Friday, July 30, 2021




Soda Water Bottle


This article touches upon the history of one of the most historical, yet elusive, of the early California bottles, once used in the Gold Rush town of Columbia, Tuolumne County, which was settled in 1850. Historical research for Columbia is somewhat hindered by two major fires that effectively gutted the town – the first on July 10, 1854, and the second on August 25, 1857. Newspapers have become an important source for details and activities in any given settlement in America, and Columbia is no exception. The only problem is that no complete runs of newspapers have been found for Columbia, and those early fires surely had a hand in destroying at least part of its archives, including the newspapers. The few online newspapers that remained, including from surrounding towns, were meticulously searched to reveal most of the information herein, but numerous questions are still unanswered.

The two partners who produced this gold rush era bottle are VanRennselaer Raymond and Albert Buel Holton. It appears that Raymond was the primary impetus behind the soda water bottling venture when these bottles were used, so I will document him first. Raymond was born in September 1824 in Vermont. I was not able to document neither his parents nor his early life before coming to California during the beginnings of the California Gold Rush.

Raymond had participated in the formation of a mining company by the name of the Pacific Pioneer Company, a group of 15 individuals organized in Meriden, Connecticut. Along with another mining company organized as the Ware Mechanic’s and Mining Association, they chartered the brig Leveret for Chagres, Panama, which would be the first leg of their journey to California. They set sail from New York on March 26, 1849, with 62 passengers on board. It is not known when the ship landed in Chagres; however, the trip was likely uneventful and should have lasted no more than about a week.

Even though Chagres was set in a picturesque coastal location, at the mouth of the Chagres River, it was less than idyllic. Tropical heat, copious rain, vermin infected and laced with all sorts of biting insects that often resulted in incurable diseases; this was not a place to stay for very long. The overland traffic required across the isthmus was slow and dangerous so most gold seekers chose to charter a “bungo”, which is a small Panamanian canoe type craft, propelled by the locals with a long pole. It could ferry travelers up the meandering Chagres for about 50 miles to Cruces, where the remaining 20 miles to Panama City, on the Pacific Coast, had to be managed by foot or mule. One eyewitness described it thus:

The first stage of the journey to Panama is made on the Chagres River, in canoes propelled by poles in the hands of the native boatmen.  The distance to Cruces, the end of river travel is 50 to 55 miles.  The journey takes from twelve to thirty-six hours, according to the number of hands employed to propel the canoe.  The passenger sits on the stern of the light craft, and is placed in the center, and he is obliged to remain perfectly quiet, to avoid upsetting.  He must take his provisions with him, -- to land is impossible without running great risks, as the river swarms with alligators, and the shores with panthers and deadly snakes.  The shores are marshy and clothed with exorbitant vegetation down to the water’s edge.  No village or even a hut lines its banks the whole distance.  It is the region of disease and venomous animals and reptiles.  The lowest cost for a single passenger is a doubloon ($16) and from that up to two, three, or four doubloons.” One account, from the memory of group member Timothy Gladwin, noted the group walked across the entire Panama peninsula, a journey of six months. It is far more likely that the Chagres River was used to transport them to Cruces. (The Journal, Meriden, Conn., October 20, 1902, pg. 1) The entire journey was closer to 3 ½ months.


A picture of a typical Panamanian canoe carrying passengers on the Chagres River. This was the most efficient method of crossing the the isthmus prior to construction of the railroad.

 Der Isthmus von Panama auf der Höhe des Chagres River, by Charles Christian Nahl, 1850 (Source Wikimedia Commons)

Once in Panama City, situated on the Pacific Coast,  the final leg of the journey necessitated finding a ship bound for San Francisco. The historic record is a bit fuzzy about the circumstances; however, at least some, and possibly all of the Pacific Pioneer Company were able to secure passage on the steamer Humboldt. V.R. Raymond was definitely on board. The trip from Panama City to San Francisco was likely no more pleasant than the previous part. The Humboldt left port on May 21, 1849. Recollections of the first night out of the port of Panama City, notes the Humboldt lost its “tiller and main boom” (The Journal, Meriden, Connecticut, October 20, 1902). The food served on the trip consisted of coffee, bean soup, tea, and occasional rations of beef. Seven deaths were experienced. The Humboldt dropped anchor off San Francisco on August 30, 1849, and the passengers disembarked at the corner of Montgomery and Washington Streets on September 1st.

