Buker & Colson

June 25, 2009

FRESNO BEE

Then: A photo from 1892 shows William Colson, left, and Humphrey Buker in front of the drugstore they opened at 1908 Mariposa St., Fresno.

One of the many businesses created in Fresno at the turn of the 20th century was Buker & Colson, a drugstore that opened in 1889 at 1908 Mariposa St., along the bustling main corridor of the growing Valley city.

The drugstore’s owners, William C. Colson and Humphrey O. Buker, were sons of Civil War soldiers and New England natives; Colson was born in Massachusetts and Buker in Maine.

The two spared little expense in equipping their shop or in covering its storefront with advertising for the business, including Buker’s own “974” cough syrup, a special formula that included ground wild cherry bark,
glycerine, ipecac, antimony, chloroform and sugar for taste.

The storefront used a popular feature of the era: a cast-iron building front. Cast-iron components such as columns, panels and decorative elements were manufactured in East Coast foundries, pre-assembled for fit and detailing, then disassembled and shipped to the building site for reassembly.

The store’s interior was covered with dark Victorian cabinetry that held medicines, perfumes, soaps, powders, novelties and other sundries of the era, along with bright chromolithography advertising.

Closer to the pharmacists’ work area, in the inner sanctum of the drugstore, were shelves of apothecary jars filled with powders, crystals, herbs and chemicals, as well as a miniature lab with test tubes, bottles, mortars and pestles, copper distillers and percolators, and ultra-sensitive scales.

Drugstores of the era were more than just retailers: They often served a community’s medicinal needs at a time when medical doctors were scarce. Instead of buying pre-made medicines, pharmacists would mix potions for their patients.

Sometimes, those who called sought help beyond human patients. One story goes that prominent Valley rancher Jesse Blasingame came to Buker & Colson with a problem: His horses were being cut by barbed-wire fences, and he needed something to treat them. The druggists formulated a liniment, which was said to have healed the horses’ wounds within days.

In 1916, Buker & Colson moved down the block to the Griffith-McKenzie Building at Fulton and Mariposa streets, later known as the Helm Building. The new store, which occupied a prime spot on the ground floor, boasted a major draw of the day: a soda fountain. The business moved again in the early 1960s, this time to 2848 Mariposa St.

One last move took Buker & Colson Medicine Chest to its current location at 1300 N. Fresno St. The store, with a nod to its Fresno roots, displays an impressive collection of drugstore memorabilia, much of it from the early days of Buker and Colson.

John Walker/The Fresno Bee

Now: This section of Mariposa Street where Buker & Colson once stood was renamed Mariposa Way, and the site of the former drugstore is now the wall of a parking garage. The drugstore continues to operate about two miles north of its original site.