Asa G. Candler
Cartersville’s Surprising Connections to the Coca Cola Empire
By: Joe F. Head
Few people from Bartow County know that Asa Griggs Candler, founder of the Coca Cola Empire, once lived in Cartersville where he learned his skill to become a pharmacist. Lucy Cunyus in her 1933 book, The History of Bartow County gives us our first hint of his presence. Her brief mention of Asa working at a drug store under Kilpatrick and Sayre is almost missed by the casual reader. The precise store location is not mentioned.
Asa was born in Carroll County in Villa Rica, Georgia on December 30th, 1851. At the age of nine his education was interrupted by the Civil War and as a result he never completed high school. They were a very devout Methodist family that shaped Asa’s fundamental values and influenced how he conducted business.
In spite of his father’s wishes for him to become a physician, Asa decided to study the pharmaceutical trade and joined his sister, Florence who had moved to Cartersville. Here he apprenticed himself to two physicians, Dr. John W. F. Best and Dr. William L. Kirkpatrick who had a joint apothecary operation next door to their medical clinic. The firm eventually included Mr. Sayre as a partner who was instrumental in the business operations.
Accounts of Asa while in Cartersville describe him as working the soda fountain, stocking inventory, mixing medications, studying at night and sleeping on a cot in the rear of the store. His formal education continued for a while under Reverend S. G. Hillyer, Jr. who also operated a school for boys. Asa enjoyed Latin, Greek, reading medicine and studying chemistry.
We do know that on September 11, 1872 while in Cartersville, Asa wrote a letter to his namesake, Dr. Asa Griggs in West Point, Georgia advising him of his decision to abandon his pursuit of becoming a physician. He states that he sees more money and opportunity in the drug business. His letter specifically mentions he is in Cartersville serving as a “prescriptionist” and requests help in relocating to Atlanta.
Some time later a prominent wholesale druggist from Atlanta, Mr. George J. Howard was visiting his farm in Cartersville and met Asa. He was so impressed with Asa that he offered him a possible job should he ever come to Atlanta.
Following the death of Asa’s father, his mother, Martha, gathered up the family and also moved to Cartersville in February of 1875. Asa’s sister, Florence Candler Harris married Cartersville attorney, James W. Harris who was a district judge. Martha enrolled her youngest child, John in a local female school recommended by Florence. Florence also founded and operated the West End School for females. Some time later Martha moved to Atlanta. Florence and James resided on Bartow Street and are listed in the 1883 Cartersville city resident directory.
The 1870 census documents William L. Kirkpatrick as a druggist, John W. F. Best as a druggist and Mr. S. G. Hillyer as a teacher and all living in the Cartersville district at the time. According to the August 26th 1870 Cartersville Semi Weekly newspaper the population in Cartersville was 2240.
Deeds in the Bartow County Court House reflect that both Kirkpatrick and Best separately purchased what appears to be storefront property in the city of Cartersville prior to 1870. It is likely these were medical and drug store fronts.
A deed filed by Dr. Kirkpatrick describes a property he purchased from Mr. Blain Bradshaw on August 18, 1866. The deed in Book R page 133 describes the lot in the 4th District fronting Main Street for 20 feet and 200 feet deep to the south.
A legal transaction filed in Book P, Page 278 and 279 on December 1, 1866 between Dr. Best and Samuel R. Kramer strikes an agreement that Dr. Best will establish a Wholesale and Retail Drug Store with half the profits going to Mr. Kramer. The agreement is structured to only reflect Dr. Best’s name in the Business and no requirement to use Mr. Kramer’s name. The deal is bonded with a $1200.00 payment from Dr. Best to Mr. Kramer. However, no property boundaries are described.
In the late 1860’s, advertisements are found in the local newspapers reflecting that Kirkpatrick and Best operated separate pharmaceutical and medical practices. The primary promotions were about drugs with little about medical services.
In 1868 and 69, Dr. Best advertises that he removed his stock from under the Bartow House and moved to Main Street next to the Gilbert & Company Hardware store. (A cross reference of news ads place the store a few doors east of the current day Legion Theater)
The joint partnership between Dr. Kirkpatrick and Dr. Best was documented by 1869 and is likely the partnership genisus between Best and Kirkpatrick. However, it appears they moved locations and/or had multiple store fronts between them.
The above newspaper ads offer reasonable evidence of where Dr. Best’s Drug Store was located in 1868, between the former First National Bank and Legion Theater block.
According to deed book Q, page 645 Mr. W. H. Gilbert sells his property on West Main to Mr. J. W. Harris, Sr. in 1868. The boundary description lists it runs 24 feet on Main Street and bounded on the east by drug store of Mr. J. F. Best.
In 1879, according to Book V, Page 278, Dr. Best sells a one level brick store to Mr. T. W. H. Harris. The property is described as 24 feet by 200 feet fronting West Main Street where Mr. Sayre and Mr. Jackson are still doing business.
According to frequent newspaper ads Best and Kirkpatrick often competed, but eventually became partners around 1869. Their partnership ads claimed their business to be the “Oldest House (Pharmacy) in Cartersville.” Ads often featured customer testimonials regarding medicinal products for livestock and patients.
The local newspapers reflect considerable ad competition among drug houses during this period. Other local drug stores were D. W. Curry, Dr. M. G. Williams, Dr. O. Pinkerton, M. F. Word and several out of town ads from Atlanta, LaGrange and out of state solicitations. Interestingly, there was a frequent ad from Pemberton, Taylor & Company as well.
According to an 1875 Standard and Express newspaper article Dr. Kirkpatrick and Sayre may have assumed full operation of the business by 1874. However, it was lost to a fire soon after, but the business was re-established by Dr. Kirkpatrick and restored to its full operation. No location is mentioned.
As a contrast to Asa Candler’s time in Cartersville, Bartow has yet other connections to the Coca Cola story. Many are familiar with the Young Brothers Drug store located on the corner of Main Street at the crossing of the Western and Atlantic Railroad.
Here can be seen the famous Coca Cola logo painted on the exterior east wall next to the railroad. This sign was painted in 1894 and has been validated by the Coca Cola Company as the world’s first painted outdoor Coca Cola sign. The sign has been restored many times and including the original misspelled word, “Drink” that was corrected on the fly by squeezing in the letter “i.” This clever graphical remedy eludes most spectators and is only noticeable upon close inspection.
As the legend goes, Young Brothers Pharmacy located next to the railroad worked with a very talented syrup salesman to hand paint an outdoor sign designed to attract attention of arriving train passengers as they stopped at the near by depot. At the time Coca Cola was not bottled and had to be served at the counter. The marketing strategy was to draw customers into the store using the new drink and signage as a ploy. This mural sign has been determined by Coca Cola to be the very first outdoor advertising ever posted by the company and may have led the way to the iconic Coca Cola signage. A letter from Coca Cola acknowledging the wall sign is available in the Young Brother’s Pharmacy.
Additionally, Cartersville had one other connection to the famous soft drink. In the early days of the new beverage, the drink was extra popular because of the soda fizz feature. As everyone knows the formula that composes the syrup is a secret and has been kept confidential since it was created by Dr. Pemberton. Cartersville once again played a role in Coca Cola history by putting the fizz in the drink. A product called dolomite used to create a carbonated fizz was mined here in Cartersville at Ladd’s Mountain in the early days of the beverage production.
Research reveals that between 1868 and 1960 there were as many as four drug stores on west Main Street
In 1873, Asa completed his apprenticeship and struck out for Atlanta in hopes of owning his own pharmacy. There, Asa found employment at one of George Howard’s pharmacies.
Concurrently, Civil War physician and druggist John Pemberton from Columbus, Georgia had a thriving drug business in Atlanta. Pemberton had invented the carbonated drink and continued to perfect it over several years. His first versions were called French Wine Cola and did include wine as an ingredient. Prohibition was enacted by 1886 forcing Pemberton to cease selling the product and returning him to the laboratory to re-invent his drink. His next creation became a temperance beverage that evolved into the Coca Cola we know today.
