Trilogy for Meridian: Part II

For the first part of the Meridian Trilogy, check out Meridian: Part I.

Standard Drug Company started out as Hopkins & Bethea, a small retail drug business established in 1900 on 22nd Avenue next to Weidmann’s Restaurant.  According to Fonda K. Rush (NRHP nomination form for Standard Drug Company building at 601 25th Avenue, 1989), at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the  20th century,

America’s pharmaceutical industry, wholesale and retail businesses, were usually run by self-educated men or apprentices to pharmacists or physicians. These men would settle in new developing communities and supply not only pharmaceutical drugs but also sundry items. They also produced their own pharmaceutical preparations. Thus following the national trend, W. E. Hopkins and Oscar Bethea opened a wholesale and retail drug business in Meridian in January of 1900.

The Pharmaceutical Era, Volume 25, 1901 announced Hopkins & Bethea bought the business of pharmacist J. M. Kimbrough in Meridian, who had served on the Mississippi State Pharmaceutical Association since at least 1892. In May 1901, O. W. Bethea graduated from the Atlanta College of Pharmacy.  By 1902, regular ads for Hopkins & Bethea’s Drug Store began appearing in the Meridian Press, in connection with patent medicine advertisements.

March 1905, they submitted a charter for a new corporation with capital stock of $100,000 “for the purpose of engaging in the manufacture of medicines” (Times-Democrat, 25 Mar 1905).  Seven months later, they purchased the Enterprise Drug Store from Captain M. H. Rouse (Clarke County Times, 20 Oct 1905, p. 1) and were listed as proprietors of the Enterprise Drug Store in the 1906 edition of the Era Druggists’ Directory.  Also in October 1905, the Western Druggist, Vol. 27, p. 689 reported:

Hopkins & Bethea, of Meridian, contemplate erecting a four-story building in the near future which will be used exclusively as a wholesale drug house.

They relocated to 2408 5th Street in 1906, described as a three-story brick building (Jody Cook, Meridian Urban Center Historic District NRHP nomination form, 1979).  This building was demolished sometime prior to 2007. Based on Cook’s description, the former Hopkins & Bethea building would be the 3rd building to the left, counting from Lottie’s Cafeteria–which will have significance in Part III of the Trilogy.  The E. F. Young Hotel is visible on the corner between the two utility poles), two buildings further up from the Hopkins & Bethea building.


Jody Cook, 1979, National Register of Historic Places nomination for Meridian Center Historic District, cropped and enlarged, retrieved from

Three-story brick row with overhanging bracketed cornice. First floor modified, half of second floor hidden by theater marquee. Eight bays in upper floors framed by pilaster with terra-cotta capitals.  Third floor windows rest on stone course. (Cook, 1979) [Note: The former Hopkins & Bethea building opened in 1939 as the Star Theatre for African American patrons, closing in 1975.]

By 1910, Bethea had completed Tulane Medical School and attended his final meeting of the Mississippi Pharmaceutical Association in Natchez.  He was serving as the secretary of the association and was honored as he prepared to practice medicine in New Orleans (Daily Democrat, 13 May 1910, pp. 8 and 12).

The Laurel Chronicle reported in a 1911 Notice of Sale from W. E. Hopkins that the fixtures, stock of merchandise, and accounts of Hopkins & Bethea were sold to T. V. Fisher.  This appears to be related to the separation of the business partnership between Hopkins and Bethea, and the company was incorporated and renamed the Standard Drug Company. Standard was one of two wholesale firms who contracted with the Mississippi penitentiary to supply medications.

By 1919, Standard Drug Company had outgrown the space in the center of Fifth Street and made plans to construct a new building.  Located between 25th Avenue, 26th Avenue, and 6th Street, the newly constructed building was the home of Standard Drug until 1977 (Rush, 1989).

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Although patent medicines had been around for many years along with a history of some definitely nefarious claims, they were a common product in the early years of the “drug store” and what most of them had in common–besides contents that were ineffective in treating the problem for which they were marketed– were high levels of alcohol.  It was one way of getting around Prohibition, as “medicines” did not have the same regulations as “beverage alcohol.”  The most infamous of the patent medicines was the episode of adulterated Jamaican Ginger in the 1930s which caused paralysis of the lower limbs and claimed thousands of victims nationwide, and at least a thousand in Mississippi.

Jamaica Ginger–known as ‘Jake’ on the street–ranged from 70-90% alcohol, so it was a pretty popular substitute for beverage alcohol among the poor.  A 2 oz. bottle, mixed with some other liquid such as cola, would produce a potent intoxication.  The Feds caught on, and in further efforts to bypass new regulations, one manufacturer’s product contained the neurotoxin adulterant tri-ortho-cresyl-phosphate–TOCP.  The additive was a plasticizer intended to keep synthetic materials from becoming brittle and was not intended for human consumption.  It was eventually identified by pharmacologist Maurice Smith of the newly created National Institute of Health as the cause of the so-called Jake paralysis.

Preservation in Mississippi readers might be wondering by now how blues songs about the deleterious effects of patent medicines figure into historic preservation.The impact of adulterated Jake on the poor black southern population was known mainly through the emerging blues songs, such as the 1928 Jake Bottle Blues by Lemuel Turner, Ishman Bracey’s 1929 Jake Liquor Blues,  the 1930 Austin and Lee Allen’s Jake Walk Blues, Byrd Moore’s Jake Leg Blues, and Tommy Johnson’s Alcohol and Jake Blues, and Asa Martin’s 1933 Jake Walk Papa.  The Jake songs, as did other blues songs, give us a better understanding of the often undocumented experience of African American Mississippians.

Part III of the Trilogy will conclude the relationships among A. B. Avery’s Italianate mansion, Hopkins & Bethea Drug Store and Standard Drug Company, and Mississippi Medical College.





Categories: African American History, Architectural Research, Blues Sites, Meridian


4 replies

  1. Was this the origin of Jake Leg? Referring to a not so talented worker?


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