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Site of the Month James Pharmacy
2 Pennywise Lane, Old Saybrook, CT 06475

The James Pharmacy building, located at 2 Pennywise Lane in Old Saybrook, was the business and residence of Anna Louise James, Connecticut’s first black female pharmacist; and the birthplace of Harlem Renaissance writer, Ann Petry.

 

Anna Louise James graduated from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in 1908, the only female in the class. In 1909 she became the first African American woman licensed as a pharmacist in Connecticut.  After two years of working in Hartford, she joined her brother-in-law, Peter Lane at his drug store in Old Saybrook . When Lane moved from Old Saybrook, Anna ran the business on her own and in 1922, purchased the property and changed the name to James Pharmacy. Beginning in 1925, she made extensive alterations to the building which included the front doorway and display window in the first floor of the main block, the pharmaceutical motif in the front gable pediment, and the arcaded front extension on the wing. In the interior, her changes included virtually all of the features and equipment in the pharmacy and soda fountain space open to the public.

 

Over the years, while dispensing medicine, serving up treats and offering sage advice, Ms. James became known as a person of great integrity, business acumen, courtesy and warmth. Retiring in 1967, she concluded her 67 year career as a pharmacist. In 1974, the Old Saybrook Veterans of Foreign Wars, bestowed upon her the Citizen of the Year Award for her exemplary service to the community.

 

Ann Lane Petry (1908-1997), Harlem Renaissance writer and first African American woman to have a book sell over a million copies, was born in an apartment above James Pharmacy. At the time, it was known as Lane Drug Store and run by her father, Peter Lane. Actually, Ann’s first career was as a pharmacist. Graduating in 1931 with a degree in pharmacy from the Connecticut College of Pharmacy in New Haven, she joined her father and aunt in the family business. Dividing her time between the family stores in Old Saybrook and Old Lyme, it was expected that Ann would inherit the business. However, in 1938, Ann Lane married George Petry and moved to New York City. 

 

Ann Lane PetryIt was in New York that Ann Lane Petry turned the interest in writing that she had developed in high school into a new career. She began selling ads for the Amsterdam News, moved to reporting for the People’s Voice and wrote short stories for magazines, journals and periodicals. It was her short story “On Saturday, the Sirens at Noon” which appeared in The Crisis, in 1943 that got her a letter alerting her to the competition for the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship. The publishing company offered a stipend to a novelist to finish a promising work that it would publish. Taking time to build a nest egg before devoting all of her time to writing a novel, Petry took a job writing copy for a theatrical wig and hairpiece catalog which paid $2,500. With the $2500 secured, she started writing “The Street.” She submitted an outline and five chapters for the novel to Houghton Mifflin and won the fellowship. In January 1946, “The Street” was published and became the first book by an African American woman to sell over a million copies. The acclaim which followed was overwhelming and Petry and her husband moved back to Old Saybrook for a more quiet existence. She continued to write and in the mid 1980’s when The Street was reissued, received critical acclaim by a new generation of readers and renewed attention by academics.

 

 

Sources:

"Rx: Writing,"  by: Daviid Lander American Legacy Magazine, Winter 2006

"Street Wise" by Garret Condon, Northeast Magazine, The Hartford Courant, 11/8/1992

 "NRHP Inventory-Nomination: James Pharmacy". National Park Service. http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/94000845.pdf. 

 

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