557 Central Street
  Focus: Anders Thomasson

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  Drugstore
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  French-Canadian
  Irish
  Swedish
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Anders Thomasson business data
Anders Thomasson personal data
Frans Braconier business data
Frans Braconier personal data
Johan August Ekengren business data
Johan August Ekengren personal data
Francis M Flanagan business data
Francis M Flanagan personal data
Hilding C Petersson business data
Hilding C Petersson personal data

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.

Photograph of 557 Central Street

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 mills.  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.
Newspaper clipping of photograph of Anders Thomasson
Anders Thomasson

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 children.

 

Prescription and pill bottleUnable 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 drugstores.)

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.

Newspaper clipping of Amykos advertisement

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 textile worker.

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

Clip art of man playing an organThomasson’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 store.

Petersson’s wife, Amelia, purchased the two-family house and attached pharmacy and Hilding ran the business.  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 1918.

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.”

Because the 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. 

Devno’s Brother, Frederick L, started as a baker but worked for Charles D first at the Pawtucket Pharmacy 1917-1918 and then at the Thomasson Pharmacy, 1919-1924.

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.
 

Newspaper photograph of Frank M Flanagan Newspaper clipping of photograph of Flanagan's store in 1940

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 Restaurant.