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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

A DRUG STORE CENTENNIAL

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Small-town family drug stores with soda fountains are among our vanishing East Texas landmarks.

But you'll be pleased to know that at least one, the San Augustine Drug Store, will in May celebrate a hundred years of doing business at the same location in downtown San Augustine.

And one of the reasons it has endured is a fountain drink known by the sinister name of "The Grapefruit Highball."

Pharmacist Alonzo Rushing opened the drug store on East Columbia Street in 1904. Among Rushing's employees was a young soda jerk named John Tower, who became the first Republican to serve in the United States Senate. At the time, young Tower was the son of Methodist minister Joe Z. Tower of San Augustine, a brother of Kate Rushing.

Brothers Ace and Alonzo Rushing operated the store until they sold it to Casey Jones, who had also launched his pharmacy career working at the soda fountain in the l920s.

While mixing up soda drinks, Jones came up with the Grapefruit Highball, a delightful mixture of ingredients that have remained secret to this day. When Jones decided to retire, he sold the drug store to Therman Bridges. Following in her father's footsteps, Debbie Bridges became a pharmacist, married fellow pharmacist Mike Jackson, and they took over the store in 1990.


While the drug store and its fountain have remained in the same location since l904, today's store is much different. The original store, a landmark in San Augustine, burned in July of 1988, but was rebuilt on the same ground.

The fire, unfortunately, claimed several pieces of local history -- the pharmacy licenses of the Rushing family and Casey Jones. The Bridges and Jackson licenses were salvaged.

Presumably, the recipe for the Grapefruit Highball -- which, by the way, is a non-alcoholic drink -- survived, too. It has been made continuously since Casey invented it in 1928.

Each first-time customer to the drug store gets a free Highball, served straight from the soda fountain in a glass cowboy boot. At a recent convention of the East Texas Historical Association, which was held on East Columbia Street, hundreds of free Highballs were dished out.


The soda fountain, which still produces many of the drinks drug stores were famous for in the l940s and l950s, remains a gathering place for the town's coffee drinkers and the best corner in town for catching up on San Augustine's latest gossip.

Ed Clark, the late ambassador to Australia, and Ben Ramsey, a former Texas lieutenant governor, were among those who frequented the stores. Both maintained homes in San Augustine.

When office-seekers came to town to see Clark and Ramsey -- two venerable titans of Texas politics -- they often shared cups of coffee and, presumably, Grapefruit Highballs at the drug store's soda fountain.


In May, Mike and Debbie Jackson and son Tyler, who also works in the store, will throw open their doors to a centennial celebration. They plan to close a portion of East Columbia Street, invite their customers to a barbecue, and do a lot of remembering. And perhaps a few Grapefruit Highballs.
All Things Historical >
April 27, 2004
Published with permission
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former Association president and the author of 30 books about East Texas.
 
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