Inside the Collections Care Project: Drink local history

May 18, 2015

One of the great things about working on the Collections Care Project is the opportunity to learn more about the history of New England. Growing up in Rhode Island I thought I knew all about the history of the area, but as my team works its way through the Historic New England collection, photographing and updating records, I have come to realize how much of our region’s history is new to me.

Last week, while updating collection records, I came across an unassuming glass bottle. A little research revealed the story of the bottle’s maker, the Simpson Spring Company. The bottle bears the company’s marketing slogan: “Drink Simpson Spring Co Beverages Purest of All.” Purity of ingredients remains a key characteristic of the company’s brand today.

Simpson Spring Company was founded in 1878 in South Easton, Massachusetts, making it one of the oldest independent bottling plants in the United States. It specializes in spring water and all-natural hand-mixed sodas in classic flavors such as white birch, sarsaparilla, and coffee. 

Samuel Simpson, a blacksmith, sold the property containing the spring to his grandson-in-law, Frederick Howard, the company’s founder. He bottled water for sale, and eventually began crafting a variety of sodas using fruit and extracts. The business was then sold to Edwin White, whose family ran it for three generations starting in 1886 and increased distribution by using delivery trucks. In 1989, the Bertarelli family, who owned the adjacent farm, purchased the business and underwent a rigorous month-long training program to learn about soda production. Ed White, the great-grandson of Edwin White, served as their instructor.

Many of the makers of items in the Historic New England collection went out of business many years ago, so it is an unusual treat to work on an object that is still in production today. Companies often adapt their products to keep up with the times. In this case, it is comforting to see that what is old is new again, especially with the current interest in buying and eating local and recycling or reusing bottles. 

This is especially true of the Simpson Spring Company, whose website touts that the only thing that’s changed is their trucks. They continue to make their products in small batches, hand-mixing and using original recipes. Their facilities look as though they are captured in time.

The Bertarellis aim to preserve this history for years to come. The company store sells soda and spring water, as well as other local products, and hosts a year-round farmers’ market. They also distribute to other small businesses, restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores. Find out more on their website.

Help Historic New England preserve and share the objects that tell the stories of life in our region. Please consider a donation to the Collections and Conservation Fund.