In Old Town Alexandria, a few blocks away from the riverfront, is the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.
Founded in 1792 by Edward Stabler, the business was continuously operational by the same family for 141 years. The Leadbeater name came later, in 1831, when another family member was brought into the business. The company was involved with retailing, wholesaling, and manufacturing, and over the years its space expanded to several buildings in Old Town.
Entering the museum is truly a step back through time. One amazing part about this piece of history is the owners had simply locked the doors in 1933 when the company could no longer sustain and entered bankruptcy.
Remarkably, the building that remains today has stayed the same for all these decades. The building and contents were preserved by the Landmarks Society of Alexandria early on and opened as a museum. The museum was donated to the City of Alexandria in 2006.
Visitors enter the building in the gift shop and tours can be purchased here. Once the tour begins, you're led into the main room where everyday business transactions took place for well over a century.
First visitors to the museum walk into to a "shop" that is set up almost exactly as it would have looked like so many years ago. In addition, much, if not all, of the mirrors and exquisite glass work are originals from when the business was operational.
Throughout its history, many customers came through the Stabler-Leadbeater doors, including Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee. Orders from these two individuals are on display at the museum. Additionally, from what docents have described, the family kept very detailed records over the years and staff is still going through the many boxes.
There is also a second floor, which at the time of operation was off-limits to customers, but today visitors are led up to this floor as part of the tour. This is the manufacturing room, and it looks as it would have so many years ago. In a word, amazing. The jars, tins and drawers even contain original ingredients and supplies; a couple of the drawers are typically left open for visitors to peer inside.
Located at 105-107 South Fairfax Street, tours are available of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. Reservations are not necessary as walk-ins are welcomed. While you can drop in, it should be noted that hours are limited and it is a good idea to check to see what times the museum
is open before planning a visit.
If you're visiting Old Town Alexandria, this 30 minute museum tour is truly a gem in this writer's opinion. For more information on the history of the business, please visit the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum website