What Did That Building Used to Be - Chero-Cola/Nehi/RC

Sunday, November 20, 2005 - by Harmon Jolley
509 Main Street - home of Chero-Cola, Nehi, and Royal Crown from 1916 to 1970.  Click to enlarge.
509 Main Street - home of Chero-Cola, Nehi, and Royal Crown from 1916 to 1970. Click to enlarge.
- photo by Harmon Jolley

Main Street once had two types of businesses. There were retailers who were supported by the surrounding neighborhoods including Jefferson Heights and others in South Chattanooga. There were also manufacturers who utilized the Belt Line rail connections to receive raw materials and to ship finished goods. Still standing at 509 Main Street today is the former home of a manufacturer whose bottled concoctions were shipped throughout the region.

The prelude to the 509 Main structure actually began in 1905 way down in Columbus, Georgia where Claude Hatcher began making soft drinks to sell at his grocery. The enterprise was originally called the Union Bottling Works, but soon changed to Chero-Cola in honor of their flagship product.

According to “Tennessee: The Volunteer State 1769-1923 Vol. II” by John T. Moore, Charles Little took over the Chero-Cola plant in Rome Georgia in 1914. Then, in 1916, Mr. Little erected a two-story 60 by 137 foot building at 509 Main Street in Chattanooga to serve as home of Chero-Cola in that city. The bottler benefited from the proximity to the Belt Line rail connection to the main line in and out of town.

The Moore history further described Charles Little’s new Chattanooga operation as follows. “It is equipped with the latest low-pressure bottling machinery, each machine being driven by electric motors and they are entirely automatic.” The equipment could fill up to 750 bottles per minute. Mr. Little was also reported as having bottling plants in Huntsville, Memphis, and Shreveport.

In 1922, Charles Little sold the local Chero-Cola operation to Monterey, Tennessee-native Shirley A. Christian. Mr. Little pursued a new venture with his own soft drink company, Good Grape, which he co-founded with Joe S. Foster. Good Grape evolved into the Seminole Flavor Company, which introduced Double Cola in 1933.

Meanwhile, the Chero-Cola Company was undergoing changes of its own in the 1920’s. A new fruity flavor, Nehi, was introduced and soon outsold Chero-Cola. The parent company was renamed Nehi in 1928.

The company decided to rework its formula for Chero-Cola, and introduced its replacement, Royal Crown, in 1933. Royal Crown Cola, or “RC” to aficionados, was nationally advertised and endorsed by Hollywood celebrities. The low cost of an RC and a Moon Pie (another Chattanooga-made product) was thought by many to be the right price for an economical snack. The two were even celebrated in song.

Both the franchiser and the Chattanooga operation were renamed as Royal Crown in 1957. In 1970, RC left its previous home at 509 Main Street for 201 Broad Street, which Coca-Cola was vacating for new facilities on Amnicola Highway. The Lookout Plating Company took over the former RC building on Main.

In 1979, Royal Crown sold its downtown address to the Hamilton County Department of Education, and established a distribution plant on Polymer Drive. RC closed the plant two years later.

Charles D. Little died in 1978 at age 90, and Shirley Christian passed away in 1977 at age 89.

The building was later in use by County Commissioner Curtis Adams and his sons as Adams Tire Center. It was sold in 2004 to well-known sculptor and painter Rey Alfonso, who has his studio there.

Today, both RC and Double Cola can still be found on Chattanooga’s grocery store shelves. I have been unable to locate a Nehi, however, in any flavor – orange, grape, or peach –though they appear to be available via the Internet.

If you know where a Nehi can be found locally, or if you have memories of Chero-Cola, Nehi, or Royal Crown Cola, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

201 Broad Street saw the coming and going of two brands of soft drinks.  Click to enlarge.
201 Broad Street saw the coming and going of two brands of soft drinks. Click to enlarge.
- Photo2 by courtesy of Chattanooga-Hamilton County Library

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