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Cool Spaces: Nation’s oldest apothecary offers glimpse into past

August 12th, 2015 |

August 11, 2015 | In The News

Written by KJ Frantz for Lehigh Valley Live

Bethlehem is home to many historical things but it wasn’t until recently that I found it has the distinction of being home to the nation’s oldest pharmacy.

Founded in 1752, Simon Rau & Co. Druggists supplied healing compounds to folks from all over the area. Many of the tools used to create the compounds are preserved and on display in a small but very cool place behind the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem.

The original hearth (and floor) was completely saved and restored. It sits on the left side of the room with many of the different pots and pans used to create the medicinal compounds still intact.

The original receipt book is there, too, with bills for Lehigh University and plenty of local residents.

Original apothecary jars line the shelves, many with compounds still inside, as well as simple tools used in making and measuring pills.

According to Charlene Donchez Mower, president of Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites, the apothecary was opened in 1743 with the arrival of Dr. John Frederick Otto from Germany.

At first, it was housed in a small room on the second floor of the Gemeinhaus, where it came to be referred to as “Dr. Otto’s Closet.” But in 1752, a one-story stone building with a red-tile roofed laboratory was built on what was to become Main Street.

The apothecary was in continual existence, in one form or another, from 1743 until 1952 and represents what is left of the oldest continually operated drug store in the United States, according to Donchez Mower. It became a museum and moved to its current location in 1955.

Tours are available by appointment. Call 800-360-TOUR or 610-691-6055.

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