The Nevada City Bottling Works: A victim of progress
Not long ago, rural areas by virtue of their isolation and distance from metropolitan suppliers were quite self-sufficient in most areas of their economy. For example, in the early 20th century, both Grass Valley and Nevada City maintained breweries, dairies, men’s tailors, cigar makers, hand laundries and were supplied with locally grown produce and other homemade goods and services. From the “outside world,” the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad delivered life’s other necessities and luxuries.
Let’s take a look at one late 20th century business, the Nevada City Bottling Works, which became a victim of progress. Progress being better transportation and large, centrally located production and distribution facilities. A former bottling works owner claimed that antecedent companies dated to 1872. A bottle collector friend has a number of light green, glass bottles with the legendary “Nevada City Soda Works” in raised lettering around the container.
Many of us remember when practically all beverages came in glass containers. Beer in somewhat limited amounts came on the scene in cans in the 1930s, with the plastic container invasion following the end of World War II. Today, we are hard pressed to find beverages packaged in glass, although long-neck glass beer bottles are very much on the scene.
Return with me now to those thrilling days of the 1960s, when the Nevada City Bottling Works boasted ownership of some 150,000 glass soft drink beverage bottles!
The bottling works was located in pre-freeway days on what was then Washington Road (now Uren Street) near the city limits. They bottled various flavors of carbonated soft drinks under the Mountain Maid label and also distributed Coca-Cola and Shasta beverage products, Roma wine and two brands of beer.
Today, Mountain Maid bottles of clear glass, in 12 and 32 ounce sizes, are frequently seen in local antique stores and command “nostalgic” prices. The bottles are stenciled in white paint with a young girl (a mountain maid) centered in the labeling.
For some 20 years the company was owned by Mosco F. Smart, who at one time served as a Nevada County supervisor. Smart was active in civic affairs and was one of the founders of the Henness Pass Highway Association and was that groups “wagonmaster” for many years.
In 1961, Smart retired and sold the operation to Carl Prather and Henry F. Wells and with his wife, Victoria, moved to Sierra City.
In his inventory, Prater listed 92,000 bottles stored on premises in the company warehouse and on the grounds. He estimated that some 58,000 bottles were out in stores in the area served by the works. Soft drink bottles at that time cost 7 cents, but the customer paid only a 3-cent deposit.
Their distribution area included all of Nevada County and parts of Yuba, Sierra and Placer counties. Three full-time drivers using six trucks delivered Mountain Maid, Burgermeister and Budweiser beer as well as Coke and Shasta products regularly to thirsty customers.
According to Prater, the bottling works used 20 tons of sugar annually in the Mountain Maid product. Each bottle contained 2 ounces of a “secret” syrup and then filled with pure, filtered mountain water that has been carbonated.
Today, little remains of small town commercial self-sufficiency. Even old, respected regional breweries that once supplied cities and town throughout the state are gone. Familiar beer bands such as Burgermiester, Lucky Lager, Regal Pale, Acme and Mountain Maid soda are all just memories, victims of “progress.” Gigantic, super efficient corporations now dominate a considerable share of the consumer market that once featured “home produced” necessities.
There is, however, a small resurgent attitude of “small is not only beautiful but of a higher quality.” Seasonally, we have our local growers’ market. Other endeavors such as micro-breweries are gaining strength and are offering an alternative, a choice.
Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor/publisher and author of local history publications available at our local bookstore. Contact him at: email@example.com or PO Box 216, Nevada City 95959.
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