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Stop 45: 1916 Coca Cola Bottling Company

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Coca Cola Building (Olga’s Bakery, Arts Eclectic, Allstate & L.G. Edwards, and Antique Shop).

     The Dade City Coca-Cola Bottling Company was an integral part of Dade City for over fifty years. The American institution was inextricably intertwined with numerous active businesses and organizations. Today the following businesses share the space that was the Coca-Cola plant: Olga’s Bakery, Arts Eclectic Studio, L.G. Edward’s Insurance, Allstate Insurance, and more. The very mention of the history evokes all types of reminiscences from baby boomers!

      George Leroy Fleetwood was the original 1911 founding father of the Dade City Bottling Company on North 7th Street where the 2021 BLOCK was reborn from previous lives. In those early years, the soda water and Coca-Cola were delivered by horse drawn wagon!

     Just five years later however, in 1916, George A. Gilbert and business partner, Glenn Hull Boring, purchased the botting company. Later, Gilbert bought out the Boring interest.  At the time the Coca-Cola plant franchise encompassed the area from the Hillsborough County border through the Withlacoochee River and west to what was then called Pasco Station, just west of San Antonio, Florida. 

    In 1923, Gilbert contracted with James Knox Ward, a one-time Mayor of Dade City, to erect a brick building on what was then called Cherry Street (now known as 7th Street), half a block south of the courthouse. When completed the structure would be occupied by the bottling plant and a large space would enable Gilbert to rent spaces to additional businesses. Coming to fruition, the brick structure remains standing proudly at the corner of South 7th Street and Church Avenue in 2022.  For an orientation to the space Dade City Councilman Scott Black explained:

The Dade City Coca-Cola Bottling plant was located in the same building as the location of the 2021 businesses of Lloyd Garland “L.G.” Edwards Insurance, Olga’s Bakery, and formerly American Eagle II Antiques. 

    So many years later, history buffs have searched for photos of the iconic bottling plant with hardly any avail. The windows of the Ward-built structure allowed for passers-by to observe the bottling process in action. Folks of all ages stopped to gaze at the machinery. Historian Carol Hedman explained in a 1986 Tampa Tribune article that Gilbert also built a tower atop the Coca-Cola building during World War II so that it could be used for spotting foreign aircraft; Edwards illuminated that he took his turn as did most Dade City residents in watching for airplanes and charting their courses during this frightening time in American history.

     Noel “Mac” McNeil joined Gilbert as manager in 1946. Many locals were employed in the company.

     The Coca-Cola plant was a component of the community for many years. Schools sponsored fieldtrips for students to see the industry at work and hardly any civic project occurred without donation of cokes coming from the philanthropic organization. The three daughters of Gilbert were engaged in civic organization and were active members of the community. All were involved in the Dade City Garden Club and Thelma Gilbert is credited as the founder of the Dade City Garden Club. 

     The Dade City Banner ran the iconic Coca-Cola advertisements which reflected the evolving twentieth century advertising industry. Early unique bi-weekly newspaper advertisements tendered a spirited and optimistic message with idealistic models often offering patriotic or family-oriented themes. The initial advertising provided primarily information but later advertisements showed beautiful facsimiles, often nurses, police officers and iconic family members were depicted, enjoying the beverage and the over-all messages subliminally indicate that Coca-Cola was the vogue beverage that would promote health and a life-style of happiness and success! There were often underlying, somewhat subconscious embedded messages of health, patriotism, and American values. (Flip though the various advertisements from Dade City Coca Cola). 

     The substance of the beverage originated in Atlanta as a headache/hangover cure in 1886 by Colonel John Styth Pemberton, a pharmacist who worked on formulas at the Pemberton Chemical Company. Pemberton had been wounded in the Civil War and acquired an addiction to morphine; his mission was in part, to find an opium-free substitute; and coke, the so-called brain tonic was touted as a pain reliever. Pemberton modified the tonic known as French Wine Coca by eliminating the wine and adding caffeine and an extract of cola nut and coca leaf. The original formula contained nine milligrams of cocaine. 

     The product which was originally a soda counter fountain treat, was first bottled by 1899 and the iconic glass bottles were created as a depiction of the cola nut. Pemberton sold the rights to the formula to Asa Candler who founded the Coca-Cola Company, and of course the cocaine was phased down starting in 1903.

     With the advent of Coca-Cola cans for distribution in 1960, the demise of the local bottling operations began and no doubt Gilbert orchestrated the sale of his franchise soon after. Gilbert sold the franchise to Tampa Bottling Company in 1966 with fifty-one years under his belt as the owner/operator. The building itself was abandoned until Edwards purchased the entire building from Gilbert in 1970. 

     Gilbert may himself, inadvertently have been a great representative for the early bragging rights of Coca-Cola in regard to health. He lived to be one hundred years of age and was an active member of Dade City until his death in December of 1979. 

   Be sure to check out the locations that now occupy the Coca-Cola space. Mayor Jim Shive said he used to buy the famous bread sticks for 34 cents and then sell them at school for a dollar at Olga’s Bakery & Deli at 14117 7th Street. Originally Danny’s Dade City Bakery, they opened in 1970. Also, since 1968, a second-generation business, L.G. Edwards Insurance occupies the Coca–Cola space!

  • 1886

    Coca-Cola substance was developed in Atlanta, Georgia by Colonel John Stith Pemberton.

  • 1888

    Pemberton sold the rights to the formula to Asa Candler.

  • 1899

    Coca-Cola was first utilized as a soda counter fountain drink.

  • 1911

    George Leroy Fleetwood founded the Dade City Bottling Company on North 7th Street.

  • 1916

    George A. Gilbert and his business partner, Glenn Hull Boring purchased the bottling company.

  • 1923

    Dade City building on 7th was constructed by James Knox Ward for George A. Gilbert to house Coca-Cola plant.

  • 1940

    Corporation was formed with George A. Gilbert, Alice Elan Gilbert, and daughters, Thelma Gilbert, Christine Slough and Vera Turnbull.

  • 1943

    Built watch tower for World War II on the roof of building; and volunteers took shifts monitoring air planes.

  • 1949

    Alice Elan Gilbert, wife of George A. Gilbert died on June 15 of 1949. (Born in Dade City, she married George in 1900, and after a few years in Kissimmee, they resided in Dade City from 1916 to 1949.)

  • 1949

    Alice Elan Gilbert, wife of George A. Gilbert died on June 15 of 1949. (Born in Dade City, she married George in 1900, and after a few yeas in Kissimmee, they resided in Dade City from 1916 to 1949.

  • 1960

    With implementation of Coca Cola in can format, the plants were phased out.

  • 1966

    George A. Gilbert sold the Coca-Cola franchise.

  • 1970

    Gilbert sold the building to Lloyd Garland Edwards.

  • 1979

    George A. Gilbert celebrates 100th birthday in May and passed away in December.

  • 1997

    Lloyd Garland Edwards, owner of the Coca Cola building since 1970, passed away.