Coca-Cola Bottling Works

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

If you look on the internet in places like eBay or through bottle dealers, one will find that there are several Coca-Cola bottles which bear the “Rockwood, Tenn.” raised lettering. In the 1890s there were several saloons located in Rockwood. The Swagerty Brothers (Jim A. and Tom F. Swagerty) owned and operated one of these saloons and bottled liquor. When liquor was outlawed in Rockwood in 1902, the Swagerty brothers switched to bottling Coca-Cola. They received their franchise from the Coca-Cola Bottling Works, Chattanooga, on September 1st, 1903. Besides Coca-Cola, they also manufactured all kinds of soda pop. In 1906, the Swagerty brothers sold their business to Walter Howard and H. Fowler. Later Tom Tarwater and T.A. Wright bought into the plant. Then, H. Fowler, Bart Bacon, and Sewell Howard became the owners. The first plant was in a one-room building on South Front Avenue. The bottling equipment consisted of a stove (to heat water), a tub, a water-driven brush, and a foot-power machine. Deliveries were made by a one-horse wagon. In the early days, the commissaries of coal, lumber, and mining companies were the major outlets for their product. The Roane Iron Company and the Brown Mining Co. of Roane County, and also the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company, New River Coal Company and Brown-Hill Colliery were among the places where one could purchase Coca-Cola and other soda pops. In 1916, a new building was constructed on South Wilder Street. An ice plant was installed which provided these retailers with free ice as an incentive to use the Coca-Cola Bottling Works. This building was located across the street from where Molyneux Lumber was located and was used until 1950. About 1919, S.D. Smith purchased the plant, and in 1923 he sold out to J.G. Repsher and C.L. Cole both of Mississippi. Presidents of the company through the years from 1923 included J.G. Repsher, Mellie T. Repsher (his widow), Saramel Rephser Crooks (the daughter of J.G. Repsher). Managers through the years were C.L. Cole, and his sons, S.P. Cole, Charles E. Cole and James T. Cole. A new building was constructed at 220 South Kingston Avenue, and the Coca-Cola Bottling Works was moved there in January 1951. In 1969 it purchased the Dr. Pepper Bottling Plant in Lenoir City, with the franchise to bottle Dr. Pepper. The Rockwood Coca-Cola Works was later sold to Johnston Coca-Cola of Cleveland, Tennessee and it was closed in 1998. Other bottling works were operated in Rockwood by Captain Robert H. Thompson (Thompson & Kelly), A.R. Humes, and Walter Smith in the early days of Rockwood’s history. Bottles have been found with the raised lettering identifying these companies and that they were from Rockwood.

Originally Written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, June 2013.