.

I’ve waffled at length about Old Town Alexandria before though – I’m targeting my waffle today, and I’m targeting it at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum:

The Apothecary is just a few steps off the main street in Old Town, not even half a block away from a Free Trolley stop. As museums go, it’s small, and it isn’t free. However, myself and my two co-tourists (also impoverished DC interns) all agreed that this might just have been the best $4 we ever spent.

The Apothecary has always been on this site in Alexandria, and grew over time to be a huge manufacturer/ wholesaler of pharmaceuticals. Its fortunes changed with the market in the first half of the 20th Century, however, and the building was sold in the 1930s, but (amazingly!) the collection and the building remained almost complete and intact. The Apothecary opened to the public as a museum in 1937 – it may be small, but it’s go the experience.

Our tour guide, the lovely Henry, first took us from the gift shop (the first gift shop I’ve been in that can honestly say that those ornamental pill boxes are actually a topical item) into the apothecary shop, which is very atmospheric, retaining many of its original items as well as interior. Here we were treated to a history of the building and the business, before heading upstairs.

As you can see, they really are short on space – this room looks to double as the staff room and kitchen as well as showing the old kitchen of the building! But the real gem of the visit was next door in the “lab.” The second floor of the Apothecary was only opened relatively recently in 2006 (VERY recently when you consider this Museum is 74 years old, actually), but it is incredible to see. Our reaction (and according to Henry, the reaction of most visitors these days) is that it looks like this room belongs on Diagon Alley:

All the drawers, shelves and bottles have retained their original labels and names, so there is just a HUGE amount of stuff to look at. We must have spent a goof 10-15 minutes in this one room, reading labels and looking around like the kids do when they enter the Chocolate Room in Willie Wonka. It was just perfect – authentic and atmospheric. No infographics or audioguides up here, because the space does all the work on its own.

Can’t recommend this little place enough – on its own I would say it is worth the trip across the river (It would be a real shame to miss Poppa’s Ice Cream and Lavender Moon Cupcakes while you’re there, though!).  It has character of a caliber that can be really hard to come by, and it really is worth a lot more than $4 a person.

  1. […] stolen by the Herb Garret. Apothecary museums are my favourite, and this one is on a par with the great Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Alexandria, VA. This is a fantastic museum overall though, and anyone with an interest in surgery, anatomy, the […]

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