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The Gainsboro History Project

Burrell Pharmacy

Founded in 1893, the Burrell Pharmacy was the earliest Black-owned pharmacy in Southwest Virginia and remained one of the most prominent Black drug stores in the state until its closure in 1917 or 1918. The pharmacy was run by Dr. Isaac David Burrell, a physician who began practicing in Gainsboro in 1893, and his wife, Margaret, who took over operations after Burrell’s death in 1914. The pharmacy served residents around the Gainsboro and wider Roanoke area, and in 1897 the Black-owned newspaper Richmond Planet wrote that Burrell’s drug store was “the largest and best-stocked drug store in the state” owned by a Black man.

Burrell originally set up his pharmacy in Davis Hall at the northwest corner of Gainsboro Road and Patton Avenue, within the 500 block. He later purchased the neighboring Davis Hotel and moved the pharmacy operations there.

Archeological Dig

In 1993, in advance of plans to construct a four-lane road along Gainsboro Road, an archeological dig at the Burrell Pharmacy site was conducted by Preservation Technologies, with funding from the state and the City of Roanoke. The team unearthed nearly 30,000 artifacts from the pharmacy’s lot, including 3,200 bottles that demonstrated the variety of patent medicines sold by Burell. The artifacts also included tobacco, toiletries, soda bottles, and evidence that the pharmacy sold ice cream, revealing that the Burrell Pharmacy was not only a drug store but an important supplier of the material desires of Gainsboro’s residents.

See Also


Barber, M. (n.d.). Excerpts from phase III archaeological mitigation of the Dr. Isaac David Burrell pharmacy site, City of Roanoke, Virginia. Preservation Technologies, Inc. Gainsboro Branch Library Vertical Files, Roanoke, VA, United States.

Barranger, H. (1996, October). Burrell Pharmacy: Roanoke unearths medical heritage. Roanoker Magazine .

Bishop, M. (1993, July 20). Potential artifacts stall construction. The Roanoke Times.

Bishop, M. (1994, March 25). Dig brings old neighborhood back to life. The Roanoke Times.

Blanton, A. (2005). Gainsboro Historic District. National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form. Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Roanoke, VA, National Register, VDHR #128-5762.