CINCINNATI -- They were just three little brothers who played in the wild woods of Boone County, yet when they emerged as Cincinnati men, they became generous philanthropists and leaders in pharmaceutical research and development, professional baseball and, of all things, mushroom development.
The sons of two upstate New York teachers, John Uri, Nelson Ashley and Curtis Gates Lloyd might not be on every Cincinnati historian's A-list, but they left an indelible mark on Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati in the form of the Lloyd Library and Museum at the corner of Plum and West Court streets.
The Lloyd Library was formed by the brothers' trust in 1919 and built on the foundation of 200,000 scientific volumes, the majority of them compiled by John and Curtis. (The research library at 917 Plum St. is open 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekdays.)
While Ashley (1851-1926) quietly built a career in pharmaceuticals and baseball -- he co-owned the Reds, spearheaded the construction of the first concrete baseball park, Palace of the Fans, and was part-owner and treasurer of the New York Giants -- and the humorous and flashy Curtis (1858-1926) traveled the world collecting and developing mushroom strains and photographing everyday life, John (1849-1936) hunkered down in Cincinnati, becoming a pharmaceutical genius, professor and writer.
As one of the world's top pharmacists and herbalists, John achieved a higher profile than his brothers. He was influential as a scholar, inventor, businessman, teacher and writer of pharmaceutical papers, science fiction and a series of books about his beloved Boone County. He is remembered for his invention of the "cold still" for plant extractions and the buffered alkaloid called alcresta, as well as his internationally read "hollow earth" adventure novel, "Etidorpha."
He was born in upstate New York in 1849 to teachers Nelson Marvin Lloyd and Sophia Webster. Two years after his brother Ashley was born in 1851, the family moved to Boone County, first in Petersburg and ultimately in Florence, where John witnessed a Civil War skirmish.
John -- whose middle name is pronounced like Uriah without the "ah" -- would write later in life that while playing in the woods, he often dreamed of becoming a trapper like Daniel Boone. But his keener interest was in science, and while he was too young to study chemistry in school, he conducted his own experiments in his backyard laboratory. His family took notice of John's advanced work with plants and chemistry and took him to Cincinnati, where he could find and work with a mentor.
His first apprenticeship in pharmacy came at age 14 with W.J.M. Gordon of Cincinnati in his office at Ninth and Central Avenue, future site of the Cincinnati College of Pharmacy and later City Hall. Gordon was the only person west of the Allegheny Mountains making glycerin, and he taught John pharmacy as well as how a product made cheaply, simply and rapidly could make a lot of money.
A second, two-year apprenticeship followed with European pharmacist George Eger, whose expertise was using plants in medicine. John learned how to incorporate using opium, valerian, mayapple, goldenseal, black hellebore, belladonna and many other botanicals in his eclectic medicine research and development, according to an article on lloydlibrary,org.
John was just 21 in 1870 when he found himself in the middle of Cincinnati's medical community. He befriended eclectic physician John King, who recognized John's academic acumen and helped him get a job as a chemist with H.M. Merrell, which launched his lifelong career in pharmacy.
John's first wife, Cincinnati teacher Addie Meader, died in January 1877 at age 21, just 11 days after they married. He and his second wife, Boone County native Emma Rouse, married in 1880 and moved into a stone mansion built for them by famed architect James W. McLaughlin at the top of Clifton Avenue's northernmost hill. The Lloyds had two daughters and one son.
The 1880s were a busy time for the energetic John. He was a professor of chemistry at the Eclectic Medical Institute (1878-1895) and the Cincinnati College of Pharmacy (1883-1887), and in 1886 he, Ashley and Curtis founded Lloyd Brothers Pharmacists, which is the foundation of today's Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co.
Ashley was the company’s treasurer, and Curtis collected medicinal plant specimens -- 59,000 of them fungai -- from around the world for John to use in his research and development.
When not putting his genius to work in the laboratory or at his writing desk, John taught chemistry. He was a highly respected yet somewhat odd instructor who would not let his pupils take notes, according to the Lloyd Library website. One of John's students described him entering the classroom in this fashion:
"Small of stature and spare of form; neat as a new pin; unostentatious to an extreme; dressed very plainly but faultlessly, and always with a small nosegay, preferably a delicate little rose in the button hole of the left lapel of his coat; noiselessly he entered, and with a quick, quiet, elastic step reached the platform ..."
Awards and commendations showered down on John over the years, and his reputation spread nationally and internationally. He and his brothers were known to donate to the needy medicine they made, and John contributed to the creation and enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
John Uri Lloyd lived most of the last 56 years of his life in Clifton, outliving his wife by four years. He died 10 days before his 87th birthday while visiting his daughter, Annie, in Los Angeles. He is buried in Hopeful Lutheran Cemetery in Florence.