Frequently I am asked about the early day bottling companies in Denison and Sherman. Most of the time, I cannot locate the information that I know I have put away somewhere. Today, I have some of that information in my hands.
The Dr. Pepper Bottling Company is the one that I am most familiar with. The company started at 606 South Armstrong Ave., in 1928. That opening brought about a merger with City Bottling, Red River Bottling and Denison Bottling. H.E. Morrison was the first manager of Dr. Pepper, but Fred Harvey joined the company in the early 1930s and became the company man until Coca-Cola took over in 1971. Their telephone number was “51.” I remember that plant that was built in the early 1940s at 115 West Chestnut. My grade school class from Central Ward School visited the plant and Fred Harvey led us on a tour. His son, Roger, who still lives in Denison, was in my class. That building was demolished in 1996 and now Denison Police vehicles are parked there.
The Red River Bottling Works opened in 1901 by Cass Cameron and possibly is the most remembered early day soda company. It was located in a historic site at the northeast corner of East Woodard Street and Houston Avenue. That site later became the location for the Southern Ice Company.
John Clark bought the Red River in the early 19-teens and moved it into the old City Bottling building at 209 West Woodard. Denison Crystal Ice, which owned the entire block of East Woodard, decided to expand operations and needed the Red River building for that project. The old original Red River Bottling building was kept intact with new structures built up around it. That structure survived until 1993 when Ready Ice demolished the old ice company.
The Birely Soda Company began operation in 1947 at 222 West Chestnut, but it lasted less than three years. Whistle Vess Bottling Company opened in 1947 on South Woodlawn with N.E. Foebel as manager. That company lasted about 10 years. The building later was used by 7-Up and has been nightclubs and others in the years since. Red Beshears called it the Ranch House; Verna Lee called it the Silver Helmet and Magic Mufflers took over the building in the late 1980s.
The 7-Up Bottling Company also had a Houston Avenue connection when it established a warehouse at 208 South Houston in the early 1940s. The site eventually became the Norman Lynch Body Shop. But 7-Up was a major industry in Denison when it was established in 1937 at 701 West Morton.
William Prato was the first manager of the company that operated there for 30 years. In 1960, the company moved into the old Whistle Vess Building on South Armstrong and Burden Plumbing took over their location on Morton Street. In 1963, 7-Up left the city.
I got a little ahead of myself talking about some of the later bottling companies, so let's go back to the old City Bottling Works. A bottle from the City Bottling Co. had the name “Gay-Ola, the Improved Cola” embossed on it. On the bottom of the bottle in raised letters were the letters “Ike.” This is a very collectable light green bottle that measures about eight inches tall. I have two of these bottles, but mine do not have Ike on the bottom. One has a “C” and the other is bare.
A Denison High classmate, Bob Pitman, who now lives in Lubbock and searches antique stores when he comes to Denison visiting, gave me the two bottles along with a taller bottle from the Red River MfG Bottling Co., with Denison, Texas, on the side.
A story published in the Denison Herald on July 4, 1976, said that “Coca-Cola has had a home in Sherman for nearly 70 years. That franchise first opened in 1907 and was maintained continuously by the Woodson family.”
From a modest beginning, the Sherman plant grew to 85 workers and was turning out between 4,000 and 7,000 cases of Coke and Dr. Pepper a day in 1976. The Denison Dr. Pepper franchise was taken over by the Coca-Cola franchise.
In the early days, soda pop bottles were capped with a “foot-stomper,” a machine consisting of a treddle that was stomped by workmen to force the crown down on the bottle. Bottles were cleaned with B-B shot, little iron pellets that were forced into the bottles to knock the dirt loose from the sides.
Soda pop got its name in a very practical way. It used to be that bottles were capped with a spring-loaded stopper. The pop was made by pushing the stopper back into the bottle. The lid was not a cork or metal cap, but a spring with a large hook on the top requiring force in getting the top down into the bottle. This type cap was used until 1912.
At the old Red River plant, there were only five employees, including two route men for Sherman and Denison, two bottle fillers and a bottle washer. Each bottle filler could fill 15 bottles by hand in a minute.
NOTE: Recently in a column about the White Pig Restaurant in Denison, I named Cleta Richardson as the occupant in the late '70s. The correct person was Cleta Jones, who ran Cleta's Restaurant and Coffee Shop there from 1979 through 1983. Her daughter, Samantha Flewallen said that she was 8 to 11 years old when her mother ran the restaurant that was followed by a Chinese restaurant many years beforeGirosoles. Thanks for the information Samantha.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.