Ahh, Those Were the Days:  Remembering the Corner Drugstore Soda Fountain

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Friday, July 22, 2022

Recently, we were enjoying our tropical Florida weather with friends.  We were watching the critters on the lake; sipping icy libations; and engaging in lively conversation.  Our thoughts and discussion turned to the equally pleasant days of childhood and those fond memories of random events and silly little pleasures.  Our almost 95-years old neighbor reminisced about his boyhood in the Northeast, especially the neighborhood soda fountain with his favorite fountain drink—a Cherry Coke.  Your RovingRaconteurs happily shared their own memories of Chicago’s 1950s-era-drugstore soda fountains with their vast array of interesting and tasty syrups—most notably, Green River!!!

And thus began the discussion:  How did soda fountains become so popular?

Apparently, because the allure of natural carbonated waters from volcanic springs is irresistible!!!  Ancient civilizations are known to have enjoyed bathing in and consuming these mineral waters.   They believed it would cure diseases.  Eventually, commerce, health spas, and tourism sprang up around those springs.  Bath in England; the many Onsen of Japan; the hot springs of Iceland.  Mineral springs exist all over the world—on every continent and in most countries. 

In the United States, there are many mineral springs spread across the country!!!
(geothermal hot springs in the U.S. [PD-USGov-DOC-NOAA]}
And even more in Europe. For example, these are the springs of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
(The watering places and mineral springs of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (1880) https://flickr.com/photos/126377022@N07/14597437498)
Sketch of a European spa in the 1600s.
(The mineral spring. State 4 by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677) Prague. [University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection, public domain])
This is the huge complex of the ancient Roman Baths in Bath, England. The Romans started the public baths around 65AD. The complex and Bath Abbey all came later on a gradual basis.
Although bathing is no longer allowed, the baths are open for viewing and the museum is quite interesting.
(CCA-SA 3.0 Unported [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa3.0/deed.en])
Nearby, is the Pump restaurant. A lovely place to stop and enjoy a meal or libation.
And just across from the Roman Baths is the Bath Abbey.
And from the Abbey, the Thermae Bath Spa with its rooftop pool may be seen from the tower.
(NH53, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)
This is the Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma Prefecture,, Japan.
(AW1805,CCA-SA 4.0 International)
And this geothermal spa is the famous Blue Lagoon of Iceland. It is one of Iceland’s most visited attractions.
(big-ashb, CCA2.0Generic [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en])

Naturally, the bottling of these mineral waters would follow.  And it did. People would collect the water to take home.  Then, beginning in the United Kingdom in the early 1600s, commercial bottling began.  The demand for bottled water grew among Europeans and American colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries.  As a matter of fact, the first commercially distributed water in America was bottled and sold by Jackson’s Spa in Boston in 1767.  It was a “no-brainer” that entrepreneurs would eagerly fill bottles with the mineral water and sell them for “health purposes.”    It is not at all a surprise that scientists and entrepreneurs started looking for ways to create mineral water.  And in the early 1770s, Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman and English scientist Joseph Priestley, each invented equipment for saturating water with carbon dioxide.  Then, by 1783, Johann Jacob Schweppe was manufacturing bottles of soda water based on Priestley’s manufacturing process.  Effervescent mineral water could now be created and sold anywhere!!!   Soda water was born!!!

  Could the soda fountain be far behind…..???

…..actually, no!!!  The apparatus for infusing water with carbon dioxide was sold all over the world.  In the early 1800s, Yale chemistry professor, Benjamin Silliman, opened soda fountains in New York City and Baltimore.  By the 1850s, innovative pharmacists were serving their own concoctions of flavored, effervesced drugs in their pharmacies.  Caffeine and cocaine (legal at the time) were popular drugs found in pharmacy drinks.    People would pop into their local pharmacy for a tasty carbonated soda that would also cure physical ailments such as headaches and pain.  The first branded product that comes to mind is Coca Cola.  It was Invented in 1886 by Dr. John Stith Pemberton of Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.  Then there’s Pepsi.  Invented by Caleb Bradham at his own drugstore in New Bern, North Carolina, in 1893.  It was created to alleviate indigestion and that’s where its name came from:  dyspepsia!!!  Oh yeah, the soda fountain became an international phenomenon!!!  Starting out in pharmacies, it wasn’t long before soda fountains were found in ice cream parlors, candy stores, dime stores, department stores, and even train stations.


