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January 22, 2022

Hook’s and Haag: drug stores once iconic in Indiana

Hooks show banner

First Hooks DrugsDoes it seem like a CVS or a Walgreen’s can be found on every street corner? In Indiana for much of the 1900s, the drug store scene was much different, and dominated by two locally-owned rivals.

Hook’s Drug Stores opened its first store in 1900 in Indianapolis in what’s now the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood, then considered part of Fountain Square. Haag Drug began even earlier, with the opening of a pharmacy in 1876 on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indy.

The captivating history of these competitors, which included Hook’s becoming the country’s 12th largest drugstore chain, and the two brothers who founded Haag being accused of bootlegging during Prohibition will be the focus of our show. Although both the Haag and Hook’s names had vanished from retailing by the mid-1990s, the legacy of the latter is celebrated at the Hook’s Drug Store Museum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Nelson’s guest will be Indianapolis civic leader David Steele, a board member of the museum. David has crusaded for a historic marker that will be dedicated later this year on the site of the first Hook’s store at South East and Prospect streets.

Hooks and Haag were so successful that by 1982, Hook’s had 267 stores across Indiana Both dabbled in side businesses, including restaurant chains. Huddle Restaurants, the chain affiliated with Haag, was particularly popular, with dining spots that were open 24 hours per day in Bloomington, Kokomo, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne and other cities in addition to the Indy metro area. Knife & Fork, the chain affiliated with Hook’s, was much smaller and shorter-lived.

Huddle and Knife and Fork image

Both the Hook and Haag families were of German heritage. John Hook, the son of German immigrants, was a pharmacist and president of the company that he founded until his death in 1943.  German-born Julius Haag and his brother, Louis, had 11 stores in Indianapolis by 1929.

By then, though, the Haag brothers had been charged with bootlegging and spent time in prison. During Prohibition, bottles of whiskey, brandy, vermouth and other alcohol – ingredients in some of the tonics and potions sold at their pharmacies – were found on their shelves. For a while, their nephew oversaw the drug stores, which eventually were sold to various Indiana businessmen, including descendants of the famous Ball Brothers of Muncie.

John Hook became a civic leader, encouraging his pharmacists to volunteer at local hospitals that lacked full-time pharmacists. Subsequent owners of the Hook’s chain were commended for promoting minorities into management positions.

The Hook’s Drug Store Museum opened during the Indiana State Fair in 1966 with the intent of being a temporary exhibit. But the museum, a recreation of an Indiana drug store at the dawn of the 20th century,  remains on its original site.

Haag DrugsHaag pharmacies became known for their expanded product lines, which eventually included cameras, perfumes, toys and children’s clothes during eras when those items typically were not found at drug stores. Many of the Haag stores were attached to Huddle restaurants, which enabled customers to flow between the two without stepping outdoors.

By 1980, Haag had been purchased by People’s Drugs, which later became part of CVS. At Hook’s, a series of company buyouts during the 1980s and ‘90s involved Kroger and Revco Drug Company. Revco then was acquired by CVS.

Our guest David Steele grew up near the first Hook’s store on the near-southeast side of Indy. David was a Hoosier History Live guest in 2020 for a show about the state’s musical instrument-making heritage; his boyhood neighborhood also was the site, during the 1920s, of the world’s largest drum factory.


Roadtrip: Scotland Bridge near Kirklin

Guest Roadtripper Janet Gilray of Noblesville tells us that “Scotland Bridge doesn’t really look like that much,” but it’s a rare remaining stone arch bridge less than an hour’s drive northwest of Indianapolis. It’s also known as Boone County Bridge #41, and is located at 9463 North 200 East in Boone County, crossing Sugar Creek. (By the way, there is more than one Sugar Creek in Indiana.) The bridge was built 1901 and rebuilt in 1908, and is a 120-foot-long, three-span bridge built of Indiana limestone.

Scotland Bridge

Just north of Scotland Bridge is Scotland Church and Cemetery, although the small burg of Scotland is not incorporated. And from Scotland Church you can enjoy the countryside by taking Scotland Road, which meanders to the east towards Kirklin.


From the Hoosier History archive

Hoosier History Live looks back . . .

Did you miss the show "Rev. Martin Luther King's visits to Indiana"

MLK at Manchester College

Both before he became a household name nationally, and after he was a famous public figure, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made trips to Indiana. How those visits during the 1950s and '60s unfolded, where Rev. King stayed and other details, was the focus of the Hoosier History Live show which aired live on January 19, 2019.

MLK Radio ShowOur guests that day were Rev. Thomas Brown, retired pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Susan Hall Dotson, African American Collections Curator at the Indiana Historical Society, and David Leander Williams, author and an adjunct professor at IUPUI.

Click here to listen to the show podcast.

Hoosier History Live’s African American History podcast collection is under development and is available for sponsorship. 


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