In a number of ways, the world of a hundred years ago or so was much like our own. After all, people have not changed all that much, have they?

In a number of ways, the world of a hundred years ago or so was much like our own. After all, people have not changed all that much, have they?

Well, in some ways they have.

In Columbus in the late 1800s, a traveler from today would probably notice a number of things quite different from our own time. One of them would have been the role of pharmacies.

When we think of a pharmacy today, it is usually a place where we buy prescription drugs and a variety of other related consumer products.

Such was not the case in those days.

Some of us may be old enough to remember when the "drug store" was the place to be. Through much of the 20th century, pharmacies were also meeting places and the extraordinarily elaborate soda fountain was the place where people young and old met to socialize.

At the turn of the century, drug stores were respectable places where "proper people" could meet from time to time over a glass of soda pop.

Such was not always the case. Pharmacies sprang up in most towns and cities across America in the years after the Civil War. They offered a variety of nostrums, patent medicines and personal hygiene items similar to those offered by the pharmacies of today. But they offered other things as well.

It is interesting to note that many of the most prominent political figures in Columbus in the late 1800s were also the owners of pharmacies. And this was true for both political parties, Republican as well as Democrat. They owned these places because a lot of people stopped in from time to time.

They stopped in because the stores, in addition to personal grooming items, also sold a wide variety of alcoholic concoctions and a number of non-prescription painkillers such as laudanum, a formidable mix of opium and grain alcohol in a syrup enhanced by various flavorings and colorings.

Eventually, the sale of alcohol in these places and in hundreds of saloons across the urban landscape drew the attention of people who did not approve of its consumption.

Many Ohioans were strong supporters of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League of America. These groups absolutely detested the consumption of alcohol and any place associated with it.

The pharmacies -- while continuing to sell medicinal products as they always have -- began to search for a new role in the marketplace. In Columbus, one man who helped find that role was Peter Schille.

Born in 1837, Schille had come to America with his parents in 1847. His father engaged in truck gardening and Schille did the same for a number of years. Having married and soon to be the father of nine children, he moved into the grocery business. He later found his future in the manufacture of mineral water and then the production and sale of a variety of flavored soda waters.

Starting in a small building near his home, his success soon led to the construction of a building at 121 E. Main St.

In the words of one account from the time: "His business reached extensive and profitable proportions, becoming one of the most productive industries of the city." Over the years, it was carried on by his children under his name at both the East Main Street location and at another plant on Lazelle Street.

The soft drink products of people such as Peter Schille gave pharmacies, restaurants and local stores an option for their customers that did not offend the temperance sentiments of much of the clientele. Schille and his products were simply in the right place at the right time.

Peter Schille was a longtime member of the Democratic Party but never sought political office or was really all that interested in the political conflicts of his time. Similarly, he was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church but did not involve himself extensively in its affairs.

Business matters were often more directly on his mind.

The clash of cultures between people absolutely opposed to alcohol and those who favored its consumption from time to time raged through much of the 19th century. In the end, it resulted in the Great Experiment of Prohibition and its eventual abolition. Through all of that conflict and social change, Peter Schille and his family continued to sell soft drinks to the thirsty people of central Ohio.

By the time he died in 1886, Peter Schille had established one of the most productive and prosperous non-alcoholic beverage businesses in the city. If Peter Schille could see today what the ever-evolving pharmacy business had become, he would certainly be intrigued

But he probably would not be too surprised.

It is interesting in its own way that the best-remembered member of the Schille family had little to do with making soft drinks.

Alice Schille was one of the best-educated young women of her time. And she was also one of the most talented. An extraordinarily gifted artist, Alice Schille not only shared her work with the world, she also taught and encouraged an entire generation of young Columbus artists to follow her as well.

There are many aspects to the Schille legacy in Columbus and all of them are well worth remembering.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

Ed

Lentz