Ben F. Davis (1862-1933), druggist

Ben F. Davis House

c. 1900 - Ben F. Davis House – 150 Portland Street

This house is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. Though the owner of this house was named Benjamin Franklin Davis, he went by Ben F. Davis, and was sometimes known as Ben Frank. He lived from April 17, 1862 to February 1, 1933, and ran a drugstore on the Central Square of downtown South Berwick.

Given the same name as an uncle Benjamin F. Davis born in 1829 who died in the Civil War, Ben F. Davis was filling prescriptions as early as 1882. Historian Jennie de R. Ricker wrote, in her essay “Pages from the Past,” about the early 1900s when the Davis store was still in existence. She said, “The Davis Drug was established April 27, 1889, by Ben F. Davis, first in the store now occupied by Flynn’s Market and later in its present location.” The former location may be the one shown in the downtown South Berwick map below. (Flynns Market moved there in the 1920s after some years at the south end of the block.)

At the turn of the century, Davis Drug was listed as the local ticket outlet for the trolley system, the Portsmouth, Dover and York Street Railway, later part of the Atlantic Shore Line.

At left is a Davis drugstore advertisement that appeared in the Town Report of South Berwick in 1920.

A similar ad in 1900 for Davis’ Sarsaparilla and Celery Blood Purifier and Nerve Tonic stated:

"We do not claim to have a Medicine that will cure everybody of every kind of disease, but we do claim to have a medicine that if you are troubled with Nervousness, Kidney and Liver Complaint, Nervous Prostration, Sleeplessness, Poor Blood, or want a general Blood Purifier and Nerve Tonic, we have got as good a preparation as can be made, and you will see a marked improvement in your general condition from the first bottle.

This preparation is prepared from Sarsaparilla, Celery, and other vegetable substances. We have made a careful study of their action on the system and know we have a good combination. A trial will convince you. Full directions on bottle.
    Prepared by Davis, the Druggist, South Berwick, Maine."

A prescription for herbal “Green Salve” written on a Davis Drugstore prescription slip is in the Old Berwick Historical Society archives. The recipe, perhaps intended to relieve itching or pain, calls for:
    5 lbs Rosin
    1⁄4 lb Begunda Pitch
    1⁄4 lb mutton tallow
    1⁄4 lb Bees Wax
    Oil Hemlock
    Fir Balsam
    Oil originan Red Cedar
    Venice Turpentine
    1 oz oil wormwood
    1⁄2 oz verdigris

At right, the Davis Drug Store entry in the centennial parade on Portland Street, probably 1914, in front of Burleigh House and Currier House. Shown from left are Charles Davis in top hat, his wife, Mrs. Ben Davis, and Flossie Smith.

Ben F. Davis’s wife, Lida L. Davis, was born October 12, 1868. Her maiden name was Lida C. Libby, and they were married in Dover, NH, on June 20, 1888. Whether she was related to the Mark Libby (Libbey) family of Portland Street, South Berwick, is unknown. After Ben Frank Davis's death in 1933, Lida Davis owned the house until she died on September 20, 1959.

Their son, Frederic, born June 27, 1889, would have been about 11 when the family built their Portland Street house, and attended the grammar school that stood on Goodwin Street at the later site of South Berwick Veterinary Hospital. Fred graduated from Berwick Academy in 1907. He died April 8, 1959.
Goodwin Street School

Ben F. Davis served on the South Berwick School Committee that built Central School in 1926.

Ad from the Salmon Falls-South Berwick Independent of July 25, 1901

He also was the publisher of postcards of South Berwick scenes, including this one of Main Street.

Ben F. Davis was the son of tinsmith Joseph Porter Davis, whose father, tinsmith Richard Davis, had a father named Benjamin. Joseph married Cylinda H. Lord in 1856. That same year they had had a son they named Benjamin F. Davis, who died when he was only about two years old. The grave stone at Portland Street Cemetery says Benjamin F. Davis (1856-1858), age 2, was the “only child” of Joseph P. Davis. Ben Frank Davis was born in 1862, just months before his uncle, Benjamin Franklin Davis, another son of Richard Davis and a Union soldier, died in Washington D. C. His name is on the Soldiers Monument and his grave at Portland Street Cemetery.

The great downtown Fire of 1870 was said by some to have originated in Joseph P. Davis’s tin shop. After the fire, Davis re-established his store in the reconstructed Business Block in 1872 and sold tinware and stoves. For a time he served as South Berwick’s postmaster.

This Davis tin funnel in the collection of the Counting House Museum was donated by Linwood Davis, a descendant of Joseph P. Davis.

Ad from the Cornucopia newspaper, South Berwick, 1871.


(Summary by Wendy Pirsig from the collections of the Counting House Museum.  Updated December 2020.)