In the early 1880s a reporter for one of Lowell’s
newspapers sought information on the city’s small,
but growing “Swedish colony” and visited the apothecary
of Anders Thomasson. Considered one of the
leaders of Swedish community in Lowell, Thomasson
pointed out to the reporter that, unlike the larger
populations of Irish and French Canadian immigrants,
who tended to cluster in neighborhoods with their
respective countrymen and women, Swedes numbered
only about 250 and had no common “settlement or
dwelling place.” He also noted that in the
last “year or two” Swedes “have been coming more
rapidly.” The reporter observed, “It would
not be surprising if in the next ten years the Swedish
colony here should become quite large and influential.”
While Lowell’s Swedish population never rivaled
that of the Irish and French Canadian, the Swedish
community became one of several smaller, very visible
immigrant communities in the city. By 1910,
over 1,100 Swedes and Swedish-Americans lived in
Lowell, with several families residing in a neighborhood
called “Swede Village.”
A large number of Swedish women were employed as
domestics and some worked in the bunting and woolen
mills along the Concord River, near Swede Village.
557 Central Street.
This one story brick building was built
as an attachment in the front yard of a wood-frame
duplex in 1879. Thomasson and many of his successors
in the business lived in the duplex immediately
behind the store (559 Central Street). Picture
was taken in 2006.
|Of the larger cotton manufacturing corporations in Lowell,
Swedish women toiled in the Boott and Massachusetts
While some Swedish men worked as operatives in the woolen
mills, a larger number worked as laborers, carpenters,
stone cutters, skilled machinists, iron molders, and
blacksmiths. A smaller number worked as clerks
in retail establishments and a few, like Thomasson,
ran their own businesses.
As Thomasson recalled, only a handful of Swedish
families lived in Lowell when he arrived in 1872.
Born in Malmö, Sweden, in 1844, he served as an apprentice
to a druggist in his native land. After graduating
from a pharmacy school in 1868, he worked about four
years at large apothecaries in Malmö, a city of 40,000
persons. He then immigrated to the United States
and settled in Lowell in August 1872. Accompanying
him was his fiancé Adelaide Pihl, whose family included a number
of the earliest Swedish immigrants in Lowell.
Thomasson lived with his wife Adelaide in the same
building that housed his apothecary. They had
married in Lowell on October 26, 1872, shortly after
they arrived in the Spindle City. He was 28 and
she was 29.
The result of this union was a son, Anders Frederic Christian
Thomasson, born in June 1873. Sadly, their boy
died from diphtheria at age four and they had no other
to speak English, Thomasson found employment in Stott’s
Mill, a small, family-owned woolen mill along the Concord
River on Lawrence Street, where he worked about two years.
He learned some English while working in the mill and in
1874 he felt his language skills were sufficient enough to
operate his own business. He opened an apothecary on
the corner of Central and North streets.
At that time the city had at least twenty-two other
apothecaries. Of these, sixteen or seventeen were operated
by Yankees, three were run by Irish, one by a Canadian
(English), and one of mixed English- and French-Canadian
nationality. (A generation later, of the 54
apothecaries listed in the city directory, Thomasson and
Israel Kronberger were the only two Scandinavians operating
Thomasson was assisted in the business by Frans L. Braconier, who in spite of his French sounding
name was a fellow Swede. Braconier had immigrated in 1874
and immediately went to work as a druggist clerk in Lowell
so we can assume he also had prior training in Sweden. Braconier
was the first of three Swedes that Thomasson mentored in owning
a drug store business. Thomasson and Braconier became partners
but Braconier departed after two years to open his own store.
Braconier ran his own drug store for at least two years on Tremont
Street in Boston and then moved his store to Brockton until
his death in 1907 (after which his son Harry took over).
He employed two other Swedes before or after they moved to Lowell
to work for Thomasson.
After Braconier’s departure, Thomasson again became
sole owner of the business. In 1882, after four years
of running his drugstore alone, he recruited another
fellow countryman, Johan August Ekengren, to emigrate from Stockholm and join
him in a venture to manufacture an elixir called “Amykos.”
Popular in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries,
Amykos was imported to the United States, largely for
the Swedish population. A high duty on this item,
however, led Thomasson and Ekengren to believe they
could produce it in Lowell and sell it for less money
than the imported article.
By 1883 ads for Amykos appeared in Lowell’s newspapers.
