Editor’s Note – This story and the accompanying photograph were provided by Christopher Duckworth, who was raised in Columbus but has ties to Hillsboro and Greenfield, where his father was born. He is currently the executive editor and director of publications for the Columbus Museum of Art.
The photographic print accompanying this story was among a large number that my grandfather, Edwin Billingham Ayres, took. He made the photograph in 1909, two years after a 1907 photograph of the same building that recently appeared in The Times-Gazette.
For those who are history or photography buffs, my grandfather used a Cyclone 4-inch by 5-inch dry-plate camera. Let me add that I remember this camera from my youth; it was among the many cameras that my grandfather had stowed away in his attic at his home at 258 E. Main St. in Hillsboro. He often did this when he progressed to a new model of camera. The Cyclone, which was a fancy box camera, featured magazine loading of 4-inch by 5-inch glass dry plates and was uncommon even in the era, to say the least.
The photograph shows the storefront of the W.R. Smith Drug Company in 1909. I have no idea why it was decked out in this rather unusual greenery. To be sure, 1909 was the year that Ernest Shackleton claimed to have reached the South Pole, that Louis Bieriot became the first person to fly across the English Channel, that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened, that Barry Goldwater was born, and that the Sioux chief Red Cloud died. But I know of nothing in Hillsboro in 1909 that warranted such decoration.
The year, however, was a special one for the Hillsboro High School track team, anchored by seniors Harry Roads and my grandfather, when Hillsboro finished as state runner-up.
To return to the photograph in question, the men standing in front of the store are (from left) C. O. Brown, pharmacist; William Hancock, porter; and Kirby Smith, pharmacist and a co-owner of the store.
A pole, which was located to the immediate right of the photograph, had a horse’s hitching ring embedded in it. It held up the oversized mortar and pestle sign, still standing, that William Robinson Smith purchased when he visited the Centennial Exposition that was held in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1876. In those days, and in my youth, it was painted a bright red. In fact, I painted it twice myself.
To the left is the covered stairway that leads to the front second floor rooms above the drugstore. This was quite separate from the second floor in the rear, which was reached from inside the drugstore. In my day, the front rooms, two in number, were used for storage. They had been an office and even a post office back in the day.
The stairway itself was covered with writing. One that I remember vividly was the signature of Hamer McConnaughey, a clerk at the drugstore who, at age 21, drowned accidentally at The Point (off U.S. 50 east of Hillsboro near Cave Road) in 1923. The writing was painted over some years ago.
So here you have my conundrum: why was the drugstore decorated in this rather subdued fashion? I’m really hoping that someone — do you hear me, (local historian) Jean Wallis? — will tell me why.