BOLIVAR, Mo. — Sitting three stories tall with a wraparound porch, you’d never guess the stately Victorian-style house at 605 East Broadway has distant ties to a well-known brand of antacid.
Currently up for sale, the house underwent major renovation in the 1990s. Electrical and plumbing systems were replaced and upgraded. Many of the light fixtures in the home were originally gas chandeliers and wall sconces that were converted to electric.
Even with updates, the home retains original features from the late 1880s. Built in 1885, the house has oak hardwood floors throughout, wainscoting in the dining room and stained glass surrounding the windows in the main living spaces on the first floor.
The kitchen cabinets are handmade and Victorian style. Previous owners opted for a roll-around island that can be moved wherever needed, rather than remove or block the existing, original windows.
While pieces of its history still live inside, the history of the family who lived at 605 East Broadway wasn’t as clear.
In searching for information about the home, OzarksFirst contacted the Historical Society of Polk County.
Jean Pufahl Vincent, a representative of the HSPC, said the house was built by J. B. Upton. However, she said any information she had about J.B. Upton’s life would be a guess.
Vincent believed J. B. Upton was a pharmacist. But according to information provided by the sellers of the property, the story goes that J.B. Upton and his nephew created the well-known antacid TUMS.
Initial searches of newspaper archives uncovered several mentions of J.B. Upton as a political candidate and attorney in the 1870s and 1880s – not a pharmacist.
So, who was J.B. Upton?
Based on census data, J.B. Upton’s first name was Joseph and he was born in New York. His parents were George and Elizabeth Upton and J.B. was one of seven children.
George and Elizabeth immigrated to the United States from England. In 1850, just after J.B. was born, they were living in New York. Ten years later, the family was living in Vernon County and by 1870, J.B. is living in Cedar County, working as a lawyer.
Newspaper archives reveal J.B. is involved in politics by this time, attending an event called the “Radical Congressional Convention” in Marshfield in August 1870.
J.B. married Nancy M. Gravely in September 1872. Gravely was the daughter of a former Lieutenant Governor. The couple had four of their children before the house on Broadway was built – daughter Mattie, son Joseph, son George and son Ernest. Later, they would add three more sons – Jessie, Eugene and Maynard.
For at least the next 20 years, J.B. would be documented in the press as a tour-de-force in the courtroom, in the statehouse and behind a podium. According to one obituary, he served Polk County in the House of Representatives from 1880 to 1882 and would be nominated for governor in 1892. He was sometimes described as a “stalwart Republican,” and regularly considered a skilled orator.
After his political career was over, J.B. was the editor of the Bolivar Free Press for several years. When his health began to decline, he retired from being a lawyer and then served as postmaster Brookfield, Missouri until his death in 1902.
While J.B. Upton’s life was characterized by public service, there’s no evidence he was ever a pharmacist. His son is a different story.
The Upton pharmacist (who didn’t invent TUMS)
George Mark Upton was born in 1879. He married Corda Martin in July 1900 and later had two daughters, Elizabeth and Wilhelmina. Their family would later reside in the house at 605 East Broadway after J.B.’s death.
George’s obituary mentions that he owned the City Drug company in Bolivar and is listed in 1910 census records as a druggist. His draft card from 1917 lists the address on Broadway in Bolivar, while newspaper archives reveal that George purchased the local drugstore in 1895 and later took his state pharmacy board exam in January 1900.
Despite being a pharmacist, George didn’t invent TUMS either.
When George purchased the drugstore, a newspaper article announced the sale, but didn’t mention who he purchased it from.
Newspaper ads from the 1870s call the same business Lewis and Odor’s City Drug Store and later A.H. Lewis’s City Drug Store. A full-page ad in the Springfield News-Leader from 1895 says a medicine called “Nature’s Remedy” was manufactured by the A.H. Lewis Medicine Company in Bolivar.
A.H. Lewis relocated to St. Louis in the early 1900s and continued his work as a pharmacist. After his death in 1928, one article says half of his estate was left to a nephew named James H. Howe.
Howe would become the president of Lewis-Howe Co. (previously known as the A.H. Lewis Medicine Company), which manufactured TUMS antacid. The TUMS website says the heartburn relief medicine was created by pharmacist Howe in 1928 to treat his wife’s indigestion. It was introduced to the masses in 1930.
The product is still manufactured in St. Louis, Missouri, in a facility that churns out 99 percent of the six billion tablets sold annually.