San Diego County
THOMAS C. EXTON
Few residents of Oceanside are as well known as Thomas C. Exton, a citizen of marked public spirit and a pioneer druggist, who has here engaged in the one line of business for more than four decades. He was born in Clinton, New Jersey, February 5, 1867, a son of L. A. and Christina C. (Bird) Exton, both now deceased, the latter passing away in 1931. There were four children in the family, two sons and two daughters, and all are living except one of the daughters, who died at Oceanside in 1930.
Thomas C. Exton was reared and educated in his native state and following his graduation from high school took a pharmaceutical course. Early in the decade of the ‘80s he came west with his brother-in-law, Dr. W. V. Nichols, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and after a short stay in Los Angeles they removed to Oceanside, hoping that the climate here would prove of benefit to Mrs. Exton, a sister of Dr. Nichols. The two young men embarked in the drug business, forming what became a lifelong partnership, which was terminated by the death of Dr. Nichols in March, 1931, but the store still operates as Exton & Nichols, which style Mr. Exton says will be retained until he reaches the end of the trail. Dr. Nichols was one of the best loved men in San Diego county, known far and wide for his kindly nature and his ability as a physician. After the death of Mrs. Exton in 1902, a sister of Mr. Exton came to Oceanside to preside over his home, which was also that of Dr. Nichols, who never married. He entertained for his business partner the affection of a brother and theirs was an unusually close and beautiful relationship. Mr. Exton’s home at 1015 Second street is one of the finest in Oceanside and he has always conducted the drug store at the one location—310 Second street. An exceptional pharmacy, it has a most complete prescription and drug department, but the public must go elsewhere for soda fountain service, lunches and other modern innovations, for this is a drug store in the real sense of the term, one of very few institutions of the kind operating in this era. The firm celebrated its fortieth anniversary June 27, 1932, and the following article appeared in the Oceanside Blade-Tribune at that time.
“It was an exciting outlook that day forty years ago when T. C. Exton and the late Dr. W. V. Nichols invested a few dollars and some eastern experience in a drug store in the heart of throbbing Oceanside. And what an interesting four decades it has been, for it was just forty years ago today that two young men fresh from college and a brief business experience cast their lot with the future of this city. Forty years within the same four walls is the history of this drug institution. Forty years of service to northern San Diego county is the meritorious background. Forty years of interest in community affairs is the commendable tribute to Mr. Exton. Such could also be said of the late Dr. Nichols up to his death slightly over a year ago.
“This drug store of nearly a half century ago was purchased from Dr. H. S. Stroud, who had operated the store for four years following its establishment in quarters formerly occupied by a saloon, a dining room and a gambling corner. The front of the building was used for a store, the back for living quarters.
“A drug store of the type equipped by Exton and Nichols was one of the business ‘show places’ of this community of crooked cow paths, no electric lights, cement walks or sanitary convenience. To the west of it was a variety store managed by Mr. and Mrs. George McKay, still of this city.
“On its present location stood the popular harness shop of George Patterson. A little farther up could be found dry goods and notions at I. Isaac Irwin’s. On the corner of Hill and Second streets, in its present location, was that mammoth old First National Bank building, which stood almost alone in the business section of Hill street for so many years. A few houses dotted the territory north of the bank, brush and a crooked wagon trail to Carlsbad could be seen south.
“Across the street from Exton and Nichols was an establishment known as the Goldbaum Brothers general stores. South of it on the corner stood one of the most popular establishments in the village, a typical saloon that the younger generation can only visualize through the movies.
“It was truly a western environment for these two young men, who a short time before had left New Jersey to seek a fortune in the far, mysterious west. But it was an enjoyable environment for them, for the life they had previously gleaned from books now stood out in stark reality. The yells of the cowboys as they jumped, full of ‘firewater,’ to the backs of prancing horses and the salutes of smoking guns—the character of the people—the hundreds of head of cattle that roamed the hills—fascinated these young men.
“Many of the streets in Oceanside, now paved and lined with attractive residences, were then undeveloped country covered with brush. Many a time Mr. Exton has seen wild geese cast a cloud over the city as they flew unhindered south. Hunters would often bring wild ducks by the wagon load to the railroad station for shipment to the city. The San Luis Rey river was truly a hunter’s paradise. Quail were everywhere; rabbits were abundant—all within the present city limits. Merchants coming to their stores early in the morning would often see a coyote scamper through the brush.
“Scintillating, invigorating, fascinating was the life. Mr. Exton managed the store while Dr. Nichols served as the town and country physician. Since this was the only drug store between Santa Ana, Escondido and San Diego, it catered to a large patronage.
“It did not take long for the older inhabitants to recognize the ability of the two newcomers. During his first year here Mr. Exton was selected to fill a vacancy on the city board of trustees, where he served as chairman of the streets and walks committee for two years. During that time he was instrumental in the selection of streets and the planting of palm trees along Hill street, besides clearing and planting trees on many other streets that were then nothing but brush. At the next election Mr. Exton was again chosen as one of the members of the board and acted as its chairman for four years. As the town grew it became advisable to organize a chamber of commerce, in which he became active, and served as a director. At the present time he is vice president of the Oceanside Building and Loan Company.
“Mr. Exton has done his share in building his community. Through these forty years he has not only been a progressive, worth-while citizen, but also played the game square in all his business relations. Because his customers have always found him dependable, honest and conscientious his store has enjoyed a splendid patronage through these forty years. Mr. Exton can be numbered among our Useful Citizens.”
Transcribed 2-8-12 Marilyn R. Pankey.
Source: California of the South Vol. II, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 89-92, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 Marilyn R. Pankey.