J.W. McArthur, Pharmacist

By Tom McArthur

Pictured above, J.W. McArthur standing at the doorway of his first pharmacy, at the corner of Sprague and Monroe, circa 1890. Today, the Fox Theater stands on this spot. Photo courtesy of the McArthur Family Archives.

I smile every time I walk or drive by the Fox theater in downtown Spokane. First, with local pride that Spokane has such a magnificent entertainment palace; second, with personal pride that my name used to be on the building on this corner in downtown Spokane.

Not my name, exactly; my family name, certainly. Over one hundred years ago, the building that stood where the Fox theater stands today was home to a drug store: McArthur Pharmacy. J.W. McArthur, my great-grandfather, was the namesake and proprietor.

Above, the interior of the pharmacy, with J.W. McArthur standing behind the counter, with moustache. Note cigars are on the left, stationery in the middle, and out of the frame, a soda fountain stood at the far right. Photo courtesy of the McArthur Family Archives.

Not only is J. W. McArthur important in my family history, he is also important in Washington state history. He was the first president of the Washington State Board of Pharmacy in 1901 and represented Spokane’s sixth legislative district in the Washington State House of Representatives class of 1909 (the seat currently held by Representative Kevin Parker).

My great-grandfather came to Spokane Falls, Washington Territory, shortly before the great fire of 1889. As the city rebuilt, he established his first business – McArthur Pharmacy – in a two-story brick building on the southwest corner of Sprague and Monroe streets in 1890. He took on a business partner later that year – William Newlee. Together, they opened a second pharmacy on the corner of Howard and Main. Both stores were considered “first class drug stores.”

Pictured above, a blank McArthur & Company bill of sale, circa 1880s, as well as an authentic pharmacy bottle. This bottle was found in a wall of the E. J. Roberts mansion in Browne’s Addition. The mansion was constructed in 1889; the bottle dates to about ten years after that (1899), and so it was, perhaps, placed in the wall during a remodel project. The bottle was gifted to the McArthur family in 2011 by Mary Moltke, E. J. Roberts mansion owner. Photos courtesy of the McArthur Family Archives.

A commemorative magazine published for the Northwestern Industrial Exposition of Spokane Falls in October 1890 – when the population of the city was 27,000 – offered high praise for the young pharmacists:

“The quality of the goods sold is their first consideration, and the prescription and compounding departments will be conducted by the owners, and that fact justifies the assertion that all prescriptions will be carefully and satisfactorily compounded. A brief sketch of the gentlemen composing the firm will at once convince the public that they will be treated honestly and conscientiously.”

The family archive includes his formulary book that contains the recipes for many of the remedies once sold at the McArthur Pharmacy. His celebrated “tooth ache drops,” for example, contained chloroform with oils of cloves, peppermint, spearmint, sandalwood, cajaput and cassia in one ounce of alcohol. Tooth ache? What tooth ache?

Pictured above, The 1909 State of Washington House of Representatives. J.W. McArthur (highlighted) is pictured in the third row from the top, third representative to the right of Speaker of the House Meigs (center). Photo courtesy of the Washington State Archives.

J. W. McArthur later opened two other pharmacies in Spokane – Broadway Pharmacy, near the county courthouse, and Red Cross Pharmacy, on Monroe. He moved his family and pharmacy business to Seattle in the 1920s.

J.W. died in his Seattle home on February 21, 1958, after enjoying 20 years of retirement. He was 94 years old. While I never knew him, he still causes me to smile every time I walk or drive by the Fox theater when I imagine him standing in the doorway of McArthur Pharmacy.

The Fox Theater in Spokane, WA. Photo courtesy of KHQ.

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