A demure wooden building in the heart of Portal has been named one of 10 “Places in Peril” by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Portal Drugstore, built in 1907 — a year before the town was incorporated — served as a pharmacy, doctor’s office and soda fountain over the years.
The historic building is in danger of being condemned and demolished if it is deemed a safety or fire hazard by the city, and the Portal Heritage Society hopes that won’t happen.
The Georgia Trust chooses 10 Places in Peril across the state each year to bring attention to them and assist with community interaction and support.
The Portal Drugstore was built by the town’s first doctor.
Dr. James Arthur "J.A." Stewart came to Portal at the urging of friends after graduating from the Medical College of Georgia in 1906. Stewart’s initial practice was just outside Portal, but he moved to “New Portal” when the railroad came through, building his first home there along with the town’s first drugstore.
Affectionately called “Doc,” Stewart was known to do surgery in the back of the drugstore while his wife, Sarah Kitchings Stewart, tended the soda fountain in the front.
“It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I knew he had a name other than Doc,” said Jan Haggins, a Portal resident and Stewart’s granddaughter. “My grandmother — everyone called her Miss Sally — ran the store, dispensed medicines and served Cokes.”
Long-ago patrons received their sodas, only Coke at that time, at the marble fountain decorated with a Tiffany-style lamp and spigots. The revered downtown store was one of the first buildings in Portal with electricity and housed the first Portal telephone, used by the community to make long-distance calls.
Haggins, who also happens to be the president of the Portal Heritage Society, hopes this treasure of history can be saved. Shuttered after Doc Stewart passed away in 1950, the building remains just as it was then, with bygone instruments and medicinal remedies still on the shelves.
In 1990, the Stewart family gave the building and its artifacts, along with the Stewart home, to the Heritage Society. The organization hosted tours for school groups and the community until 2012, when the drugstore was found to be structurally compromised, and tours were discontinued for safety reasons.
Eighty-five-year-old Frances Aaron, a former nurse who currently works at Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home, said she remembers visiting Stewart’s office.
“He brought me into the world, and I used him until I got grown,” she said.
Aaron, like others born during that era, was delivered at home by Doc.
“He delivered all three of my siblings,” Aaron said. “He came out to my house. When he came, we went to my grandmother’s.”
Aaron specifically remembers a chair used in Stewart’s office.
“He sat in a chair that turned,” she said. “I had never seen one before as a child. He pulled teeth, doctored a cold, took care of animals — did a little of it all. It was like a recliner chair, more or less. He sat in it. But, if he looked at your throat or mouth, you sat in there and he stood up.”
Doc served as more than Aaron’s physician. He influenced her career path.
“I remember all those drugs on the shelf, medicines and syringes displayed on the counter behind him. It fascinated me,” she said. “I always said I was going to be a nurse. He took the time to show me all those things.”
Rich in history and treasures, the Portal Drugstore that served as the heartbeat of the community for so many years needs help to stay alive.
“We don’t want to lose our drugstore,” said Jerry Lanigan, vice president of the Portal Heritage Society. “We want to let people know what we’ve got, to preserve part of our history in Portal.”
To find more about the historic treasures Portal offers or to make a donation to the preservation of the drugstore, visit