Walking into the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is like walking back in time. Everything in the building is as it was when it opened its doors in the year 1792.
Due to the growth of modern chain drug stores, new food and drug laws, the Depression, and bad financial decisions, the longest running apothecary in the country closed after 140 years in business in 1933.
Even when the family business closed in 1933, the interior structure remained untouched.
The small apothecary museum gives an in-depth look at what a pharmacy looked like in the 18th century. It’s a wonderful presentation and preservation that is geared toward children ages 8 and up.
What to Expect
When my family walked into the Stabler-Leaderbeater Apothecary Museum, the employees kept referring to my child as a “young pharmacist” who probably enjoyed Harry Potter.
While she didn’t want to touch the vial of dragon’s blood, my kiddo enjoyed mixing licorice root using a giant mortar and pestle.
This is definitely a great museum for fans of Harry Potter!
The First Room
The first room still remains the retail portion of the building.
Just some of the neat items for sale here are:
- Nostalgic candy
- Tooth powder
- Herb books for kids
- Science experiments
- Potion bottles
The tour begins here and continues to the next room, dimly lit, to showcase the main retail area for pharmaceuticals.
It was fascinating to see the original glass bottles and labels from Myrrh to Ipecac along with a handwritten letter from Martha Washington requesting a bottle of castor oil to be sent to Mount Vernon.
The Apothecary also served as a general store carrying:
- Mineral water
- And even four flavors of ice cream
Imagine walking in the same structure that was patronized by Robert E. Lee, Nelly Custis, and Union soldiers in search of “hot drops,” a paprika and alcohol lozenge used to relieve a cough.
The Second Floor
The second floor shows two rooms which was the staging or storage area for supplies.
Due to the close proximity of the seaport, drums filled with tree bark, glass, and other manufacturing supplies were lifted by pulley from the first floor to the second.
It was here that the family produced batches of medicines, perfumes, and paints distributed to 500 druggists in the Alexandria and DC areas.
Drawers are filled with different plants and herbs like catnip, unicorn root, lavender, wild carrot tops, and pumice stone.
Drawers labeled with various names of gums refer to the gum used to bind drugs.
The knowledgeable docent informed us that some herbs were returning to the mainstream to treat ailments.
Dextrin, which makes a pill solid, is still being used today. Colchicum seed can treat gout, while poisonous belladonna leaves are used in emergency situations both in the ER and for military operations.
On display, but not available to touch are:
- Weighing scales
- Mortar and pestle
- Various glass bottles
- A cork squeezer
- Pill roller
After school, the families’ children would wash the medicine bottles for 7 cents a day.
There are both self-guided and docent-led tours available.
Self-guided tours are available whenever the museum is open and you are always welcome to ask staff any questions you have.
They also offer 45-minute guided tours which are really fascinating and I highly recommend. These tours begin 15-minutes after the hour beginning at 1pm each day the museum is open.
Programs & Events
One of the most popular events here is the celebration of Harry Potter (& J.K. Rowling’s) birthday on July 31st each year.
On this day they look at the science and medicine that went into the books. There’s lots of good activities and photo opps as well.
Geek Tours are also scheduled that have different themes. You’ll spend extra time in the shop and the labortory as well. This is recommended for adults only as it is a longer tour.
As new events pop-up, they will be posted on the City of Alexandria’s calendar here.
If you only plan on a self-guided tour, admission is ony $5 for adults, $3 for kids ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 5.
If you are a resident of Alexandria, work for Alexandria city or are active duty military, you can get in for free.
On the other hand, if you plan on taking a guided tour (which is recommended for ages 8+), the cost is $8 per person (age 5 and over).
Either admission can only be purchased on-site.
Hours & When to Go
The museum is open for guided tours year round, but closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
The museum is open from:
- 1pm – 5pm on Sundays and Mondays
- 11am – 4pm Wednesday – Friday
- 11am – 5pm Saturdays
The museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Good to Know Before You Go
- The museum does have a gift shop available with lots of items include merchandise around apothecary, tea, kid’s items, books and more
- The 2nd floor of the museum is not wheelchair accessible
- Best to leave strollers in the car
- This is a fun place for a birthday party for ages 7+! Bring Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron to life at the Apothecary Museum. The party includes a tour, activities, and making a special potion
Getting There & Parking
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is located at 105-107 S Fairfax St, Alexandria, VA 22314.
There is metered parking available on S. Fairfax Street, as well as parking garages just steps away. If you plan to be at the museum or in the area for a short period, you can park on residential streets for 2-3 hours depending on the street.
Definitely don’t stay longer than allowed.
The King Street Trolley
For a different experience, we took the free King Street Trolley from the King Street Metro and disembarked at King and Fairfax Streets. The trolley is fun, gives a brief history of landmarks, and allows you to hop on and off at various stops in Old Town.