In the Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine, there is a small wooden armchair. At first glance it’s simply a nice little chair, relatively decorative, nothing terribly special. A closer inspection, however, shows that the chair is in fact braced, wired, glued, taped, screwed and nailed to within an inch of its life. Even one of the old rubber feet has been wired into place. Someone, clearly, loved this little chair, and wanted it to last as long as possible.

It was in fact the favorite chair of Robert William “Doc” Vinson, who ran Vinson’s Drug Store in downtown Rockville from 1900 until his death in 1958. The damage, repairs, and rubber feet all date from the chair’s life in the pharmacy. An August 8, 1957 article in the Montgomery County Sentinel described it as “perhaps the most used piece [in the drug store], an old spoke-back chair, reinforced by wire. Under the occupant’s right leg is a scooped out place made by Doc’s left shoe. He hikes up his left leg and tucks it under the right leg for comfort. This would seem like a difficult exercise for a man as old as Doc, but he performs it still with ease.” (At the time, Mr. Vinson was 85 years old.)

“Doc” or “Willie” Vinson (1872-1958) was one of six children born to Frances Rachel Prout and Judge John T. Vinson of Rockville; his twin brother, Richard Bowie Vinson, died in 1905. “Doc” was not a doctor. He never married (“Just too slow I guess,” he joked to a reporter in 1949) and lived all his life in his childhood home* along with his unmarried siblings Nannie and Thomas. He started working at the town pharmacy in 1900, and by 1911 he had purchased both the business and the building, renaming it Vinson’s Drug Store.

*The Vinson home, torn down in 1961, was replaced with the Rockville Library and Vinson Park (at East Jefferson and Maryland); the library and park were themselves replaced last year, with the new District Courthouse.  This image of the Vinson house was taken around 1890.

Much of the store’s interior stayed exactly the same throughout the years; Mr. Vinson was notorious for neither updating his décor nor cleaning out old stock, even as more modern pharmacies moved into the city. On March 25, 1957 the Washington Star reported that “until his nephew, Rockville real estate man J. Vinson Peter, cleaned it out a few weeks ago, the back room in Mr. Willy’s store was crammed with forgotten herbs and drugs in dust-wrapped bottles.” The store was built in the 1880s, and had previously been owned and/or operated by several men, including D.F. Owens and E.T. Fearon; much of the stock found in the store when it closed in 1958 came from those two gentlemen. Mr. Vinson’s extended family donated some of those items (including the beloved chair) to the Historical Society; other pieces, including the 1914 soda fountain, were given to Peerless Rockville. You can see Doc’s chair, one of his glass display cabinets, and many bottles and tools from the old store in our own Stonestreet Museum, and the soda fountain has been installed in one of the first-floor meeting rooms of the Rockville Memorial Library.

This photo from the March 25, 1957 Star article shows the chair in situ, rubber feet and all, in the drug store.  (I swear it’s there – right above the floor grate.)

And here’s Mr. Vinson himself, shown in the doorway of his store, circa 1950s.  This photo, and the chair itself, were donated by Thomas and George Anderson, Mr. Vinson’s great-nephews.

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