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Hunter’s Drug Store lasted 100 years

Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society

The only drug store in Madera in 1890 belonged to William Hunter. A primitive store in its beginnings, Hunter’s Drugs soon flourished and remained in business in the same location on Yosemite Avenue for 100 years. The installation of a soda fountain inside the drug store was among the first changes made to the business as it began to take shape.


The Dec. 6, 1926 headlines of The Madera Tribune shocked the town.

They announced the passing of W.W.W. Hunter, owner of the Hunter Drug Store.

He had died suddenly the night before from uremic poisoning from which he had been suffering for some time. He took a severe turn on Sunday afternoon, the day before he died. He was taken to the hospital, but in spite of all that could be done for him he passed away.

William Hunter owned Madera’s only drug store, which he had purchased from Dr. J.T. Surbaugh. As the town’s pharmacist, he was the next best thing to a physician that turn-of-the-century life had to offer. His business, the Hunter Drug Company, was founded in 1890 and remained in its original location on Yosemite Avenue throughout its 100-year existence.

When he first put up his shingle, it had “W.W.W. Hunter, Pharmacist” scrawled on a “crude wooden sign.” It hung by the doorway of the old brick building which had been built by Return Roberts, San Jose financier and early promoter of Madera.

At first “Doc” Hunter’s store housed only primitive drugs, herbs, chemicals, and a few patent medicines in a dark storeroom, which was devoid of conventional show windows and display cases. This condition would change quickly.

W.W.W. Hunter was born in Hornitos in 1863, his parents having migrated there from Iowa. William received his early training as a druggist in Dr. Reid’s Mariposa drug store.

By 1890, he had served his apprenticeship and earned his “final papers.” When an opportunity to obtain Madera’s only drugstore presented itself that year, Hunter jumped at the chance. With his wife, Louise, his children, and “Cap,” his aging father, Hunter made the move.

Cap ran a cigar stand in the corner of the drug store. Thus it was that Hunter’s Drug Company came into existence.

Madera at the time was only 14 years old. The drug store did not have electricity. It utilized kerosene lamps for such illumination as was needed. When electricity finally did arrive, the generating plant shut down at midnight, forcing Hunter’s back to kerosene lamps.

Doc Hunter’s daughter remembered there being more than 20 saloons on Yosemite Avenue in the last decade of the 19th century. She recalled that “there was mud, mud, and mud. When it rained, the water stood a foot deep. They put large planks running from one side of the street to the other, and you waited your turn to cross. We had board sidewalks and awnings.”

As Madera grew, so did Hunter’s Drug Store. One of the first soda fountains in the Valley was installed there, and the Hunters began to make their own ice cream. A gasoline engine was used to turn the freezer. The fountain was open from May to November, and 10 different kinds of ice cream were made.

The store was remodeled three times in the early years, as electricity replaced gas lights, and the old pot-bellied coal burning stove gave way to an oil burner. In 1898, a telephone was installed. It connected the drug store with the Hunter home and Dr. Reid’s office. The number was 23.

W.W.W. Hunter had two well-known slogans. Referring to his ice cream, he called it “the best west of the Mississippi,” and alluding to his lengthy apothecary tenure, “Doc” proclaimed, “Hunter’s Drug Store since 1890, we have a pill for every ill.”

“Doc” Hunter’s daughters, who had worked with him in the drug store, carried on his tradition after his death. The business continued and reached the century mark, living on as a tribute to the pioneer spirit of W.W.W. Hunter.

Doc Hunter was survved by his wife Louisa and two daughters, Mrs. Shirley Wilson and Miss Alina Hunter, all of Madera. He was a member of the Masonic lodge and the Woodmen of the World.

Funeral services were held Tuesday afternoon, December 8 from Jay chapel. The services were in charge of the Masonic lodge.


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