What Sandy Grove liked best about visiting W.R. Rudy’s Country Store & Drugstore Museum in Mount Airy was its look back to the past.
“I just thought it was fascinating,” says Grove of Frederick. “There are so many things that so many people would love to see if they knew it was here.”
Founded and maintained by Gaithersburg-based auctioneer Howard Parzow, the two-story museum site built by druggist W.R. Rudy in 1905 is chock full of remedies, household goods, farm supplies and advertising signs from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“It gave you a feeling of how people lived and what was available to them,” says Grove about the former general store on South Main Street.
Grove visited the museum with part of a group called the Getaway Girls, who get together once per month and go somewhere for a visit and lunch.
Grove says the museum made her think of her father-in-law, who ran a small country store in the Shookstown section of Frederick years ago.
“The men would congregate there and share their stories and had their laughs,” Grove says.
Parzow, now in his 60s, says he began collecting antique advertising after buying an old tobacco tin when he was 21.
“I liked the graphics on the tin, and I got another tin, and then a sign,” says Parzow, who after a while found himself in search of more expensive memorabilia.
“All of a sudden, you go for better things,” says Parzow, who has since filled the two floors of the museum with hundreds of signs.
“Advertising was everywhere,” he says about clocks with company names on them and a chair with the words “Smoke Piedmont” on the back urging people to smoke Piedmont cigarettes.
String holders festooned with company names, slogans and logos also hang from the ceiling in the museum.
Designed to dispense cord for wrapping packages, the string holders also featured advertising, include one with a sign for Hart’s Honey and Horehound Cures.
During his days managing professional services for Giant Food pharmacies, Parzow says he developed a particular interest in pharmaceutical memorabilia.
In the museum is an antique drug counter over which apothecaries would dispense custom-made compounds of roots and barks and other remedies.
On the wall are boxes of livestock remedies, including a box of Dr. Hess Stock Tonic, “a conditioner and worm expeller” for horses, cattle, hogs and sheep.
Apparel also was in demand, and upstairs is a sign for Finck’s Overalls that “Wear Like a Pig’s Nose.” Another sign says, “The Man who Thinks Invests in Finck’s.”
For the women, there also were bolts of fabric, rolls of ribbons and lace and displays of buttons, spools of thread and starched collars and cuffs.
“There was a whole lot more involved with clothes,” says Grove, about the need for many to still make their own.
And then there is food. On shelves are cardboard boxes from 1917 still filled with corn flakes and a wooden crate marked “Niagara Bakery Crackers and Biscuits.”
Food shipped into small towns by rail or wagon was not sealed in wax paper and cardboard, like much of it is now.
Clerks had to pick out the bugs before selling flour-based items, Parzow says.
Also in the museum is a player piano built in 1917 that Parzow had rebuilt in Florida and that still plays 20 songs.
“They were in hotels, saloons and roadside taverns,” he says about what was then a popular form of entertainment.
“People would turn them on to dance,” he says.
Also in the museum is a soda fountain Parzow says also would have been a major draw in a small town.
The one he keeps in the museum is staffed by a mannequin wearing a black derby, white jacket and a starched white collar.
“To call him a soda ‘jerk’ would have been an insult,” says Parzow, who notes fountain clerks dressed up to serve the public.
They served artfully blended mixes of soda, ice cream and flavored Moxie syrups ranging from the classic chocolate and vanilla to the more exotic sarsaparilla, claret and ginger.
Grove says she thinks some of the senior citizens who belong to her church might enjoy a visit, and she plans to suggest it to them.
“I think for a lot of them, it would trigger some things from their childhoods,” she says. “It’s a refreshing thing to go back to that time.”
The soda fountain in particular reminded Grove of simpler days when people in a small town all knew each other.
“There was a sense of community, and you feel that in that building,” she says.