Edwin Billingham Ayres was born in 1891 in Hillsboro. As a young boy Ayres, who went by Ed, worked in a downtown drug store then known as W.R. Smith Pharmacy. Through years of hard work, Ayres eventually took over the store, becoming a nationally recognized pharmacist.
Ayres was by all means a jack of many trades. At Hillsboro High School, he was a star athlete, competing in track and field events all over the county. He set many school records and was called “the top track star of all time.” In 1975, he was the first athlete inducted into the Hillsboro High School Athletic Hall of Fame and in 2017 he was inducted into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame.
In addition to winning multiple individual state track and field titles, Ayres was a boxer, according to his grandson, Chris Duckworth, whose great-great-great-grandfather, Peter Leake Ayres, built the Highland House in Hillsboro.
“He was sports-minded his whole life,” Duckworth said. “He was a lifelong Reds fan, boxing fan, went to the 1961 World Series – I don’t remember him being much of a football fan, but football had been banned at Hillsboro when he was in school – a serious croquet player, an expert marksman that held records and had a target range in the attic of his house, and enjoyed fishing.”
Later, Duckworth said that for years Ayres drove the Hillsboro basketball team to games in a limousine he owned and that the whole team could ride inside the vehicle.
In 1907, he started working at the W.R. Smith Drug, located in the 100 block of East Main Street in Hillsboro, and he worked there until he became ill in July of 1964. Ayres died on Aug. 16, 1964.
Shortly after high school, he married Elsie Ayres, an esteemed local historian. Ed continued working at the W.R. Smith Pharmacy as manager for some number of years. In 1912, he attempted to take his state pharmaceutical test, but he was turned down because he was under 21. He instead became a qualified drug store assistant.
Ayres purchased the W.R. Smith Pharmacy in 1925, keeping the name for several years. He eventually renamed it the “Ed B. Ayres Drug Company”, a name that stuck for years until his death. The large mortar and pestle he placed in front of the business still stands in front of the location.
He was one of the original Boy Scout leaders in the community and took an active part in the Scouts for years. One of his troop members, Milton Caniff, was a famed cartoonist. The Boy Scouts of America bestowed upon Ayres its Silver Beaver Award – the highest award in Scouting – in recognition of his exceptional character and distinguished service.
Ayres was also a charter member of the Hillsboro Rotary Club when it organized and served as its president. He also developed a membership initiation program that merited special attention. In Hillsboro, he was often referred to as “Mr. Rotarian.”
Throughout his lifetime, Ayres was intimately involved with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. He was church treasurer for 19 years, and was senior warden at the time of his death.
Considered a “man of vision,” he also served on the town’s board of public affairs for 16 years and was involved in the development of Hillsboro’s water and sewage upgrades, including the construction of a new reservoir in the late 1930s.
Perhaps, however, Ayres was best known for his love and knowledge of Hillsboro and Highland County history. At the time of his death a local newspaper noted, “His status as an authority on local history was unquestioned. He not only took an active interest in compiling history, but had personally accumulated a vast store of historical items.”
Duckworth said his grandfather was also very civic-minded.
“He loved Hillsboro and he loved Highland County,” Duckworth said. “His roots were there, and they were very deep and wide… He never ventured far from Hillsboro and never regretted it. He was a Hillsboro boy all the way through.”
Information for this story was provided by Isabella Warner, a Times-Gazette stringer, and the newspaper’s files.