In the mid-1800s drugstores were serving concoctions of flavored soda water as elixirs. This Seattle drug store advertises soda water along with many other healthful claims. (Public Domain)
By the 1950s, most drug stores had lunch counters. We remember sitting at many, many of these counters for a quick bite or just a refreshing glass of soda!!!
(Public Domain)

Soda fountains reached their height of popularity in the 1950s.  Funny, that’s exactly when we, today’s septuagenarians, discovered the joys of flavored syrup combined with carbon dioxide and purified water: Cherry Cokes, Orange Crush, and Green Rivers!!!  Maybe because we grew up in Chicago—the city where they dye the river green for St. Patrick’s Day—we would choose Green Rivers over Cherry Cokes when our parents took us to the local soda fountains.  Green River soda was created in Davenport, Iowa in 1916 by Richard C. Jones, owner of a confectionary shop.  When the 18th Amendment establishing Prohibition loomed in the United States, the Schoenhofen Edelwiess Brewing Company of Chicago bought the recipe.  They survived the Prohibition Era by manufacturing Green River and other sodas!!!  When prohibition ended in 1933, they resumed brewing alcoholic beverages but continued producing Green River.  They closed in 1950, but the popular soda fountain syrup continued with a series of other manufacturers.  The Sprecher Brewery acquired the Green River brand in 2021. 

The first mineral water using Priestley’s method, was commercially produced, by Johann Jacob Schweppe in 1783 when he founded the Schweppes Company in Geneva.
Perrier was originally sourced from the Les Bouillens Spring in Southern France. A spa had existed on the site since Roman Times. Hannibal and his army rested there in 218BC on their way to Rome! A local doctor, Louis Perrier, bought the spring in 1898 to bottle and sell the water.
In 1509, Leonardo da Vinci visited the San Pellegrino Terme which had been in operation since 1395!!! He then wrote about its miraculously therapeutic effects!!! By 1899 San Pellegrino was in full commercial production and introduced to the world from Northern Italy.
Cherry Coke was a very popular fountain drink in the 1950s.
(Summi from German Wikipedia, CCA-SA 3.0 unported, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
So was the Green River Soda–especially in Chicago…..
…..where the Chicago River turns into a green river every St. Patrick’s Day.
(Ryan Dickey Creative Commons Attribution 2.0) Generic

So, what’s the point???

Mmmm….you know, there’s really no point!!!  Just nostalgic memories of a different time when we were young; life was slower; and pleasures were simple.  In the 1950s we sat on stools in the drugstore and sipped vivid-green, lime-based soda with a hint of lemon.  By 1969 we had moved on from the sweet green concoction to wines and beers and Margaritas; but we would always dance to the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Green River” whenever it was played!!!  We still do!!!  Thank you, John Fogerty!!!  It all takes us back to the days of the corner soda fountain.  Green River is not just another soda; it’s nostalgia in a bottle!!!

Sadly, you no longer find a soda fountain drugstore on every street corner. This is the Corner Shop Diner (opened as the Bryant Pharmacy in 1910 in Bramwell, WV, and now on the Register of Historic Places.)
(PumpkinSky, CCA-SA 3.0 unported [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en])
Created by Richard Jones in 1916; purchased by Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company of Chicago in 1919; and sold throughout the Midwest during the Prohibition years; Green River soda was a Chicago staple by the 1950s.
Since October 2021,Green River has been manufactured by the Sprecher Brewery. It’s marketed as a nostalgia item and sales increase every March for St. Patrick’s Day!!!
The bright green color is appealing…..
…..the lime flavor is refreshing…..
…..here’s to the memories of childhood!!!!

Oh, let me remember things I love*

Still love the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival!!!

*Green River lyrics by John Fogerty and sung by Creedence Clearwater Revival