Peter Van Vleet - Van Vleet-Mansfield Drugs,

...the Van Vleet Mansion and old Tech High School  



Memphis was once the fundamental leader in the wholesale drug market and took great pride in being the home to Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co., one of the largest drug firms in the United States, The name of this firm became a household word throughout the South.  Peter Van Vleet, president of the company, was the guiding spirit behind the name.  He was born in Michigan in 1849 and came to Memphis in 1871 and became a successful man in every undertaking.  His life was a series of successes, which culminated in the Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. 


Peter P. Van Vleet was raised in a well-respected Michigan family and completed his education at Kalamazoo College. Leaving Michigan in 1871, he headed south toward Charleston, South Carolina.  His boat made a stop in Memphis and Van Vleet was facininated by its charm and immediately recognized the great potential of the city.  He decided to call it home.   After working  as a drug clerk for fourteen years, Van Vleet established his own wholesale drug firm called Van Vleet & Co. in 1884.   He enjoyed 10 prosperous years of business and then merged with three local wholesale drug companies and established the Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. around 1895.  He created this colossal pattern of success through  his guidance and by his service-driven attitude.  The result was one of the largest and most progressive wholesale drug companies in the country. 



Click on small photos to see an enlargement 


Van Vleet & Company is listed in the 1886 Memphis Directories at 361 Main - almost next door to the Mansfield Drug Co.  That listing continues until 1894.  In 1895 the listing changes to Van Vleet-Mansfield and the address changes to 322-324 Main (The re-numbering of Main Street changed the address to 48-54 S. Main in 1905).  This is the address where the Pantages-Warners Theatre will be built in 1920.  The Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug company remains at this address until they move to their new building at Second and Gayoso in 1917. 


   Van Vleet Drugs ...48-54 S. Main

Peter Van Vleet

Van Vleet 1910s Van Vleet 1910s Van Vleet 1906


The Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Company occupied the entire 6 floors of the 48-54 S. Main Street building.  There were 175 full-time employees.  In addition the company maintained a warehouse on Monroe.  It was a major Memphis business.

Van Vleet & Co Envelope 1889        

Van Vleet-Mansfield 1899 Van-Vleet-Mansfield 1927

Samuel Mansfield began as an apothecary in Memphis in 1840.  Around 1870 he entered into partnership with Hugh H. Higbee to manufacture proprietary medicines. These included Mansfield's Hungarian Balsam for the Lungs, Mansfield's Eclectic Pile Salve and Mansfield's Mississippi Diarrohea Cordial, among others.  The major product sold by Mansfield's Company was the "La Creole" line of hair dressings.  This preparation was originally called the "Louisiana Creole Hair Restorer". 

Around 1894 Mansfield's company was acquired by Van Vleet Drugs and the La Creole products became a major line for the Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. and they registered a Trade-Mark for "La Creole" in 1907.   >


La Creole

La Creole Products La Creole Tray La Creole Ad 1919 La Creole Ad 1920

All Van Vleet products and advertising are very collectible today.

Jug    Mercury Bottle Drug Bottle Drug Bottle Various Hair Dye Products

Compact 1900

Hard Candy

Hair Dressing

1919 Ad

Tape Measure


Chickasaw Syringe Box La Creole Van Vleet Spoons 1916 Rendering Paperweight

1889 Receipt 1922 History Bottle La Creole ad Femenina ad Chill Cure ad

La Creole 1919  

The Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. built their new building on the corner of Second and Gayoso and moved in upon its completion in 1917.   The company merged with McKesson-Robbins around 1929 and the new company continued to use the building until the 1980s.

For the last 30 years the Van-Vleet building was home to The Fulmer Companies headquarters and distribution center. This historic building has very recently been completely renovated into a mixed-use facility with 60 loft apartments and 15,000 sq ft of commercial space.  It's new name is "Van Vleet Flats".


Van Vleet Flats - today

More Van Vleet-Mansfield memorabilia ...

Postcard of Building Magazine String Holder 1888 Invoice 1888 Invoice

1853 Mansfield Ad

1904 Invoice

1901 Ad

Mansfield 1887

Mansfield 1861

M.  1860

Magazine Article



<   The Van Vleet Company published this miniature 2 1/4" x 2 3/4" book of "Gentleman Jim".  It's very rare to find one of these still around.  The last two pages are advertising.



0 - 1

2 - 3


4 - 5 6 - 7 8 - 9 10 -11 12 -13 14 - 15 16 - 17 18 - 19

20 - 21 22 - 23 24 - 25 26  - 27 28 - 29 30 - 31 32 - 33 34 -35

<  Peter Van Vleet and his wife Ramelle lived in a beautiful Memphis home at 1266 Poplar Avenue.  The home was called "Chetolah", a native American name, meaning "this peaceful place".  Here they raised their 2 daughters and son and continued to travel around the world.   The home had been originally built in 1856 by Q. C. Atkinson, and after several other owners, it and the 20 acres were sold by W. A. Williams to Peter Van Vleet for $30,000.   The Van Vleet's added a grand ballroom off the foyer along with modern improvements and decorated the home in the modern style.

