The Savannah Pharmacy was started by the Lee Chemical Company, of Albany, GA, around 1907. In 1914, Dr. Walter E. Moody and Dr. Joseph Earl Fonvielle, a native of North Carolina and graduate of Howard University Pharmacy School, purchased the business from the Lee Chemical Company with the help of a loan from the Wage Earners Bank.
Doctors Moody and Fonvielle ran a very successful pharmacy business serving Savannah’s African American community from the main branch at 719 West Broad Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) and smaller stores on Fahm Street, Randolph Street, West Bay Street, and Augusta Avenue. Their compounded medicines, including a cure all called “Yamacraw Chill Tonic” and the patented cold medicine “Long Ease,” were highly sought after.
Following the death of Dr. Moody in 1942, the Fonvielle family assumed full control of the Pharmacy. Dr. J. Earl Fonvielle’s wife, Lillian, and three children, William Earl Sr., Reginald and Frances, all helped out as clerks, managers, and pharmacists. From 1955 until her death in 1998, Frances Fonvielle served as president of the Pharmacy. She is considered an African American female pioneer in the pharmaceutical field.
During the early 1960s, Urban Renewal projects and the construction of Interstate 16 forced the clearing of the 600 and 700 blocks of the west side of West Broad Street. The Savannah Pharmacy, forced to relocate, closed its doors at 719 West Broad in 1963 in reopened in 1964 at 916 West Broad. The new $75,000 two story office building, known as the Fonvielle Office Building, was built by Frances Fonvielle, designed by architect Eugene Allen Maxwell, constructed by local contractor Boise Goldwire, and financed by the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company.
After its relocation in the 1960s, the Savannah Pharmacy suffered a slow decline as a result of the desegregation of local businesses, emergence of national chain drug stores and discount stores, and the general decline of West Broad Street. Third generation owner William Earl Fonvielle, Jr., known as Earl or “Bunk,” kept the business open as long as he could, wanting to provide a community pharmacy.
At the time of its closing in 2007, the Savannah Pharmacy was the second oldest continuously operating, black owned business in Savannah (93 years), and the only black owned pharmacy in the city. The City of Savannah purchased the Fonvielle Office Building in 2009. In 2011, renovation of the building into new offices for the Economic Development department began.
For more information about the history of the Savannah Pharmacy, Fonvielle Family, and the Fonvielle Office Building see:
THE SAVANNAH PHARMACY, 1914 -2007; A brief history of the Savannah Pharmacy business, properties, and owners. Prepared by L. Spracher, City of Savannah, Research Library & Municipal Archives, December 2009.