Marion stakes claim to soft-drink lore

by Paul Dellinger

Reprinted without Permission from the 7/31/94 issue of the Roanoke Times & World-News

It's official: Marion is the hometown of Mountain Dew and has pledged itself by resolution to defend that title against all comers.

About 100 people gathered Saturday in the Smyth County seat to honor the late William Henry "Bill" Jones, credited with developing the mixture for the soft drink in the 1960's.

The ceremony included bagpipes, a Veterans of Foreign Wars color guard and a return visit by Jones' daughters, who grew up here.

Other localities suddenly are making claims about being where Mountain Dew started.

The other claims come from places in Tennessee, North Carolina and Alabama. Part of that dispute made Thursday's front page in the Wall Street Journal.

"I expect, if you looked around, you'd find a dozen people in the United States who made a drink called Mountain Dew," said Marion Mayor Marshall Guy.

"We've got documented proof," he said.  "The Mountain Dew that was concocted here in Marion was the one sold to Pepsi."

The three entrances to Marion bore signs proclaiming it the home of the Veterans of Foreign Wars state commander two years ago when Guy held that post.  Guy had them removed when his term was up and suggested the Mountain Dew signs be installed in their place.

"When I mentioned it to the Town Council, everyone was in full agreement," he said.  He got the idea from Rural Retreat in neighboring Wythe County.

"I'd seen that sign over the old drugstore, 'Home of Dr. Pepper,' and I thought: Why not do something like that for Marion?" he said.

Rural Retreat Florist now occupies the building that housed the drugstore, which closed April 15.

My Aunt Mary Linda (left) and My Mom.

Dr. Charles Pepper opened the drugstore shortly after the Civil War, and the story in Rural Retreat is that his assistant pharmacist, Wade Morrison, named the drink for him.

Morrison and Charles Alderton later developed Dr Pepper in Waco, Texas, but the Virginia enthusiasts explain that in a variety of ways.

There is the story that Dr. Pepper himself fiddled with fruits and herbs to make medicines taste better, and came up with the formula that Morrison took to Texas.  Another version has Morrison falling in love with Pepper's daughter and trying to impress her father by naming the drink for him.  Some say Morrison and the daughter eloped to Texas when paternal approval was not forthcoming.

"We believe that Dr. Pepper was invented here in Waco," said Millie Walker, with the Dr. Pepper Museum there.  She also doubts any romantic involvement, whether or not Virginia is for lovers, because Morrison left Virginia before 1885, and Pepper's daughter would have been barely 8 years old.

Walker also said Dr. Pepper's granddaughter, Jean Gillspie Walker, who died last summer, told her there was no truth to that story about her mother.

"We have heard so many different stories about how Dr. Pepper got invented ... I have not one shred of evidence that Morrison ever worked in that drugstore in Rural Retreat," she said, although "he may well have."

In Marion, the woman who documented the Mountain Dew development is Glenna Elledge, a reporter for the Smyth County News who got the assignment when another reporter left the paper to get married.

Elledge, who attended the ceremony with her 93-year-old mother, Annabell Tuell, said she planned to dash off a quick little feature about how a Marion businessman invented the soft drink, but she started getting calls from other localities claiming that distinction.

The story burgeoned until it finally spread across three pages of the newspaper last week.  She has gotten more data since publication, Elledge said, all verifying Jones' role in developing the drink.

The ceremony took place by the building that once housed Jones' Tip Bottling Co., which came near bankruptcy several times as Jones worked on new drink mixtures and finally made his fortune selling Mountain Dew to Pepsi in 1964.

Dan Starsky, manager of a Pepsi plant in Marion, said old-timers there told him that in the 1960s, Jones would wait for the plant manager to leave. He then would share his formula with employees in an effort to persuade them to stop their own bottling long enough to run off bottles for him.

Back to the William H. Jones Mountain Dew page

Fred Fredericks
Last Modified, 18 Oct 1997