Of the original group of  Pacific Pioneer Company’s members, only two stayed in California. All others returned home within two or three years of arrival, mostly virtually penniless with barely enough to buy their way back to Connecticut. The two who stayed in California were John W. Whitney and V.R. Raymond. Whitney was a ‘family man’, marrying Eliza Grimwood in 1835. He had fathered five children prior to his departure to California, and never returned home. He was a coach maker in his native New York and continued with that trade in California, eventually settling in San Juan Bautista, San Benito County, California, where he died on August 1, 1877. Perhaps due to guilt feelings, he left a will with the majority of the proceeds going to his wife and children back in New York. His wife died on July 15, 1901, in Haverstraw, Rockland, New York.

The survivors of this harrowing journey to California developed such a strong bond that one of the passengers, Collis P. Huntington, encouraged them to meet periodically and share stories, old and new. This resulted in what was known as the Humboldt Association. Of course, Huntington went on to become one quarter of what was known as “The Big Four”, along with Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker, famous for being the financial power behind the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. The ‘Humbolters” did meet periodically until death dwindled those hearty soles down to the last few. Perhaps, the most historic meeting of all, save for the fact that only five were to meet in 1900, at the decennial ceremonies of California statehood, included V. R. Raymond.

Initially, the Pacific Pioneer Company members headed for the northern mines but they soon disseminated throughout the gold bearing region. At least two are known to have eventually gone south. Russell S. Gladwin ended up in Sonora, and was soon elected an alderman there. V.R. Raymond settled a little further south in Gold Springs, which is less than a mile from from the town of Columbia.

V.R. Raymond is first noted in the special U.S. California census for 1852, living in Tuolumne County, age 26, with occupation as a miner. This census record does not record his specific town or region within the county. As a miner he probably did fairly well for he felt comfortable in marrying one Catherine McKay on March 4, 1853, in San Francisco. (Sacramento Daily Union, March 12, 1853)  Both their residences were listed as Columbia, California. This does not diminish the possibility that they were still living on the outskirts of Columbia, in Gold Springs. The couple had three children, Frances Adelaide Raymond, born in 1854 in Columbia. She married William Bradford Wilde in 1876 and died in Hollister, California, in 1921. Emma was born in 1856 in Columbia and married Worth Cyrus Ober in 1876. She died at Point Reyes Station, California, in 1937. Their son, Charles S. Raymond, was born in Columbia in 1858 and was unmarried. He died in a logging accident at Whitesborough, Mendocino County, in 1882. Their mother, Catherine McKay Raymond, died in Oakland, California, July 10, 1882.


An 1855 lithograph view of the town of Columbia commissioned by the local stationers, Towle & Leavitt. Included in this view, in the lower right corner, is a cut of the house of Niles Mills, who was a younger brother of wealthy banker, D.O. Mills. The younger Mills is also the same person who had a financial interest in Fish’s Infallible Hair Restorative.

Apparently is was Raymond who first entered the business of bottled water, as the Columbia Gazette stated, “We are indebted to friend Raymond for a supply of his fine mineral water” (Columbia Gazette, April 8, 1854). Other notations document that he was still living at Gold Springs at this time.  The earliest reference to Raymond and Holton as partners notes, . . . . “Those of our readers troubled with the palpitation of the heart, will be glad to learn that soda water is an effective cure for it, and our friends Messrs. Reymond (sic) & Holton, of Gold Springs, will be happy to fill any quantity of orders for the article” (Columbia Gazette, June 17, 1854)



Embossed R & H / COLUMBIA / CAL; on a single panel, the bottles are of a typical soda water form of the mid 19th century. All known specimens exhibit an iron pontil base and are blown in a green- aqua colored glass. They were most likely produced at an eastern seaboard glass house.

Regardless of exactly where he was living, the object of mining was never far from nearly every resident in this vicinity. The Columbia Courier first reported, “A splendid piece of pure gold, weighing forty-seven ounces, was taken out of the Evans’ claim, in the Main Gulch, in the rear of V. R. Raymond’s residence, on Wednesday last.” (Sacramento Daily Union, July 22, 1858)



This single surviving newspaper advertisement implied that Raymond & Holton were no longer engaged in the sale of soda water by 1859, but focused on the mainstay of groceries and provisions. (Columbia Weekly News, December 8, 1859)

The 1860 U.S. census for Columbia paints a change in the business relationship of the partners, Raymond & Holton. The census notes Raymond was in the business of manufacturing soda water in Columbia, while Holton’s occupation was noted as a grocer. Raymond continued in the soda water business as well as farming and mining. In 1861 Raymond was elected to the board of trustees for the city of Columbia. (Daily National Democrat, Marysville, Calif., May 19, 1861)

The Civil War appears to have had little effect on Raymond, but he did become a member of the Co. A., Tuolumne Home Guard, organized in 1861. (Appendix to Jornals of Senate and Assembly of the Fourteenth Session of the Legislature of the State of California, Sacramento. 1863). No record of Raymond or the Tuolumne Home Guard being involved with the U.S. military was located.

The IRS Tax Assessment List, for Sonora, California, dated September 1864, notes Raymond’s business was “Soda Water”, and was assessed $15.00. Again, what appears to be an address change for Raymond may simply be that he was living on the outskirts of town, between Sonora and Columbia, and as Columbia began losing its prominence it is quite possible that Sonora laid claim to more of its surrounding area. In 1866  the Tuolumne County Great Register listed Raymond as a “Quartz Miner” and living in Sonora. By the time of the 1870 census he was noted as living in Columbia with an occupation of farmer. It is again unclear exactly where he was living except that it was probably somewhere between the town lines of Sonora and Columbia.

Raymond’s interest in farming did not go unnoticed in the local paper . . .”Mr. V.R. Raymond has a very promising garden, in which he has set out a great variety of fruit trees, for future comfort and use.” (Weekly Columbian, July 5, 1856).


By 1869 Raymond was mentioned several times in association with Rosedale Ranch. It seems that he probably owned the property, or possibly leased it, from which he actively sold fruits and vegetables. (Union Democrat (Sonora, California), April 17, 1869)

His presence in the Columbia / Sonora region ended about1873 when he patented land in Sec 3 of Twp 1N, Range 14E and in Sec 34 of Twp 2N, Range 14E, MDM, in Tuolumne County. Within a year Raymond moved to Alameda County, California, living in Oakland.

V.R. Raymond is noted as working for the U.S. Mint in San Francisco as a “helper” in the Melter and Refiner’s Dept. in 1875. 

Oakland and San Francisco directory listings for Raymond:

1876 (Oakland) with US Mint (SF) res W s Broadway nr Twntieth

1877 (Oakland) with U.S. Mint (S.F.), res 954 Webster

1878 (Oakland) with U.S. Mint (SF) res 954 Webster

1880 (SF) Van Rennsselaer, Raymond, helper melter and refiner’s Dept U.S. Mint, r. Oakland

1882 (SF) helper melter and refiner’s dept U.S. Mint, r. Oakland

1881 (Oakland) melter U.S. Mint (SF), res 1002 Market

1884 (Oakland) helper US Mint (SF), res 1002 Market

Raymond’s job at the U.S. Mint in San Francisco ended in 1887 (San Francisco Bulletin, June 1, 1887)

The 1888 Oakland directory lists him as a Notary Public living at 459 Ninth, and the 1890 Oakland Great Register notes Raymond as a “Capitalist”.  Beginning in the late 1880’s Raymond worked as a probate court real estate appraiser and was active in the Republican nominating committee in Oakland.  He became involved with politics early in his life, but eventually grew tired of the usual partisan agenda and joined a group who called themselves the “Non-Partisans”. I suspect they would, today, be more akin to the Independent Party. (San Francisco Call, Sep 11, 1894)

Throughout the mid-1880’s Raymond added horse racing to his repertoire, for which he was moderately successful. He was appointed a Notary Public for Oakland by Governor Robert Waterman  in 1888, which was a position of prestige at that time. (Sacramento Daily Union, April 10, 1888).


Over the years, reunions of the 1849 arrival of the ship Humboldt were held in San Francisco. This news article of the 1889 meeting is typical. (Daily Alta California, September 1, 1889)

 On Admission Day, September 7, 1900, a rousing celebration of the early California pioneers was held. Among those in attendance were the remaining survivors of the arrival of the ship Alex Von Humboldt. Unlike the reunions of previous years, sadly, out of the 365 original passengers, five remained, including V.R. Raymond. (San Francisco Call, September 10, 1900)

 Van Renssalaer Raymond died October 19, 1905, in Oakland, and is buried there in the Mountain View Cemetery.


The other partner behind the R & H soda water bottle was Albert Buell Holton. He was born September 21, 1826, in White Creek, Washington County, New York. It is not known how or when he arrived in Columbia, California, but it is well documented that he was in partnership with V.R. Raymond in 1854. It is also not known when Holton returned to New York for awhile, however; he married his wife, Martha Garretson Seguine in Richmond, Staten Island, New York, on February 6, 1856. The couple then returned back to Columbia, California, in time for the birth of their first child, Ellen Seguine Holton, on February 17, 1857.


Albert Holton probably originally joined the ‘rush’ to California in 1849, for he took the unusual step of applying for a passport in that year. Passports were not a legal requirement for leaving the United States at that time, even though California was not a part of the U.S. It was, however; under military occupation by the U.S. beginning in 1846. Apparently Holton was taking no chances in being able to return to New York.

Albert and Martha’s son, Albert W. Holton, was born in Columbia on Mar 6, 1861, but died there January 23, 1864. Their daughter, Ellen, died April 28, 1927, in Chicago, Illinois. She had married George Harold Woods (1855-1933) in 1883, in Chicago, Illinois.

Holton was elected a town trustee for Columbia in May 1861. After the death of their son, Albert W. Holton, in 1864,  Albert and Martha immediately left California and moved back to their home state of New York. They lived for a short while with Martha’s recently widowed mother, Ellen Seguine, along with other family members, in Westfield, Richmond County.


Memorial stone for Albert W. Holton,  the three year old son of Albert and Martha Holton, in the Columbia Cemetery. There is little doubt that his death was a significant reason for the couple to return East. (Photo courtesy of, at Memorial #103801247)

By 1867 Holton landed a job as a silent partner with E. & J. Good & Co., in Chicago. Illinois, who were manufacturers of steam engines.  He died October 11, 1870, in Chicago.

A lack of concise data presents a problem in dating the age of the R & H bottles. Based on existing records it is apparent that the earliest date of manufacture would be 1854. The ending date for the bottles is a little more difficult to determine. Either one of the two major fires in Columbia could have caused the cessation of the Raymond and Holton bottling activities, but this is purely speculation. It is relatively clear that the partnership ended about the end of 1859, so it is possible that the bottles could have been produced closer to the end of the decade. However, logic would dictate a bottle manufacturing date closer to the beginning of their partnership. It is also possible that more than one order of bottles were purchased during the lifetime of the bottling business. Without better information it is safe to say that the bottles were blown between 1854 and 1859.


The old business section of the town of Columbia was acquired by the State of California and became a State Park on July 14, 1945, as an example of a typical Gold Rush town.

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