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Apothecary Hall

Apothecary Hall in Christiansted, St. Croix

Excerpt from "Christiansted Apothecary Hall," continued

by George B. Griffenhagen, Pharmacist,1996

In 1838, Benzon engaged Albert Heinrich Riise of St. Thomas to operate the Christiansted Central Pharmacy, giving Benzon more time to investigate the flora of the islands. In exchange for his services, Riise's pharmacy was granted a privilegium exclusivum for St. Thomas by the Danish government.11-13 The following year, Samuel Frederik Grove (1802-1835) was engaged to operate the Frederiksted pharmacy.14 Benzon returned to Copenhagen in 1844, where he died on July 24, 1848.

Peder Benzon had married Ida Caroline Marie Didrichsen on September 11, 1824, in Christiansted, and the couple had a total of nine children. Following Peder Benzon's death, Ida moved back to Christiansted where she lived above the pharmacy, and maintained ownership of the pharmacy. Their son, Theodor Hornemann Becker Benzon (1828-1885) managed the pharmacy from 1849 until 1878.15 During this period, the Danish Minister of Finance announced on April 30, 1875, in the St. Croix Avis newspaper that the 1868 Danish Pharmacopeia "shall be adopted for use in the Danish West India Islands," and that all "drugs and medicines shall be prepared in the manner prescribed by the said Pharmacopeia."

Both pharmacies were sold in 1878 by Ida Benzon to Danish pharmacist Alfred Paludan-Muller (1851-1924) who settled in St. Croix in 1872.16 Paludan-Muller also purchased the adjoining building in 1882 for his office as agent for the Royal Insurance Company of Liverpool, England.17 By 1888, the pharmacies were identified with exterior signs reading "Apothecary Hall," a term according to Poul Kruse of Copenhagen which was an English translation of the Danish term Apoteksbygningen.

At the turn of the century, Copenhagen pharmacist Johannes Cramer-Petersen (1878-1942) arrived in Christiansted to join the staff of the leprosy hospital, and during his stay in the Danish West Indies, he also worked for Paludan-Muller 1901-1903 in the Christiansted pharmacy.18

The Frederiksted and Christiansted pharmacies were sold to Danish pharmacists Hans Boje (1872-1949) and Niels Johannes Arnold Larsen (1867-1934) in September 1904, and ten years later pharmacist Boje bought out Larsens' share.19 When the Danish West Indies was purchased by the United States in 1917 as a defensive strategy to protect the Panama Canal during World War I, the U.S. government renamed the island territory as the U.S. Virgin Islands, and took away Boje's pharmacy monopoly. Boje received compensation from the Danish government for the loss of his monopoly, and he continued operation of both pharmacies until he sold them to Vilhelm Frederickson of St. Croix in July 1945.

Frederickson immediately sold the Frederiksted Apothpcary Hall to Axel Schade who took possession on July 1, 1945. The Christiansted Apothecary Hall to non-pharmacist Laurence C. Merrill who took possession on June 1, 1946, since Boje had retained the right to operate the pharmacy until May 31, 1946. Merrell hired pharmacists to operate the Christiansted pharmacy until it was closed in 1970.20 The Frederiksted Apothecary Hall was sold by Axel Shade in 1977 to non-pharmacists Dora and Maxwell Martin from the British Virgin Islands, and they still operate the pharmacy by employing registered pharmacists.21

While all of the original pharmaceutical shelfware from the Frederiksted Apothecary Hall has disappeared, the owners of the Christiansted Apothecary Hall preserved their early shelfware and equipment. Lee Platt, then director of the St. Croix Landmarks Society, convinced Mr. Merrell to donate over 600 pharmaceutical items to the Society. Platt then constructed furniture depicting "an authentic Danish pharmacy as it might have appeared around 1840," and replaced some of the deteriorated labels on the handsome Danish apothecary jars. The pharmacy restoration was then installed at the Whim Museum near Frederiksted.22

In 1996, the then Whim Museum executive director, Barbara Hagan-Smith, felt that the proper location for this unique apothecary restoration was in Christiansted, and she obtained permission from the current owner of the original building, David Hayes, to move the collection. Thus this 150 year-old-Christiansted Apothecary Hall is now open as a pharmacy museum in its original location.