Imagine a college student leaving Auburn to head home for a weekend with their parents and they drive past a 64-foot orange bottle, from which they could buy gas for their car, a soda or even some alcohol.
That was the Nehi Bottle when it was built on the side of Highway 280 in the ‘20s.
“My grandfather moved to Opelika somewhere around 1915 to take over the Nehi Bottling Plant,” said Anne Booth, who lived in Opelika as a child. “At that time, it was at the corner of North Railroad Avenue and Ninth Street.”
Booth’s grandfather, John F. Williams, came up with an advertising idea for Nehi — a 64-foot bottle replica that included a grocery store, small restaurant and service station, as well an observation deck.
“He did it strictly as advertisement,” she said. “It could be seen from the railroad tracks of the Central of Georgia train heading through Opelika to go to Florida. It was quite noteworthy.”
The gas pump supports were made from Cheri-Cola bottles.
“It was residential on the second floor and then there was a circular staircase that went all the way to the top and you could actually go out up on the top and look out over, well, it was nothing out there are that time, except The Bottle,” Booth said. “It was, well, it was quite an attraction.”
But The Bottle didn’t last. It burned down in the 1930s — the date has been contested, though Booth said she knows it burned in the early fall or late summer of 1936, because she was in kindergarten
“He said, ‘The Bottle burned last night,’” Booth said. “See, I remember it vividly. By that time my grandfather no longer owned it. He had lost the franchise. He allowed my father to sell candy off his Nehi trucks.”
Now 90 years old, Booth remembers visiting The Bottle as a child.
“I vividly remember going there with my father and ordering a cold drink and being laughed at because I asked for a NuGrape rather than a Nehi,” she said.
The Bottle has not been forgotten — neither was Williams. He opened a new business after The Bottle — Williams’ Book and Gift Shop. After that, he opened the ‘It’ store. He opened another business after that where he did picture framing. Williams passed in 1966.
There was a historical dedication for The Bottle in April 2015 by the Auburn Heritage Association, which Booth returned to Auburn for.
“We had quite a crowd,” she said
The marker still stands in the location.
“It was tremendous to think, I can remember saying, ‘My grandfather would be amazed to think that people cared about his bottle,’” Booth said. “He did it strictly to advertise and the fact that it’s historical would really have amazed him. And I was equally amazed as I told them, that all ofthem had come to see this dedication on the marker.”