Fremont County, Iowa

Penn Drug History - The Early Years
Part One

by Fremont County Historical Society

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of November 15, 2010

Note: The Fremont County Historical Society is currently preparing a pictorial history of Fremont County to be printed by Arcadia Publishing. The nature of a pictorial history is to provide pictures with short captions. Several of the county's businesses and the families that own them have very interesting stories that should not be limited to a short picture caption. In the next few months the View from the Attic will tell these stories so we can appreciate the contribution they have made to our history. We begin with Penn Drug, which will be told in two parts. We thank the Penn family for the information used below.

In 1963, the local newspaper, the Sidney Argus Herald, honored Penn Drug by publishing a special supplement on its hundredth anniversary. In 1980, on the hundredth anniversary of the Iowa Pharmacist Association, all the pharmacies a century or more old were honored. It was announced at that time that Penn Drug Co. was the oldest operating pharmacy in Iowa. Today in 2010, Penn Drug Company is still in operation and still owned by the same family.

John Newton Penn was born in Pennsylvania. He was in several businesses during the 1850s and read medicine in his spare time and had an instructor. In 1852, he began practice with his preceptor. In the spring of 1855, he moved to Athens County, Ohio. His stop in Ohio did not satisfy him. He heard about Sidney, Iowa, and decided to check it out. He was very impressed with the new town and the rich farmland surrounding it so decided to bring his family to Iowa. Their trip to Sidney included boat trips down the Ohio and Missouri rivers eventually making it to St. Joseph where they were stranded on a sand bar. They finished the trip in a covered wagon and stayed the first night at the Cromwell Hotel in Sidney.

John's wife Emily was discouraged by the lack of houses in the town. In later years, she was heard to say "the only things you could see from the hotel courtyard were gopher hills."

Dr. Penn soon had a large medical practice going even down into Missouri and Nebraska. He rode a horse weekly to Manti to care for patients.

During the Civil War Dr. Penn raised a company of men and went to Des Moines for training. He could not pass the physical himself because of failing eyesight so he returned to Sidney.

In 1863, Dr. Penn purchased the drug stock of Dr. O.W. Sykes who wanted to move to the new town of Hamburg. He did not purchase the building but instead decide to build in a new location.

In 1864, he had lumber hauled by wagon from Villisca and built a drug store. Dr. Penn maintained an office in the balcony of the store and the south side of the building was devoted to the preparation of prescription medications. He treated the only Civil War casualty in the county, a local boy who was shot when a group tried to stop Confederates from Missouri who came to Fremont County to steal much needed horses.

By June of 1876, because of Dr. Penn's failing eyesight, he limited his practice to special cases and the use of special and new medications. (To be continued.)

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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau