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Who Remembers Virginia Dare Soda?

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I grew up in the late 1970s and have fond memories of Virginia Dare soda; the wooden crates they came in, the ability to pick, mix and match your flavors, the concept of returning the bottles so they could be re-used.

It was a BIG deal to me and my brother, Mike. Not being pigeon-holed into buying a case of soda of one flavor was pretty darn exciting. You mean, I could not only select a dozen flavors, but I could choose between Lemon-Lime, Strawberry, Cherry, Moxie or other flavors I’d never heard of until Virginia Dare? It was so good, I felt like I was doing something wrong when the new bottles arrived. At the moment I was to reach for my first bottle, I felt like I should confirm with my mom that I wasn’t punished for something.

Something about this entire idea put you in a good mood. My brother and I would grab our favorite flavor, debate about which ones were the best and this would always segue into unrelated conversation about who would win in a fight: Spiderman (his favorite) or Superman (my favorite.) Surely it was wasted conversation, as clearly Superman was superior. We would often head outside to spread envy throughout the neighborhood. Success was confirmed by wide-eyed looks and obvious salivation.

There may have even been times where we were suspicious of friends who uncharacteristically requested to head to our house to play. They were definitely trying to get at our Virginia Dare. We knew better though. When that wooden case was empty there may be hours, even horribly long days between replenishment. Not on this watch! Greed and conservation were the name of the game.

Kidding aside, I am sure there are a number of people who recall Virginia Dare that was supplied by the Rodman Club Beverage company on Nash Road. For those generations that came later and missed out on the whole experience, it will be difficult, perhaps impossible to convey it.

I always though Virginia Dare was distinctly New Bedford or Massachusetts. Finding out later that the company bottled in Worcester and was (and still is) based in Brooklyn, New York was a bit like finding out that Santa Claus wasn’t real. I felt kind of betrayed. What numbed the betrayal a bit was finding out that the company was incorporated in 1923 under the direction of chemist Bernard H. Smith, a native of Massachusetts.

Crate that the Treasures came in!

Though the company was founded in 1835 as a flavor and extract company, with Smith’s direction in 1923 they widened their focus towards the entire food and beverage industry, and even oral care and pharmaceuticals. This came about because one of their primary sellers was wine. Prohibition forced the change. The name, of course, is supposed to be the name of the first English child born in America, daughter of Eleanor and Ananias Dare. More pertinently, the name was chosen for what it symbolized. The Virginia Dare website explains it best:

“The name Virginia Dare came to symbolize wholesomeness and purity, and when Garrett & Company was founded in the region in 1835, the name was adopted as a brand for its wine produced from the native Scuppernong grape.

With the institution of Prohibition in 1919, Garrett & Company was required to reduce the alcohol content of its wine. It was then that they decided to utilize their uncommonly-fine alcohol in the manufacture of flavoring extracts of the best possible quality. Dr. Bernard H. Smith, a noted flavor chemist, was charged with establishing this line of flavors that would carry the name Virginia Dare. With time, the company’s flavoring extract business flourished, and in 1923 the Virginia Dare Extract Company was incorporated.”

Today Virginia Dare is alive and well, and maintains a 150,000 square foot facility and ships to over a hundred countries. While they have gone far past offering soda, I sure wish someone would bring Virginia Dare sodas back to the area.

For those of you who vaguely recall Virginia Dare, I’ve assembled a few photos to jog your memory. Take a stroll down memory lane and by all means, PLEASE share any anecdotes you have! Do you still have a wooden case, empty or even unopened bottles? We’d love to hear them. I promise I won’t ask to come over and “play”!

For a more in depth background on the history of the company, here is a great resource. A short blog about Brooklyn has some fantastic vintage photos of the facility and a short history as well.

About Joe Silvia

When Joe isn't writing, he's coaching people to punch each other in the face. He enjoys ancient cultures, dead and living languages, cooking, benching 999#s, and saving the elderly, babies and puppies from burning buildings. While he enjoys long walks on the beach, he will not be your alarm clock, because he's no ding-a-ling.

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37 comments

  1. I think I remember going with my parents to either Vermette’s on Rt. 6 or possibly the old KMart plaza across from the Dartmouth Mall. Could that be right?

  2. Can’t seem to find it in any web search (other than some faithful former employee’s obituary) but there was also J&J Bottling which I believe was in New Bedford. While not bottles nor sold in cases, remember the old steel can Manhattan sodas. You’d injure your feet trying to crush those cans with your foot (as a 6 year old anyway).

    • Rob virginia Dare soda was on Nash road remember?
      I think it closed just after me and Joe Thomas got married

      • That is where I remember going. Favorites. Strawberry,cream and lemon lime. Do they still sell in. some stores? Nash road closed years ago.. Marie

    • J&J bottle was on Rockland st in New Bedford I used to live two blocks away. I remember going there with my grandfather toreturn the empties and pickup a case and picking different flavors. It was awsome as a kid seeing the bottling machine work.

  3. I have great memories of my father and I filling up an assorted case of soda from Virginia Dare. We used to go about once every two weeks and I remember watching the bottles come off some sort of assembly line/conveyor belt. Orange was mine and my Grandfather’s favorite. Birch beer was a delightful too.

    Miss it.

  4. Sometmes we would get a mixed case, but mostly we’d get one case of white cream soda and sassperella and a second case of strawberry and green lemon-lime. Good stuff.

  5. I don’t remember where Virginia Dare was located but I do remember J & J Bottling company which was 3 doors up from where I grew up and lived. Ahhh the memories…

  6. Virginia Dare was a tad bit before my time, but absolutely great story.

  7. I remember we used to buy this from “the soda shop” as we called it, on the corner of Nash Rd and Edison St. We used to walk there from our house on Church St. It was cool that you could pick whatever flavor you wanted and make your own case right there. And I liked the small bottles too, especially the clear cream soda. Great memories. Thanks Joe.