Thomasson called it a “preparation” and claimed that
it was “a renowned preventative of infectious diseases,
particularly diphtheria.” Like other cures and
patent medicines, of which Lowell was a leading producer
in the United States, Amykos allegedly cured a variety
of ailments. Thomasson recommended its daily use
as a gargle to prevent throat inflammation, “offensive
breath,” and “spongy gums.” In addition, he pronounced
that when used as an “adjunct to the toilet” in which
the face is washed, Amykos left skin feeling deliciously
refreshed. As sole producer and vender of Amykos,
Thomasson sold each bottle for 75 cents, which in 1883,
was more than half the average daily wage of a Lowell
The partnership between Ekengren and Thomasson lasted
only one year. As the second Swede mentored by Thomasson, Ekengren
moved to Boston and took over the drug store of Frans
Braconier (Thomasson’s first partner) when Braconier
left for Brockton.
Although the two Swedes planned to manufacture other
“European specifics for the toilet,” Amykos appears
to have been the only one they marketed in the newspapers.
Thomasson took over the production and sale of Amykos,
reducing its price to 50 cents per bottle. He
continued in the manufacture of elixirs and by 1892,
he sold an article called “Zymos.”
In addition to making elixirs and running his drugstore,
Thomasson served as steamship agent for the Thingvalla
Line, which brought many Swedes to the United States
and back to their homeland.
The extent to which Thomasson profited from his sales
of Amykos is not known, but by 1889 he had saved enough
money to purchase a property on the opposite side of
Central Street, one block south of his apothecary.
This property included a wood-frame, two-family house.
After acquiring the property, Thomasson built a small
one-story brick addition, extending toward the street,
which would house his store. He hired C. H. Bangs of Boston, a manufacturer of
druggists’ fixtures to outfit his new apothecary.
A contemporary description of the shop noted its finer
features including a maple floor, and mahogany counters,
showcases, and a prescription desk which were “carved
around the borders and finished in a high polish.”
Except for four years in 1907-11, Thomasson operated
this apothecary from 1889 until 1916.
Ad Feb 18, 1883
from Lowell Morning Times
Thomasson’s standing within Lowell’s Swedish community was
enhanced not only by his success and longevity, but also by
his involvement with the Swedish Evangelical-Lutheran Church.
The largest of the city’s four Protestant Swedish denominations,
the Lutheran congregation was incorporated in 1882 and met in
homes and at various locations until 1885, when a new church
was built on Meadowcroft Street.
Thomasson was one of seven Lowell Swedes to promote the establishment
of this church in which services were conducted in their native
tongue. Devoted to the church, Thomasson served for many
years as organist and leader of the singing society. In
1889 he and his wife donated an altarpiece “The Resurrection”
to the church. Like other churches of immigrant people,
the Swedish Lutheran church was a center for social activity
and assisted parish members who found themselves in personal
and financial difficulty due to sickness or death of the head
of a household.
It seems that outside the pharmacy, Anders Thomasson’s life
remained centered around the church and his organ music.
Although a number of Swedish fraternal organizations sprang
up in the early 1900s, Thomasson was not among their members.
Nor, it appears, did he join the short-lived Swedish Independent
Political Club. He and his countrymen did not seek political
office in Lowell, nor did they vote as a bloc for either the
Democrats or Republicans. And like many of his fellow
Swedes, Thomasson was naturalized and owned property.
Thomasson’s drugstore was patronized by Scandinavians as
well as by many others. When he looked to sell his business
in 1907, Thomasson presumably could have passed it on to any
number of non-Scandinavian businessmen. Instead, he turned
to a fellow countryman, Hilding C. Petersson, the third of the fellow Swedes he mentored. Petersson had clerked at least eight years in Brockton for Thomasson’s
first partner, Frans Ekengren, and was now ready for his own
Petersson’s wife, Amelia, purchased the two-family house
and attached pharmacy and Hilding ran the
After the sale, Anders and Adelaide Thomasson moved to Westford
Street in the suburban Highlands neighborhood. For a few
years Thomasson worked for Olie M. Conklin Jones, the city’s only female pharmacist.
In 1911, Petersson failed in his business and he and his wife
also defaulted on the mortgage held by Thomasson. (It
appears Petersson didn’t try running his own store again. He
moved to Rockland, MA, where he was a drug clerk.)
Thomasson re-assumed ownership of the property on Central
Street in1911 and ran the pharmacy again until 1918.
