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SIGN OF THE TIMES: This sign for the old Hill & Allen's Drug Store was probably displayed about a century ago in La Grande's Old Town. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
SIGN OF THE TIMES: This sign for the old Hill & Allen's Drug Store was probably displayed about a century ago in La Grande's Old Town. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

It is an intriguing relic from La Grande's past, perhaps the oldest advertising sign in town.

The wooden placard is an advertisement for the old Hill & Allen's Drug Store in La Grande. The sign was discovered several years ago in La Grande and may someday be displayed in a museum.

"It is an early version of the billboard," said La Grande historian and former Eastern Oregon University librarian Jack Evans.

"It probably dates from around 1899, when Hill & Allen had just opened for business and were letting the public know about their services,'' Evans said.

The drug store was owned by Albert Thomas Hill and Orion V. Allen. Their sign says "Get Your Perscriptions Filled (at) Hill & Allen's Drug Store-La Grande.'' The words appear to have been painted on the sign. The misspelling of prescription is surprising considering the meticulous and decorative way the sign was painted.

Evans believes that their sign was posted in the Old Town area in southwest La Grande in the late 1890s. The sign directed customers to the Hill & Allen's Drug Store on Adams Avenue.

Old Town extended from A Avenue to about F Avenue and from First to Fourth streets. The section was the heart of

La Grande from the mid 1860s until 1884 when the railroad came to town. Until then, most of the town's businesses were located in Old Town.

After the railroad arrived, almost all of La Grande's businesses moved to the Jefferson and Adams avenue area, which became known as New Town, Evans said.

The Hill and Allen's Drug Store sign was discovered several years ago by the late Leo Walters.

Walters found the sign in the window of an attic of a home at 91 Oak St. The back of the sign faced outside, allowing the front of the sign to remain protected from the elements. Walters had purchased the house and soon tore it down and built a new home. Walters, who died in March, kept the sign there.

The sign will be given to a museum as a tribute to Walters, a family member said.

The Hill & Allen Drug Store was at 1210 Adams Ave., where McGlasson's Stationery is today. The building was built after an 1891 fire that destroyed several downtown blocks. The building probably went up between 1892 and 1898, Evans said.

The building was designed by local architect Calvin Thornton to serve as a drug store. The first business in it apparently was the Hill & Allen's Drug Store. Hill and Allen are listed as partners in La Grande's 1899 directory and in the 1902 Illustrated History of Union and Wallowa Counties. By 1903, however, the partnership had tended and the business was known as Hill's Drug Store, Evans said. The store operated for about another 24 years, according to Hill's obituary. Hill was born Jan. 27, 1869, in Rush County, Ind. He died April 17, 1946, and is buried in Portland.

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