Asa Candler worked hard at Howard’s Pharmacy and formed a partnership with a colleague to purchase half ownership in one of his stores. Candler eventually bought out the remaining half. He became a business acquaintance of Pemberton and soon purchased a large share of the interest in the soft drink venture.
Eventually, Asa Candler would completely purchase the upstart beverage for an astounding low price of $2300.00. He would improve production and develop a world – class business.
The Asa Candler connection to Cartersville has two final surprises relating to this community. First, in 1878, Asa married Lucy E. Howard, daughter to Mr. George J. Howard, the man who gave him his first employment in the drug business.
Lucy was born in Cartersville on September 28, 1859. She and Asa had five children before she died at the age of fifty – nine. Asa married again in 1923 to May Little Ragin.
Secondly, in 1902, according to deed book KK, page 147 and 148, Asa Candler purchases his sister’s (Florence C. Harris) home located on the corner of West Main and Bartow Street. This four acre tract was the property of Mr. J. W. Harris, Sr. Seventy five years later this site became the location of Owens Funeral Home and later the Cartersville Police Department. Asa sells this property a few days later to Mrs. L. R. Knight. Florence died February 16, 1926 in Atlanta at the home of Asa Candler. She was returned to Cartersville for burial at Oak Hill Cemetery.
Additionally Asa’s brother Samuel C. Candler married a Cartersville girl, Kate Hammond and his younger brother, Warren Akin Candler was named for Bartow’s own Warren Akin. Samuel is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Cartersville.
One can better grasp the “Asa in Cartersville” story once you realize the place and influence of the W. J. Harris family. Mr. Harris was a judge who was active in the buying and selling of real estate including the drug store space used by Dr. Best. These relationships likely played a major role in how Asa came to be an apprentice for Dr. Best and Kirkpatrick via his sister, Florence.
The strongest case for where Asa apprenticed may be associated with the brick store building located on West Main Street. The deed states that Sayer and Jackson were still doing business on the property at the time of the 1879 sale. Also a newspaper ad found in the Cartersville Free Press, October 6, 1881 features M. F. Word, druggist stating he is located at the old stand of Sayre and Company on West Main Street. This same property is referenced again in deed book X, page 51 when purchased in 1883, by Mr. D. W. Curry. This would be consistent with three druggists (Best, Curry and Word) practicing in succession in what appears to be the same building. However, the most compelling evidence is the 1868 sale of the W. H. Gilbert Hardware Store to Mr. J. W. Harris listing the Best Drug Store on the east boundary and fronting Main Street.
A May 1, 1879 article in the Free Press, praises Mr. David W. Curry for his enterprising nature having expanded his store and credits him with purchasing the establishment of Sayre and Company. The article mentions that M. F. Word will remain at the former establishment as clerk. A later article in the Cartersville Express, October 3, 1879 also mentions Curry has two stores and that Drs. Kirkpatrick and Jackson continue to practice the drug trade as well. Dr. Shepherd and Dr. Wikle are also mentioned as recent doctors to the new establishment and to be popular druggists.
The quest to precisely locate the physical space on West Main Street once occupied by Best and Kirkpatrick’s apothecary that once served as the training ground narrows to the row of store fronts on West Main that are between the W&A RR tracks and Erwin Street. All we approximately know about the store front location is that both Dr. Kirkpatrick and Dr. Best, according to deed records, each owned multiple store space fronting West Main Street.
Deed records indicated that Dr. Best sold off his store in 1879 and a news article states that the front owned by Dr. Kirkpatrick was destroyed by fire and then rebuilt, but with no date or address.
While there is documented evidence that Best and Kirkpatrick operated in several locations on West Main Street between the former Legion Theater and the railroad more concrete evidence is cited in Asa Candler’s obituary. According to an article published in the Tribune News on March 14, 1929, it is noted the suspected storefront where Asa trained was located in the former Gilreath Drug Store front located at 14 West Main Street. This store front became the Gilreath/Champion Drug Store. The drug store was bought out by Champion and later relocated next door to the First National Bank on the corner of Main and Erwin Street. An additional article appearing in the February 21, 1918 Bartow Tribune also mentions that Asa Candler was employed in the former Gilreath-Champion Drug Company building about 3 doors west of the W&A Railroad tracks on Main Street.