Charles D. Devno, mixed French-Canadian and Irish, started
clerking with Thomasson in 1912, becoming the fourth
person mentored by Thomasson, this time a non-Swede.
Apparently, the informal apprenticeship was successful
and, in preparation for retirement, the Swede sold the
buildings in 1914 to Devno’s mother. Charles D. took over
the pharmacy when Thomasson finally retired at age 73 in
The elderly Swede died in 1919, at the age of
74. While he was remembered for his many years in the
city’s pharmacy business, he received a great deal of
attention for his role in establishing Lowell’s Swedish
Lutheran Church. “He was one of the most prominent
[church] members,” his obituary stated, “and his support
of this congregation in its infancy was one of the things
which helped it along at a time when the Swedish
population of the city was small.”
Thomassons only child died quite young, an assessment of
the social and cultural changes of subsequent generations
of Thomassons is not possible. Yet in a number of ways,
their lives reflect the experience of Swedish immigrants
in Lowell. First, the city’s Swedes tended to have smaller
families than either the Irish or French Canadians.
Second, the male children, as they grew to adulthood,
frequently followed in their father’s occupational
footsteps. While Thomasson had no adult son, he may have
developed fatherly relationships with two younger men,
fellow Swede Hilding Petersson and mixed
French-Canadian/Irish Charles D. Devno, both of whom took
over the business from the older Swede. Third, like
Thomasson, many Swedish émigrés became naturalized
citizens and owned property. Yet, unlike other immigrants,
especially the Irish and the French Canadians, who became
property-holding United States citizens, Swedes in Lowell
never developed into a political force. Fourth, although
Swedes could be found living in close proximity to one
another, particularly in the area known as “Swede
Village,” their neighborhoods were ethnically
heterogeneous with Yankees, Irish, and some French
Canadians living alongside them. Finally, when the
Thomassons moved to the suburban Highlands section of
Lowell in 1908, they blazed a path that other émigrés who
achieved middle-class status would follow, namely the
relocation from the center city to outlying neighborhoods.
The business after Thomasson
Charles F. Devno, a third-generation
French-Canadian and his Irish-born wife, Catherine
(nee Kelley), ran a grocery on Central Street just
a five minute walk from the Thomasson store. Their
son, Charles D. Devno, started his drugstore
career at age twenty at the Johnson Pharmacy at
389 Central Street, a five minute walk from his
parents’ store, where he worked from 1907 until
1911. When Thomasson returned to the Central
Street store, Devno began clerking for him. Devno
took a fling at running his own store, the
Pawtucket Pharmacy in 1917-1918 (apparently while
still clerking for Thomasson) and then took over
from Thomasson when the Swede retired in 1918.
It’s unclear whether Devno had any formal training
in pharmacy, unlike Thomasson. His World War I
draft registration card said he had completed only
one year of high school.
Professional qualifications for pharmacists
were not yet required. In a survey of sixteen
Lowell drugstores in 1915 (out of forty-one in
town), only one proprietor claimed graduation from
a pharmacy school, one claimed the title Doctor,
and one claimed a year of medical school.
Brother, Frederick L, started as a baker but
worked for Charles D first at the Pawtucket
Pharmacy 1917-1918 and then at the Thomasson
Charles D Devno ran the business (still known as the
Thomasson Drugstore, apparently apparently because of the name’s
strong reputation) for six years until he died in 1924. His parents,
who still owned the building, kept ownership of the business but
brought in Arthur F. Nadeau, a second generation French-Canadian, to
be the pharmacist.
Flanagan Drug Store in 1940
In 1929, second generation
Irishman Francis M. Flanagan took over the
business, with his brother Edward C. clerking for
him. Their father, Peter Flanagan, had arrived in
the United States in 1880 and spent most of his
life in a skilled position as a machinist for
Lowell’s largest machine shops.
Francis was born
in 1892 and he first appears clerking at the F&E
Bailey Pharmacy from 1913-1918. From 1920-1928 he
held a variety of jobs. He was a laborer in a
steel company, a salesman, back in a drug store
for one year (the Liggett Pharmacy), worked as a
clerk in a machine shop (same place his father
worked), and in sales again. After taking over the
Thomasson store, he finally changed its name and
the Flanagan Pharmacy had a long, successful run.
He finally sold it in 1957 to Paul E. and Theresa
M Bernard who continued business as Bernard’s
Pharmacy. After eight-four years as a pharmacy,
the building was sold in 1973, to Eurico E. and
Gabriela Duarte, who opened the Casa Portugal