Thursday, June 22, 2023



Small town soda water works in California seldom used embossed bottles as far back as the 1870’s. One exception is the river town of Colusa, the governmental seat of Colusa County. Located on the Sacramento River, it was a shipping port for an extensive agricultural region in the central Sacramento Valley of California.

Little is known about the original proprietors of the works. The primary player was Jonathan Leonard Poulson. He seemed to prefer using only his initials, “J.L.” and his last name was commonly mis-spelled, which creates a challenge in researching the man. He was the son of  Henry “John” and Elizabeth Cox Poulson, born in Ohio on July 8, 1847, and like most men of his age Poulson served in the Civil War, as a private in Co G 178th Ohio Infantry. He enlisted August 26, 1864 and mustered out June 29, 1865, at Charlotte, North Carolina. Poulson then moved to Iowa for a few years and then relocated to California about 1869.

Poulson is first noted in California when documented in the 1871 Great Register for Yuba County, listed as a 23 year old farmer born in Ohio, and living in New York Township. Poulson is known to have been in Colusa at least by October 1874, when his name was listed in the local newspaper, noting that undelivered mail was waiting for him at the post office.(Weekly Colusa Sun, October 17, 1874). The Letter List was a common feature in newspapers alerting residents that mail needed to be retrieved. It was probably about this time that Poulson went to work as a driver for the Colusa to Chico stage line. The job was difficult with a variety of perils including stormy weather conditions, robberies, vehicular mishaps and passenger issues, not to mention long and tiring hours. For at least these reasons Poulson decided to switch professions. The local newspaper reported . . . . “Leon Poulson, of the Colusa Stage, who has been driving between Chico and Colusa for a considerable time, has resigned his position as knight of the ribbons, and will start a soda factory at Colusa”. (Chico Weekly Enterprise, March 16, 1877). “Knight of the ribbons” was a slang expression for a stage driver, implying a master of roads.

Poulson’s partner in this new venture was Asa Brower, born about 1843 in New York. Prior to partnering with Poulson in the soda water business he was described as a painter. (1870 U.S. Census for Grafton Twp., Woodland, California) 

The most significant newspaper item located that concerned the establishment of the Colusa Soda Works was printed in 1877.



The announcement of the beginnings of the Colusa Soda Works includes a description of the bottles recently blown for the bottling of soda water. (Weekly Colusa Sun, April 14, 1877)  The description most certainly fits the example pictured below.

From the newspaper information provided it appears the company’s soda bottles were blown about March or April of 1877. They were surely blown at the factory of the San Francisco & Pacific Glass Works.


The base mold of the Colusa Soda Works bottles was engraved with an unusual rayed design dividing the circle into eight segments, not found on other California soda bottles of this time period. Its meaning is unknown but probably just decorative.


For reasons that are not clear the partnership of Poulson & Brower came to an abrupt end about nine months later, at the end of December 1877.

The dissolution notice signaled the end of the partnership of Paulson and Brower at the Colusa Soda Works.

Asa Brower, is noted to have been a soda water manufacturer in Willows, Glenn County,  California (Weekly Colusa Sun, December 13, 1879). He is also noted in Colusa County in 1880.   (1880 U.S. census for Colusa County, Monroe Twp., line 43 and WoodlandCalifornia. (Yolo County, California, Great Register of Voters, 1882).

 Asa died December 24, 1885, in MazatlanMexico, of yellow fever. (Sacramento Daily Union, January 27, 1886) He owned 6,000 shares of the Descubridora Mill located, near Guanacevi, Durango, Mexico,  and was probably there concerning his interest in the mine.

It is likely the embossed bottles continued to be used by the soda works under the new partnership of Poulson & Eller. No data was revealed about Eller. His name was often misspelled as Ellis. Later advertisements confirm the new partner’s name was Eller. Regardless, this second partnership was dissolved on August 21, 1878, with Eller leaving. (Weekly Colusa Sun, August 31, 1878) However: Eller retained an ownership interest in the soda factory property for awhile. As a single proprietor, Paulson began bottling his “Boston Champagne Cider” (Weekly Colusa Sun, October 5, 1878) and sold Bethesda Water as well.

 On December 14, 1878, a lamp exploded and started a fire that destroyed the works. It was mostly insured and Poulson had it rebuilt. It is not clear if he was still bottling his own soda water at this time or who actually owned the facility. George Shuggart was noted as a partner at this time, but probably only had a financial interest in the operation and was not a working partner. Shuggart was of African descent and upon his death the local paper stated, . . . “Mr. Shuggart, in the days before the Civil War was a slave in Missouri. In 1869, he was in Illinois when he received a message from his former master, asking him to return to Missouri.  He did so and came to California with the master.  They came to Colusa County and here it was that Shuggart stayed.  Since his arrival here he has never been out of the state and has only been outside the county’s limits six times. Mr. Shuggart has held the contract for sprinkling Colusa’s streets for thirty-eight years.  At one time he owned a soda works here. About a year after he bought it, a lamp in the house of the plant’s manager, Len Pohlson (sic), exploded and the soda works burned to the ground. (Colusa Herald, November 4, 1922)


The drawing of the Colusa Soda Works was published in Colusa County, California, Illustrations Descriptive of its Scenery…etc., by Will S. Green, published by Elliott & Moore, San Francisco. 1880  It was apparently subscribed when Poulson was operating without a partner, probably about 1879.

By about 1884 Poulson left Colusa, abandoning his wife, and moving to Vancouver, Washington. In 1886 Poulson’s wife, Sarah Ann Poulson, brought suit against him in the Sacramento Superior Court, on grounds of “willful desertion and neglect” and requested the court to reinstate her maiden name of “Brummett”. Poulson likely did not respond to this action and probably didn’t even see it in the newspaper since he went to Washington State. (The Record-Union, Sacramento, California, June 8, 1886) 

Poulson remarried in Portland, Oregon, to Annie May Betts in 1888, who was 29 years younger than he. Poulson died in April 1888. His new widowed wife then married Samuel Foraker in Vancouver, Washington, on September 25, 1900. She was 47 years younger than her new husband. Samuel died on March 17, 1915, in Vancouver, Washington, aged 91 years.  


The grave marker of Jonathan Leonard Poulson, spelled “Poulsen” on his stone. The simple marker is the typical free stone given to veterans which doesn’t even have his death date inscribed. It is located in the Old Vancouver City Cemetery, Vancouver, Clark County Washington.


A later graphic advertisement for the Colusa Soda Works after it purchased the relatively new crown cap closure equipment invented by William Painter in 1892. (Colusa Daily Sun, September 8, 1899)


Thomas Henry Polley (aka Polly) purchased the Works about 1884.


Rankin Blackburn purchased the Colusa Soda works from Thomas H. Polly in 1886.


John Blackburn purchased the Works from his father, Rankin Blackburn, in 1896. (Colusa Daily Sun, June 8, 1896)


Theodore Frederick Phillips purchased the Colusa Soda Works from John Blackburn in October 1898. Phillips died on January 3, 1912, and his widow finally sold it to the Woodland Ice and Bottling Works in 1930.




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