Becky Champion, recalls hearing her grandfather, “Gran Tom” talk about Asa Candler and the small iron frog paperweight left behind. Ben Gilreath found it and then passed it to the Champions. Becky displays it proudly at her desk.
Cartersville has known more than a dozen locally owned family drug stores since 1900 and others before then. Recent generations fondly look back to names like; Bert Smith Drugs, Cochran Drugs, Gilreath and Champion Drugs, Young Brothers Pharmacy and Holt Pharmacy.
We may never know precisely where young Asa Candler learned his trade and slept on a cot in the rear of the Cartersville store. However, this research has narrowed the possibilities to a one block span. It further addresses the mythical question that Young Brothers Pharmacy is not the store Asa Candler once trained in as an apprentice, because the building was built in 1881, well after Asa left Cartersville.
Who knew the Asa Candler connection to Cartersville was so varied and deep. This has been a sleeping story waiting to be told and has escaped our citizens for over 100 years.
It is now time to properly place Asa Candler more prominently within our county history and prominent personalities.
Candler, John, Untitled biographical sketch of Asa Candler, Typed manuscript, (1929) Charles Howard Candler Papers, Special Collections, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University
The Standard & Express, Cartersville Newspaper ad, 1/10/1872, P 4
The Standard & Express, Cartersville Newspaper ad, 1/11/1872, P 4
The Standard & Express, Cartersville Newspaper, Sayer and Kirkpatrick article, 5/6/1875
Tribune News, March 25, 1926, Article, Large Gift Memory Late Mrs. Harris
Tribune News, March 14, 1929, Asa Candler Obituary
Cartersville Courant, September 16, 1886, City Business Directory (Word and Curry)
Cartersville Express, October 30, 1868 (Boot ad referencing Gilbert Hardware on Main)
Cartersville Express, October 3, 1879
Free Press, May 1. 1879
Bartow Tribune, February 21, 1918, Asa G. Candler Spent Several Years of His Early Manhood in City of Cartersville
Candler, Asa, Letter to to Dr. Asa Griggs, September 11, 1872, Emory University Archives
Bartow County deed book P, page 728, 1867, Legal Agreement for 50% profits
Bartow County deed book P, page 728, 729, January 14, 1867
Bartow County deed book Q, page 645 and 646, 1868, Gilbert sale listing Best Store, east side
Bartow County deed book V, page 278, 279, Sayer and Jackson still doing business
Bartow County deed book P, page 679, 1866
Bartow County deed book P, page 278, 1879
Bartow County deed book R, page 133, 1866
Bartow County deed book X, 51, 1883
Bartow County deed book W, page 381, 1880
Bartow County deed book II, page 7, 1891
Bartow County deed book EE, page 649, 1894, Harris, Sr sells home to Florence
US Census, 1870, Bartow County, page 15, William Kirkpatrick, Druggist
US Census, 1870, Bartow County, page 20, S. G. Hillyer, Teacher
US Census, 1870, Bartow County, page 357, John W. F. Best, Druggist
Cartersville Residence Directory, 1883, Etowah Valley Historical Society
Sanborn Maps from 1885
Etowah Valley Historical Society, Records, Microfilm Newspapers and Archives
Bartow History Museum, Archives
Bartow County Genealogical Society, Microfilm Newspapers
Lynn Gentry, Bartow County Deeds and Records Office
– Abrams, Ann Uhry, Formula for Fortune, iUniverse, 2012
– Bio Sketch from Atlanta Centennial Book, 1837 – 1937
– Cunyus, Lucy, History of Bartow County Formerly Cass: Southern Historical Press, Greenville, South Carolina, 1933.
– Kemp, Katheryn. God’s Capitalist Asa Candler of Coca Cola: Mercer University Press, Macon, GA, 2002
– Pierce, Alfred M., Giant Against the Sky, The Life of Bishop Warren Akin Candler, 1948
– Ancestry.com, The Asa Candler genealogy