The home was Greek Revival design with 4 grand Corinthian columns and a portico.  There were large greenhouses out back with exotic tropical plants and a huge curved stone bench which the Van Vleet's had purchased overseas.  In addition, they had  also brought back many other massive treasures from their travels around the world.    The home was surrounded by a brick wall with wrought iron entry gates at the East and West corners.  The gates were guarded by large stone lions brought back from the Van Vleet's travels.  A driveway curving to the front of the house, connected the two entry gates.



Entry Gates - Lions 1909

Peter Van Vleet died in 1915 and  Mrs. Van Vleet sold the mansion and the 20 acres to the City of Memphis in 1926, for the sum of $90,000.   It was to be used as a site for the new Memphis Technical High School.   After many years in the old "Castle building" on Poplar, Old Tech moved to its new quarters in 1928.  The architect had incorporated into his design the same 4 Corinthian columns and portico, and the same brick entry gates with those stone lions guarding the gate.

Tech 1945

Tech 1930

Tech Entry Gates - Lions1928      

< In 1926 the Memphis School Board signed this "Guarantee" to pay to the heirs of Peter Van Vleet the sum of $90,000 for the tract of land on Poplar where the old Tech High building is now located.  The school board also paid an additional $470 for this "Guarantee".   The 1926 Commercial Appeal article on the right verifies the sale at $90,000 >

1926 Guarantee

1926 Guarantee


Commercial Appeal 1926

The Tech building today

Two giant urns and that curved stone bench - today

An entry gate today

  What happened to the stone lion sculptures? 

They were donated to the Memphis Zoo many years ago and are still there.  Originally they were part of the zoo's entry gate, but as the zoo enlarged, they are now located inside.

The Tech Lions at the Zoo.  
Update March 2017:  Email from Ray Gill of Gill Properties Inc.

"...the columns, balcony, door and window accents that are on my house ... came from the Van Vleet house on Poplar.  My mother's father Cordra York built (my) house and I understand he bought the columns, etc ... when the city tore down the Van Vleet house.  He stored them for several years until he built the house I live in ... on Yorkshire ... in 1939."  *

     Ray Gill  


The front columns are easily recognizable, as are the door and window accents - the balcony, not so easy.  Mr. Gill states that the columns are hollow and made of wood with iron trim.  He has climbed into the portico attic to look down into the columns to verify that they are hollow.  For more information about the Gill Home, read the Memphis Magazine article >

*  Thank you Mr. Gill for this important footnote of historic information and for your photos.

Peter Van Vleet died in 1915 of a heart attack.  He was 66 and was interred in the family mausoleum at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis.  His son McKay Van Vleet became President of Van Vleet-Mansfield and continued to run the family business.

Obit Obit -2 Mausoleum Peter's Crypt Ramelle's Crypt

Additional - Related Memorabilia


Van Vleet & Co Envelope 1894

Pharmaceutical Magazine 1915

Van Vleet & Co Envelope 1890   


<  In 1871 the Mansfield-Higbee Company ordered a private Die Stamp and issued stamps in pairs and in sets of four.  The total number of stamps issued until 1875 was 1,354,100, all on silk paper. 

When the company name changed to Samuel Mansfield, the name changed on the stamps.  Look carefully or you'll miss the name change.  All of these stamps are very collectible.


S. Mansfield & Co  

When Q. C. Atkinson built this mansion in 1856, it was a common practice in Memphis during this period for architects to build additional homes from the same design.   In addition to the Atkinson mansion, he also built four other models.  We have no other details or photos but the 4 others were on Harbert Avenue - now demolished, The Cherry Home, The Gaston Home in Gaston Park, and the Bethel home in Bethel Grove. 


     Van Vleet Home 1926


   Van Vleet Home 1904

W. D. Bethel Home 1891 Van Vleet Look alike Van Vleet Look alike

The Van Vleet Foundation was created in 1962 by Harriet Smith Van Vleet. She was the widow of McKay Van Vleet, who, with his father, Peter D. Van Vleet, established a major pharmaceutical manufacturing enterprise know today as McKesson Drug Company.  >

The Van Vleet Memorial Doctoral Awards are made possible by the generosity of the Van Vleet Foundation.  The gift to The University of Memphis was made by Harriet Smith Van Vleet. The Van Vleet Memorial Doctoral Awards are designed to assist certain departments in attracting outstanding doctoral students.


Harriet Smith Van Vleet





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