A “Sour” Construction Surprise

Progress on the new addition to Antiquarian Hall has been moving steadily over the past few months. Collections have been moved for protection, windows abutting the new addition have been boarded for safety, and these days you may even see staff and readers with ear plugs in the reading room, still hard at work despite the intermittent interruptions. And just last week, the steel beams have finally arrived and passersby can now see the frame starting to take shape.

One of our favorite unexpected developments during the construction process, however, was the discovery of these Old Crow Sour Mash bottles, which were dug up during excavation for the foundation of the project. Founded in 1835, the Frankfort, Kentucky, distillery produced hundreds of barrels of bourbon whiskey each year, which was said to be favored by Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain. Based on the label design and construction features, these bottles have been dated to the early 1900s and so were likely deposited there during the construction of Society’s library building from 1909 to 1912.

The bottles are also marked with the name and address of George F. Hewett Co., a liquor and water bottler located in Worcester from 1860 to at least 1915. Like many New England towns, Worcester was home to many bottling companies over the years. These firms sold and refilled glass containers for everything from milk to soda water. Standing orders for beverages, including liquor, soda, and seltzers, were delivered to customers by horse cart and empties were hauled away.

Detail of a chromolithograph, “Coburn, Lang & Co. Manufacturers of Soda & Mineral Water… No. 100 Worcester St. Boston,” published in Boston, 1870s.

A view of the construction of Antiquarian Hall in 1910.

Finding the bottles intact was thrilling for the work crew and staff at the library. The bottles have now been cataloged and are housed safely inside the stacks. They are a reminder of the crews of workmen who built the Society’s library building before the days of modern backhoes and jack hammers and, after a hard day’s labor, may have sat at the job site and passed a bottle of Kentucky bourbon around.

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