It was just a tough little mining town with dirt streets and a few board sidewalks when Godfrey Miller rode into the valley and set up his apothecary shop here.
The year was 1764, and Miller's Drug Store is still going strong, which makes it very likely the oldest continuously operated drug store in the country.
And the Miller descendants ran it right up to 1943, and that must be a record too. There are still Millers in Winchester. There have always been Millers in Winchester, beginning with Adam Miller who changed his name from Mueller when he was naturalized in 1741, having lived in the area 15 years by then.
That would place him here even earlier than 1732, when Joost Hite built his homestead and launched Winchester. German immigrants from the Palatinate drifted here, drawn by stories of silver mines, found they were only iron mines, but stayed anyway and worked in them.
Who was Godfrey Miller? One report has him migrating here from Saxony in 1730, settling in Philadelphia and then pushing west. His descendant, Dr. James A. Miller, says Godfrey was a stocking weaver who left Germany in 1763, lived briefly in England where he learned the apothecary trade, and came directly here.
That first shop stood a few blocks south across Loudoun Street from the present site, established by Godrey's grandson, George F. Miller, four years after the old man's death in 1803.
There wasn't a great deal to the drug business in those days. America's first college of pharmacy, in Philadelphia, wasn't to be found until 1821, and the notion of a pharmacist being different from a physician was still an exciting new idea.
Druggists of the day were strong on herbs and barks, caseara, belladonna, castor oil, senna and opium. A few patent medicines found their way over the Blue Eidge, but the new British taxes on molasses and rum and other foods-the grain of sand that would irritate the colonists into starting a revolution-must have hurst trade.
So Miller's, like a lot of other drug stores, branched out into general supplies, from paint to pails. There is a tradition that a stranger dropped in and asked if they had a pulpit in stock, perchance.
Old George F. didn't even blink. He disappeared into the back room and soon returned dragging a large, dusty wooden contraption. "Let's see, that was . . . one pulpit you wanted? And what else today?"
George Washington shopped at Miller's. Gen. Philip Sheridan had prescriptions filled there shortly after his Ride. The town was of course occupied by his troops at the time. Miller's was one of the few stores allowed to remain open for the duration. During the last days of the Civil War, local people brought their Confederate money for trade in such quantities that it had to be stored in barrels.
Some of the antique equipment, by the way, is on exhibit at the George Washington Headquarters here. There are mortars and pestles, beakers and scales and other instruments for rolling pills and measuring powders.
In 1943, with the death of the founder's great-great grandson, Charles Godfrey Miller, the store was sold to the late Garland Spillman. Jack W. Widmyer bought it in 1964, and nine years ago two of his employes, pharmacist Robert H. Allen and Paul E. Berry bought it from him. Allen, a northern New Yorker, has put in a line of surgical equipment and convalescent aids such as crutches and walkers. There are also the usual cosmetics, candies and what used to be called sundries.
"There never was a soda fountain," Allen said. "But the other half of our building is a restaurant. It was a grocery store for years."
Sometimes people eat their lunch on the benches fixed along the pleasant mall developed on this part of Loudoun Street about five years ago.
"We like the mall," Allen added. "This wasn't supposed to be the main street, and it was getting more and more crowded and dirty, with fumes and clogged sewers. At the end they could only get one lane of traffic through there. Now it's just fine."
The preservation society describes it as a two-story, three-bay federal-style brick building with a high-raking parapet, plaster and brick cornice and window sashes that date from the 19th century. It doesn't sound like much.
But Allen will take you back into the supply room and show you the old shutters and the boarded-over brick wall and what must have been the original back door of the place, like the inne mansions of the chambered nautilus, and you can believe then that you're looking at some history.
That's when you begin to get a sense of these early-day farmers riding in from the hills to buy a packet of headache powders, and those dusty people in the Conestoga wagons stopping for some poultice herbs before pushing on through the gap to Ohio and St. Joe and the Great West and the future itself.