Pharmaceutical calling gave way to philatelic one

Published Sep. 21, 2005|Updated Oct. 24, 2005

While operating his all-night drugstore in the early 1930s, pharmacist J.D. Pearce often encountered the bizarre.

"An early citizen in the storm center of a city political war once reported there in the wee small hours with a coat of tar and feathers," the St. Petersburg Times wrote.

In 1911, Pearce established one of the city's first pharmacies. He later evolved the concern into the area's only all-night drugstore. Pearce was later elected mayor, making him and his sibling the only brothers here to assume that office. Amid the Great Depression, Pearce became the city's postmaster. He served nearly 17 years.

"A dignified gentleman of the old school, Pearce has made a fine record," the Times wrote in 1951.

Pearce was born in Fayetteville, N.C., on June 23, 1881. As a boy he vowed to come to Florida after driving mules over the family farm while fighting the Carolina cold. By 1905 at age 24, Pearce had finished his education and had married Lee Ota Morrison. He had four sons and was working at his uncle's grocery store at Hope Mills, N.C.

In 1905, a blaze consumed the grocery and reignited Pearce's Florida dream. He spent the next six years at Fort Myers, De Funiak Springs and Floral City, respectively.

After bringing his family to St. Petersburg, population 6,000, in 1911, Pearce settled at 826 Moffett Ave.

For years he labored at the Red Cross Pharmacy with John Williams, the nephew of founding father J.C. Williams. By 1915, Pearce had a pharmacy at 824 Central Ave. His brother R.S. Pearce helped him establish the Pearce Drug Co. on the north side of Central Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets.

"Life moved along tranquilly," Pearce revealed in an interview. "High moments were fish fries, park meetings and picnics at the beach, reached by boat from the Jungle and Pass-a-Grille."

The brothers opened the city's only all-night pharmacy at 822 Central Ave. in 1924.

"It was a favorite for the newspaper feature writers . . . who delighted to relate stories of unusual events that happened there during the wee hours," the Times wrote. "Often it became a first aid station. People used it as a telephone point to summon help."

While governor of the Chamber of Commerce beginning in 1925, Pearce led a drive to open First Avenue N between Ninth and Capac streets. He helped develop Royal Palm Park with W.L. Tillinghast and George Burnett. After his brother served as mayor from 1924 to 1927, Pearce was elected to the office in 1930.

"The city was broke," said Pearce, who served one term and eventually married three times. "Every bank in which the city had an account was broke. It was touch and go. We had to issue thousands of dollars worth of small certificates to get money to pay employees."

After serving as mayor, Pearce presided over the Merchants Association and the (Franklin) Roosevelt for President Club. By recommendation of state Rep. J. Harden Peterson, Pearce was appointed postmaster by Roosevelt on Jan. 24, 1935.

Pearce fought hard to get a federal building for the city, but the Depression and World War II interfered. The Euclid Station, at 27th Avenue and Ninth Street N, and the Gulfport and St. Pete Beach post offices, however, were the result of his labors. In 1941, Pearce was elected president of the First Congressional District of postmasters.

During Pearce's last year of service in 1951, postal receipts totaled $1.2-million _ an increase of 255 percent over his first year's receipt total of $360,383. He managed 121 postal employees his first year, 397 his last. Airmail leaped from 7,178 pounds to 122,602 pounds under Pearce's reign, an increase of 1,608 percent.

On June 31, 1951, more than 400 postal employees and friends filled the Detroit Hotel to honor Pearce for his near 17 years of government service. The postmaster was awarded a "handsome wristwatch and a U.S. Defense Bond," the press reported.

Pearce filled his retirement with days at home tending his mango and avocado trees. In April 1957, he suffered a stroke. He died five months later at his home at 4734 10th Ave. S. He was 76.

Scott Taylor Hartzell can be reached at