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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Wingate family has been helping Nashuans for more than 100 years

Don Himsel

Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.


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Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.

The one constant for countless cases of tummy aches and more could very well be a mustachioed pharmacist bearing the Wingate name. Four generations of the family have been operating downtown, practicing in the techniques of the time.

The pharmacy was opened Jan. 1, 1900, by Frank H. Wingate, shown above wearing the black cap.

“This is going way, way back,” said Dearborn Wingate, Frank H. Wingate’s grandson, as he looked over the details in the photograph during a recent visit. The torn photo hangs on the wall at the Main Street business.

“He worked there for many years and my father worked there for many years,” he said. “Then I was there for 40 years and then he came in” – gesturing to son Gary Wingate behind him – “so I can retire,” he said with a chuckle.

Gary looks at the picture. “This was the original store. The soda fountain was on the left. This was the way they merchandised,” he said, pointing to items on the right side of the picture.

“In those days, there were no chains, just independent pharmacies: Rices, Wingate’s, Shapiro’s Nashua, Lucier’s … probably 10 independent pharmacies,” Dearborn said.

Gary explains the actual pharmacy operation would have taken place out of view of the public, behind the back wall seen in the photo.

“What they would do is take a little paper out, and they’d measure out different types of powders. They’d go home and steep it into a tea and drink it. That’s what pharmacy was in the old days,” Gary said.

The pharmacy hasn’t always been in that location. Dearborn recalls the 1961 fire that forced a temporary relocation to the Whiting Building.

“I was out there locking the door from out front. My friend Bob Morris, whose father owned Philip Morris Store, said, ‘Hey, Wingate, let’s go up and have a drink before we go home’ (The Elks Club occupied an upper floor. Both men were club members.).”

“So we did,” he said. “We walked up three floors to the Elks. We had a couple of drinks and shot a game of pool. The next thing I know, I could smell smoke.”

“John McLaughlin was a very good friend of mine,” Dearborn said. “He was a fire commissioner. He said, ‘Hey, Dearborn, there’s a fire down there at Philip Morris. It’s going to spread all the way up to your pharmacy. You better start getting stuff out.’”

Unbelieving at first at the severity of the fire, he eventually motivated himself to act. “The thing I really wanted to save was the prescriptions, so I called my wife and a couple of girls that worked for me. We started taking out all the prescription files first, then the expensive perfumes, then the Timex watches,” Dearborn said.

“Finally John came in and said, ‘no more, this place is going to go up.’ Sure enough, the whole building burned,” he said.

They rented at the Whiting for about three years, he said, before rebuilding.

“The independents started to fall by the wayside,” Dearborn said. “I bought out three of them: Shapiros, Economy Drug and Sunlight Pharmacy. The only ones left were Rice’s down here and Wingate’s.”

Along with the soda fountain treats like banana splits and cabinets (you read that right, cabinets, which is another name for milkshake), Frank’s practice of measuring out powders progressed. “In those days, we sold a lot of herbs,” Dearborn said. “They’d come in and we’d weigh them out. They’d take them and make tea out of them. I remember one called Buchu leaves. They’d take those and steep it, then drink it for their kidneys,” he said, adding it was one of the things he learned in pharmacy school.

“We used to have a red medicine. We put them up in about three-ounce bottles. People would come in and say ‘I want a bottle of that red medicine,’” he said. “We just gave it to them like that, no label. It would take care of almost anything. Nobody ever knew what it was,” he said.

The photo is pre-drug manufacturing, Gary said. When talking about today’s pharmacy business, he said he likes to think they “went back to the future when compounding started.”

And instead of mixing out of view as was the practice at the time the photo was taken, now it’s done in full view of customers, behind the long window at left. The linchpin, however, as customers today know, is the mustache.

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).