  8. My Grandfather, then later Dad & uncle owned Eagle Bottling Company in Bristol, RI making Virginia Dare soda. They mainly provided home delivery, but also had a cash & carry store in East Providence, RI.

  9. I remember the Virginia Dare soda store on Nash Rd in New Bedford and me and my brother pullin our red wagon to refill the box of soda. Short walk we lived on the next street over. And he and I would pick our favorite flavors, pineapple, strawberry, grape, orange, punch, etc. Wish the would make a come back again so I could relive my childhood memories.

  10. It was a family event going to by cases for my beother and I when we were young. They made arguably the best cola I have ever had.

  11. the best soda at the time,every sat.made the trip with my unlce and my red wagon sure miss those easy days,and we could leave the wagon outside and it was still there when we came out,wow have times changed

  12. I remember going to the location on Nash Road and picking my favorites when I was young and then taking one of my sons before they closed.

  13. Yes I so remember heading over to Nash Road to pick my flavors. The building is still there, it’s currently Crow City Customs.

  14. That was my families buisness alot of fond memories my grandfather started it and all his kids worked there,along with cousins,grandkids,nephews,and so on great tradition .

  15. I worked at Virginia Dare and J&J for most of young life. I have very fond memories of it and all of the people that I met. Great times – I miss it.
    Thanks for the great story.

  16. it was on Nash Road just before Church street.Loved the Cream and Root Beer sodas.

  17. And right down from Jerry’s Fish and Chips. All good classic New Bedford stuff!!

  18. I remember going to Nash Rd in New Bedford Ma. when I was just a kid. Yes the soda was delightful to drink and all us kid enjoyed it. I also later in years Virginia Dare also opened a small place on Rockland St. in New Bedford. Ma. in the south end of the city. My dad use to go there and come home with a case of different flavors for us kids and has we got older my dad served Virginia dare to us still and to his grandchildren. Thanks Virginia Dare. I still have a case but it’s not made of wood but cardboard and have several empty bottles and few still containing soda.

  19. Bright green Lemon Lime, mmmmmmm. Loved those enameled bottles and the wire pop tops. I can still remember the sound of those bottles jostling in the crate. Thanks for the memory.

  20. loved the green lemon-lime and orange and sarsaparilla. for cookouts at my uncle’s, he would put them in a wheelbarrow full of ice. Ah, those sweating glass bottles! Tell me now, I remember an orange soda called nesbitt’s. was that part of Virginia dare. does anyone else remember this brand?

  21. My dad still has many virginia dare bottles, he used them to bottle his homemade wine, great memories, he passed away this year.

  22. I am from Maryland. This soda brand has stuck with me all my life after experiencing its delicious flavors, as a kid, growing up, when my father would take his family to visit his brother and family, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, during the seventies and eighties! Great product and memories! I wish that it could be found in stores, nationally, today!

  23. Beaver falls pa native

    I am from small town outside of Pittsburgh pa..I remember growing up in the late 50s and early 60s with Virginia Dare sodas (we called it pop).

  24. Growing up I used to drink cherry sodality of Virginia dare bottles but the bottles were from Averys soda company in new Britain ct one of the oldest soda company’s in the state of ct that still makes soda the old fashioned way in glass bottles. They would receive bottles from soda company’s going out of business when there bottles were not readily Avalible to them and Virginia dare was one of
    companys who they got bottles from just today I stopped in for a case of soda and some of the bottle caps said Virginia dare on them

    • thats interesting ~~~ lots of the bottles i have from virginia dare have different logos on them & i was wondering why >> maybe virginia dare had bought out other companies the way avery’s did : )

  25. Fran Pleines Eanes

    My uncle (Eugene Regester) bottled for Virginia Dare. His building was on Belair Rd in Baltimore Maryland. My Dad worked there part time and delivered sodas to outside areas on a truck. He used to take me along on Saturdays. I would do the mixing of the different flavors to the customers order for him, which was up on top of the truck. In the plant, I liked to watch the soda being mixed up and the empty bottles traveling along the track. Those were good days.

    • Did Ed Butt do the bottling for Regester in Perry Hall, Md? We were talking about that today. How did they do the mixing of the flavors?

      • Fran Pleines Menten

        My dad helped Uncle Gene . Uncle Ed might if..I don’t know. Dad delivered on Saturdays and took me along as a kid to mix the cases. E. Regester Bottling Co. Belair Rd Md

  26. Isabelle Livramento

    How well I remember Virginia Dare. In 2012 when our family home was sold, in cleaning the cellar. We found a wooden Virginia Dare case with empty soda bottles. My parents would have the case delivered frequently. My favorite was root beer (birch beer) and strawberry. The old folks always loved the orange soda. It was a treat. It was especially served when family or friends visited our house. I also remember having cases of soda from Wheaton Soda. This is an excellent article. I enjoyed reading it and going down memory lane. My favorite is still Root Beer.

  27. While I never had the pleasure of using the soda, I have three soda glasses with Virginia Dare On them. One says Virginia Dare beverages in orange letters. Another is frosted with a lady in a long blue dress, With Virginia Dare Cooler in blue on reverse side, and the third has a white oval with a ladies head inset with Virginia Dare in fancy white letters.

  28. I was just at the Strand Theater photographing some of the old parts with a group and we ran a crossed a case of J&J Sodas with soda in the bottles 32 oz er’s. You can see my photos from there on my page on Facebook

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