Recently, Chelsea Lewis and her husband, Jonathan, were gardening in their Wheeling backyard, preparing to plant an apple tree. As they were digging, they discovered a few glass bottles buried in the ground. A broken bottle or two were nothing new to them, having lived close to where the old Stratford Springs Bottling Company was once located.
But this discovery was a bit different.
After they decided that the apple tree could not go where they initially planned, they moved a few feet over and discovered even more buried bottles. As they began to unearth their find, they discovered a cache of hundreds of bottles buried in their backyard.
That inspired them to discover why these bottles were there and learn more about what really happened to the Stratford Springs Bottling Company.
The Stratford Springs were once home to the Stratford Springs Hotel and a small bottling plant benefiting from the “cure-all” properties of the spring water. Located on Stratford Road near W.Va. 88 and Edgewood Street in the Woodsdale section of Wheeling, the Stratford Springs Hotel opened in 1907 as a spa resort close to the natural springs, which contained minerals including salts of iron. The minerals in the water are said to relieve diseases of the kidney and liver along with overall digestive health benefits similar to those claimed by a modern-day detox. Although the hotel’s use of the springs focused initially on the spa environment, the spring water had been bottled and sold prior to the opening of the hotel.
A postcard showing the Stratford Hotel.
Stratford "Saline-Chalybeate" Spring in Woodsdale.
Organized under different names, including the Stratford Magnesia Springs Co., the Stratford Springs Company and the Stratford Springs Bottling Company, the “soda” company grew alongside the Stratford Hotel until 1918 when the wooden hotel caught fire leaving only the small bottling plant intact. Initially, there was a plan to rebuild the fashionable hotel, but the funds were never acquired to rebuild, and the bottling plant gradually expanded into the previous hotel’s garage. Unlike the hotel’s tragic fate, the springs brought health and rejuvenation to Wheeling for decades.
DRINK TO YOUR HEALTH
Stratford Springs created a line of various soft drinks including malt-less beverages, syrups, extracts, sodas and mineral water. The company survived and even thrived throughout its history in Wheeling. Following the 1918 hotel fire, Stratford Springs maintained its standing as a health drink alternative expanding to different soft drinks throughout prohibition and into World War II. Stratford Springs Water can be found as a persistent advertiser of pure sparkling healthful water in Wheeling newspapers throughout the entire first half of the 20th century.
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In the second half, however, there was a gradual shift away from their initial emphasis on healthy spring water toward the expanding soft drink line. The soft drink line included a variety of drink options including Stratford Cherry, Stratford Cream and Stratford Ginger Ale. In 1957, Stratford Springs Beverage Corp. was one of the six Wheeling soft drink companies involved in 60-day “Pop Strike,” resulting in a labor success increasing salaries and commissions for drivers. By 1969, the health and revitalization of the Stratford Springs came to an end as the business closed putting the land and equipment put up for sale. Thus, ending this longstanding health tradition in Wheeling.
Stratford Springs spring water bottles are still recognized throughout the nation, and they are still collected. The water was originally bottled in clear glass bottles topped with a simple cork-lined bottle cap. As the inventory expanded to incorporate a wider range of soft drinks, the company continued to use glass bottles and designed a variety of bottle caps to pair with each of the sodas. The company also expanded its collections to include green and brown glass bottles alongside a variety of different sizes, including one that would hold a gallon. The logos and designs changed several times throughout the years beginning with plain glass bottles identified by the cap, to glass bottles inscribed with the logo, to printed labels.
As Chelsea and her family continue to unearth more and more bottles, small insights into the inner workings of Stratford Bottling Company continue to be discovered. Each bottle is a reflection of a moment in Wheeling’s history, and that interest and inspiration can be found in even unexpecting circumstances as simple as gardening in your own backyard.
• Alex Warren is a graduate student at Duquesne University studying for a master’s degree in public history after completing her undergraduate degree at Marquette University in 2019. Alex is currently interning with Wheeling Heritage and is enjoying learning about Wheeling by evaluating historical signs around the city.