A few weeks ago, as I was finishing up a road trip through the South, I took a side trip, the kind my father would suddenly announce when we were growing up, eliciting a series of deep groans from the backseat. But I was traveling alone, so without any protests I veered off Interstate 40 and headed up on an angle through Henry County to Paris, Tennessee.
My interest in Paris had nothing to do with the replica 60-foot Eiffel Tower erected in Memorial Park or their proudly proclaimed “World’s Biggest Fish Fry” held each April. The town had been surveyed in 1822, with streets carefully planned, branching out from all four sides of the town square, in the midst of which now stands the latest in a series of county courthouses.
In 1874 a young man fresh out of pharmacy school in Memphis had taken the train to Paris for an interview with Dr. Samuel Caldwell, a battlefield surgeon in the Civil War who had been captured by Union raiders and taken to Camp Douglas, Illinois, where he cared for other Confederate prisoners. After the war, Dr. Caldwell had returned to his hometown of Paris, where he started a small pharmacy, but by 1874 he was ready to tend to his thoroughbred horses and leave the daily duties of the pharmacy to a younger man.
Edwin W. Grove turned out to be the energetic young man Dr. Caldwell had been looking for, and within a few years had bought the business and renamed it Grove’s Pharmacy. The young man with a bright future married the most beautiful woman in the county, Mary Louisa Moore, and they soon had two daughters, Irma and Evelyn.
Deadly malaria, the most potent killer in the South, robbed the young couple of their daughter Irma and, quite possibly, Mary Louisa herself as well. For several years Edwin Grove raised his daughter Evelyn alone in their stately brick house a short walk from the town square, while perfecting his new formula for Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, destined to become the most popular preventative for malaria in the South.
Grove, his second wife and his daughter Evelyn eventually moved to St. Louis, where he built a sprawling factory and warehouse near the Union Railway Station, but he never forgot his friends in Paris. Any young man who ventured as far west as St. Louis could get a job with Dr. Grove, as the townspeople liked calling him. When the Presbyterian Church needed money for a remodeling, he provided it. When the town needed a high school, he built it. And before he died in Asheville in 1927, he had made plans to be buried in his family plot next to Mary Louisa and their daughter Irma.
As I wandered about the town square late that afternoon, I could still identify the second and third floor facades of what had been Grove’s Pharmacy. A few blocks away I found his house, now carefully restored and maintained, but with no historical marker in front of either building.
I walked out to the original town cemetery just east of the square. Replaced by a larger cemetery a mile away, it didn’t appear that any graves had been dug there in several years. A large historical marker in the wrought-iron fence paid homage to Edwin Wiley Grove and his contributions to Paris and his famous Grove Park Inn overlooking Asheville.
The Grove family plot, like the entire cemetery, was well-tended, and his flat gravestone, nestled between his two wives, was still easy to read. Not far away was the grave of Dr. Caldwell, and those of Oscar Barton, John Atkins, Albert Duncan and William Musselman, men who had wisely invested in Grove’s Paris Medicine Company in those early years and, as a result, had become some of the richest men in town.
As I was leaving Paris I stopped in at a small antiques shop, where I found a couple of advertising brochures and an empty bottle of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic for sale.
“Much interest in Grove memorabilia?” I asked the owner.
“Used to be,” he replied, “but not anymore.”
“Nowadays,” he explained, “nobody knows who he was.”
Until next Monday,
Have a great week!