Thursday, May 7, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Step back in time at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary

This is a post I wrote almost a year ago and thought I'd share it again. I just love the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary and hope to get back out to Old Town Alexandria soon so I can see the new restorations that I read were being done a few months back.

(Original post: Friday, June 20, 2014)

You can literally step back in time at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary in Old Town Alexandria

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is one of the most interesting tours in Old Town Alexandria. While most everything to visit in this historic section of the city is pretty amazing, I was blown away the first time I visited this one. Since that visit back around 2007, I've returned a number of times, each time learning something new.

The Apothecary was founded in 1792 by a gentleman by the name of Edward Stabler. This family business was operational for an amazing 141 years. The Leadbeater name came later in the 1830s when another family member took over the business. The company was involved with retailing, wholesaling, and manufacturing during its long run.
Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary
Exterior of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

Tours are available of this wondrous building (which used to be much more extensive, if memory serves, there were 11 buildings in all). Reservations are not necessary, and visitor walk-ins for tours are welcomed. You enter the building in the gift shop where tickets can be purchased. Once the tour begins you're led into the room where everyday business transactions took place for well over a century. This main store area is where people used to come in to place orders. As you walk into the shop you're immediately transformed to an era long gone by.  
Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary

This is what behind one of the shop's counters looked like from a customer's perspective in this long-running business.
If you are one who is riveted by "old" items, you will be astounded when you see what's on display. The amount of detail, original layout, materials, working tools, products and everything in between that remains is astonishing. Basically, the family had closed up shop in 1933 when it ran into financial problems, filed for bankruptcy and left everything as it was when they locked the doors.

Interior of Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary

An image taken in the main room of the apothecary shop. Back in the day customers could buy a range of products from medicines to perfumes and many items in between.

There are so many original and historical pieces, equipment, tools, ingredients, paperwork and other valuable aspects of the business still in existence. The main shop still has a lot of the original glasswork located on the displays and visitors are asked not to touch the delicate glass and mirrors. 
Old products sold in glass cases Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary

Years ago everything was constructed with glass, and it is fun to see familiar brands in old-fashioned bottles rather than the plastic we see today.
Additionally, there are items such as on original Singer sewing machine, eyeglasses and colonial era baby bottles on display. In another of the original glass display cases, there are documents exhibited. One of them is an original request for an item Martha Washington had ordered. (From what guides have described, there are many original documents in existence; the Statler-Leadbeater family obviously kept fantastic records). There are also orders from Robert E. Lee and many other Alexandrians from the 18th and 19th century.

After your guide finishes telling you the history on the first floor, you'll be invited to go upstairs and see the rooms located on the second floor. During its operational years, this floor would have been off limits to customers. If you thought the first floor was amazing, you're in for a treat once you get upstairs. There are two rooms upstairs. The first room you see is mostly empty (at least as of my last visit), but it does contain an early elevator, which consists of a lift that comes down from the ceiling. There is a door on the floor that opens and you can see the first floor gift shop. There is protective glass there today placing a barrier between the two floors, but years ago this was an active lift.

The second room contains the production space the apothecaries used. In this room are tools, equipment, ingredients and too many fabulous items to name. Kids are immediately drawn to the two drawers labeled "dragon's blood" and I was drawn to the stacks of drawers containing every possible ingredient imaginable. Some of the drawers even contain ingredients of a time gone by, a couple of the drawers are typically opened for visitors to peer inside.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary upstairs
When you visit upstairs, you truly feel as if you've stepped back in time.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary upstairs
This image was taken upstairs. You can see how original everything looks.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary desk
Desk with originals placed on it on the second floor where day to day operations took place.
If you want to visit the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, the tour hours are pretty consistent through the year, but there are a couple of seasonal variations. It is a good idea to check times before visiting. Tours are offered every half hour. Admission rates are reasonable. If you're in Alexandria, this 30-minute tour is well worth a visit.


  1. I love Alexandria- its like a small Richmond. There's a neat coffee shop in Del Ray called St Elmo's . I enjoy performing there- they have a lot of great musicians and jazz and country bands play there.

    1. I've yet to explore Del Ray - but it is definitely one of the neighborhoods on my list to explore. Have heard great things about it! Sounds like a lot of fun you have.

      Richmond is another place on my list...oh so many places to see!