Bottle collector searches for history

Published 6:27 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

When Jerry Reeves was 12 years old, he came across an old Coca-Cola machine while digging through his grandfather’s old store building in Wild Fork.

His grandfather, Ross “Bunt” Turner Jr., had recently passed and left the land and building to Reeves’ uncle.

“My uncle was cleaning it up and told me I had to load up the machine, and all of the old bottles to take them to the dump,” Reeves said.

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But Reeves was fascinated with the old soda collection, and begged his parents to let him take them home.

“Dad thought I was nuts, but he said I could take them,” Reeves said. “I took them all home and started cleaning the bottles and the coke machine.”

Reeves, a native of Georgiana, began collecting anything he could get his hands on.

As word got around, neighbors and friends started bringing bottles to Reeves, helping him add to his collection. Reeves soon found himself digging through old trash dumps to see what he could find.

“Back then, a lot of people would just dump all their trash somewhere on their land,” Reeves said. “I started bottle digging, with a shovel and a knife, poking around the trash piles with the knife and digging up what I found.”

Reeves, who is now 37, has grown up, but not grown out of his fascination for old soda paraphernalia. As he got older, and his collection grew, those who came to see the soda stash encouraged him to start documenting them.

“I started photographing them and posting the photos to my website,” Reeves said.

That’s when Reeves’ hobby took an unexpected turn. An editor of a publication stumbled across his website, and was amazed by the size of the collection.

“He showcased some of my collection and got a very good response,” Reeves said. “After that, he approached me and asked me to pick out a few rare bottles and write a story about each one.”

Over the next 5 to 6 years, Reeves contributed over 50 articles to soft drink publications. His bottle collection has now reached over 2200 pieces, and of all of them, Reeves said he is interested the most in the sodas that were bottled right here in Butler County.

“When I was 15, I found a Barq’s Root Beer bottle from Georgiana, and I haven’t seen another one since,” Reeves said.

One by one, Reeves added more Butler County bottles. He has found Orange Crush, Nu-Icy, Lime Cola, Dr. Pepper, DP Soda and Barq’s bottles bearing the Georgiana name. In Greenville, Reeves found Gay-Ola, Lime Cola, Cola-Nip, Butler County Bottling Works, W.M. Dunn Bottlers and Wilkinson’s Matchless Mineral Water containers.

Finding the history of these bottles, however, proved to be more of a challenge. After putting out a classified ad, he received mixed responses from the community.

“People called me and told me ‘I grew up in Georgiana and there wasn’t a bottling company there’,” Reeves said. “I think the plant in Georgiana started in 1920, but noone seems to know anything about it or have any photographs.”

The history of Butler County’s bottling industry is still clouded in mystery, but Reeves continues to search for answers.

He mainly is seeking photographs, but Reeves said he would love to talk to anyone with information about these historic bottling companies, before history obscures these stories beyond comprehension.

Reeves can be reached by email at or by phone at 251-367-2548.