Survivor

The facade of Wikle's drugstore on Noble Street gives evidence of numerous alterations through the decades, yet the original 19th-century workmanship still shines through.

Pry open the doors at 1010 Noble St. and there, amid darkness and dust, are rarely seen glimpses of more than a century of Anniston’s past.

Inside, history and the musty smell of age are intertwined.

Old pharmacy supplies and records. Calendars from 1955. Yellowed newspapers from 1927. A rotary phone hanging on a pharmacy wall. A box of unused wooden crutches. Pictures from Anniston’s 75th anniversary jubilee in 1958. Anniston High School yearbooks — “The Hour Glass” — from the 1920s. Barren wooden shelves more than a hundred years old.

And, in the basement, a 19th-century, hand-cranked castor-oil machine that’s possibly original to the building’s 1883 birth. Oil still cakes its exterior.

Welcome to Wikle Drug Co., 2015.

The building that once housed Jesse L. Wikle’s business — telephone number: ADams 6-4451 — is now an unofficial time capsule of Samuel Noble’s town, a three-story architectural album of images and an irreplaceable chapter of Anniston lore. Vacant since the pharmacy closed in 2000, the building yields clues of the Model City since its inception as a factory village for workers of Noble’s Woodstock Iron Co.

In 1985, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Last November, Anniston businessman Brian Woodfin bought the building from longtime owner J.E. Ingram as part of a possible partnership with Interfaith Ministries, though Woodfin says his current plans for the building are undetermined.

In either direction, north and south, examples of reclamation and decay, successes and failures dot Noble’s map. The Wikle building is dusty and needs repairs. But for all of the nostalgic reminiscing over its leftover bounty, the building itself headlines this unique Anniston story.

The place Dr. Wikle created

Georgian Jesse L. Wikle, a doctor and pharmacist, immigrated to Anniston in 1880 to become Woodstock’s company druggist. As the Woodstock commissary closed, Wikle opened his own drug store, originally housed in a one-story building nearby.

Anniston, however, was transitioning from a company town to an incorporated city, its population booming, and Wikle needed more space. In 1883, he built the first brick commercial building on Noble Street. Its address: 1010 Noble, the birth of a city landmark.

Built in a Victorian neo-classical style, Wikle’s building is renowned among architectural historians for its workmanship and style. A jargony passage from the building’s National Register application offers proof: “The facade displays a richly detailed cornice with egg-and-dart molding and denticulation; corner pilasters each with cartouche; scamotze capitals on center pilasters, scrolled keystones, bas-relief swags and fine relief work between the second and third tier of the upper windows.”

Translation: The building’s Noble Street front, if you look closely, is breathtaking.

Wikle’s name, in stone, is still there.

“It was just so beautiful,” said Ingram, who began working at Wikle’s as a teenage soda jerk in 1946. “You just felt like you were walking into some sort of palace.”

If only Wikle and subsequent owners hadn’t changed the building’s Noble Street side, which originally featured a triple-arched portico with a recessed glass storefront. At some point after the turn of the century, those arches were replaced with a “modernized” entrance still seen today. Likewise, the second- and third-floor windows were removed and bricked in; the original pressed-metal first-floor ceiling was covered; the marble soda fountain was removed; and a bevel-edged mirror at the pharmacy was removed.

Time has left a few scars at 1010 Noble St.

As Anniston grew, Wikle went on to a celebrated political career, serving as a councilman, mayor (three times) and state senator. In 1912, he sold the company to J.F. Spearman, a Wikle employee whose family would lead the business until Ingram became the building’s owner in 1988. Spearman kept the name — Wikle Drug Co. — and solidified its downtown presence for all sorts of medical and household needs.

Over time, a roster of doctors and dentists built their practices in offices on the second floor. (Their addresses were listed as 1010 ½ Noble St.) Each of those offices, dating to the 19th century, had fireplaces, bookshelves and bathrooms. When the pharmacy opened, Anniston’s first resident surgeon, Richard P. Huger, had a Wikle office, as did physicians J.F. Walker, J.A. Davis and J.B. Kelly.

City directories over the first half of the 20th century show a revolving door of medicine men at Wikle’s: J.D. Durden, A.L. Nourse, J. Watson, F.C. Weaver, J.F. Posey. Ingram, the building’s long-time owner, remembers doctors Lloyd Morton and C.H. Paine (both general practitioners) and Weaver, a dentist. By the 1950s, city directories list the Wikle offices as vacant more often than not.

Downstairs, meanwhile, the pharmacy, soda fountain and lunch counter flourished.

The Spearman-led Wikle’s dominated the druggist trade in Anniston, creating generations of residents who recall stopping in. Spearman’s daughter, Ruth, and her husband, Edward Scruggs, headed the pharmacy for decades. When Ruth Spearman Scruggs died in 1988, it opened the way for Ingram to take over.

Meanwhile, the historic building’s second and third floors went largely untouched, creating a time capsule for today’s visitors.

History, untouched

From the street, peekers can see that the pharmacy looks as it did when it closed in March 2000. The shelves are empty, but the cash register is still there (it’s empty, sorry) and the drug counter could easily be rehabilitated. An empty refrigerator and safe rest in the back, as does a 1950s-era Coca-Cola machine, bright red. Price: 10 cents a drink.  

Two sets of stairs lead to the unseen: the basement and its castor-oil machine, and the second and third floors. Even during a brightly lit afternoon, it’s easy to get confused finding which stairwell leads where. Flashlights are required.

Downstairs, amid the dust, it’s easy to imagine being in the bowels of a frontiersman’s handmade brick home. Two-by-fours nailed across a back door keep out vandals. Close your eyes and you can see the rough-hewn bricks of the west wall being laid by laborers in the 1880s. More than a century of pharmacy detritus litters the floor and shelves — empty bottles and vials, hangers, boxes of hair tonic, labels, empty castor oil barrels, Red Cross cotton bandages, an antique fire extinguisher and wash pail, a soiled druggist’s jacket.

Upstairs, on the second floor’s loft-like open space, the ceiling bears signs of water damage and the walls are still adorned with varying shades and styles of paper. The offices are ghostly, no patients, no doctors. One door is marked “private.” Dr. C.H. Paine Jr.’s name still adorns his old office door and lists his hours: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Down the hall, another office entrance offers a stark visual of Anniston’s past.

Lettering on the door’s glass panel points patients to either side.

“White” patients to the right.

“Colored” patients to the left.

Untouched, all these years later.

A lesson to remember.

 

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.

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