Back in the early days, drugs were not sold in drug stores because they were dispensed by doctors. Instead, drug stores including Nelson’s sold products like Lydia Pinkham, W.H. Bull’s Herbs & Iron, and Peter’s Headache Tablets. Nelson’s also sold sarsaparilla and their most popular product, ice cream. The ice cream was made in the basement, five gallons at a time, and the same gas engine that turned the dasher also operated the ceiling fans upstairs, so they couldn’t make the ice cream and keep the customers cool at the same time. The ice cream cones, which cost only a nickel, were always a hit especially in the summer months. Nelson’s also sold paint, wallpaper, animal care products, and fruit. With no electricity, the store didn’t have cooling bins and the products weren’t wrapped in cellophane, so the food products were kept in large, glass display cases in order to keep the dust from the unpaved streets off of the products.
In 1918, Arch Nelson was elected County Clerk and he sold the drug store to Gus Ford. Ford kept the “Nelson’s Drug Store” name and operated the business until 1931 when Arch Nelson’s son, Albert Alfonzo “Pont” Nelson, bought back the family business for $1,000 on the auction block at the courthouse. By this time, the store was wired for electricity and Pont Nelson was able to buy the ice cream already made. Pont, also, moved the pot-bellied stove from the back of the store to the front and men would gather around to play checkers and they would often spit on the stove just to hear it sizzle. In the late 1930’s, Pont Nelson became the first person in the county to buy and sell Hallmark Cards when he purchased them off of the back of a truck from the Hallmark Brothers themselves. It has often been told that anytime Pont Nelson sold anything in the store that he had to run next door to the Bank of Benton to make change. With business picking up tremendously in the late-30’s and the store averaging around ten dollars a day in sales (which was big money during the Great Depression), Pont and his wife, Grace Lovett Nelson, needed help running the store. They hired Dan Rudd as their first full time employee. Rudd made six dollars a week and worked from 7am to 11pm. Pont’s father, Arch Nelson, also came back and helped his son on a part-time basis.
By the 1940s, doctors quit dispensing medicine and drug stores began filling prescriptions to fill that void. To get licensed to sell drugs, Pont Nelson enrolled in pharmacy school in Louisville and graduated in 1946. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Nelson’s Drug Store continued to grow and the spot became a popular hangout for many of the townspeople. Pont Nelson continued to run the drug store until his retirement in 1977 when he sold the business to George and Betty Patterson. The Pattersons ran the business until their retirement in 2001. Karen Jones, who is the current owner, purchased the store from the Pattersons and has kept the historic business running for the past eleven years.
For nearly one hundred and fourteen years, Nelson’s Drug Store has been a popular hangout and one of Marshall County’s oldest establishments. With its old fashioned soda fountain and down home service, it is a reminder of simpler and less complicated times. As we say goodbye to Nelson’s Drug Store, we will also be saying goodbye to a special chapter in Marshall County’s history.
History of Marshall County, Kentucky, 1984
Tribune-Courier: Soda Fountain Offers Taste from Yesteryear, September 2001
Tribune-Democrat: History of Nelson’s Drug Store, 1969