On Friday, July 5th the Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute opened our newest long-term exhibit Healing Waters. The funding for Healing Waters was generously provided by The Clifton Foundation. For those Peppers who have been around a while, you will recognize the space where Healing Waters is installed as the old Gift Shop. The opening took place in conjunction with our monthly First Friday festivities.
History of The Space
Since we purchased the historic Kellum-Rotan Building in 2001 (the building with the big red neon Dr Pepper sign on the side), the long-term goal has been to move collections storage, staff offices, meeting and classroom space, exhibits, and eventually the Gift Shop and Soda Fountain out of the original Museum building. We completed these moves in May of 2016 when we opened the Holt-Getterman Exhibit Gallery, Peggy Pepper’s Emporium, and Frosty’s Soda Shop to the public. Moving these functions out of the historic Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company (AMBC) Building naturally created empty space that begged to be filled by a staff of museum nerds! However, before we did anything else, we needed to use some of that space to re-imagine the admissions desk experience when visitors enter the building. The room that was previously used as the Soda Fountain is now a large ticket booth and orientation gallery area that naturally leads guests to start their journey through the Museum in the Healing Waters exhibit space.
The original admissions booth midway through being disassembled.
The previous admissions booth area is now the front lobby entrance. You can now start to see the space as it would have
been when it was a bottling plant – open with few interior walls dividing operations.
Fun Fact: The Healing Waters space was originally the sales office when the building was a bottling plant. Route drivers would gather there each morning to get their route assignment then report back each evening with the day’s sales. The drivers’ competitive spirit paid off because Waco was consistently one of the top producing markets. The original chalkboard where they would record the weekly sales of each driver can be seen hanging in the exhibit. While the chalkboard does not have a direct connection with the theme of Healing Waters, it is original to that room in the building and is a physical reminder of the booming business carbonated water would become.
Why Healing Waters?
This natural traffic flow was the basis for our decision to make the old Gift Shop space into Healing Waters. Additionally, our mission leads us to share the history of the entire soft drink industry, not just Dr Pepper. Starting the Museum experience in a space dedicated to telling the story of carbonated water as a precursor to the inventions of popular sodas made sense given the feedback we get from visitors asking for a more chronological order to the exhibits. There is also an aspect of Waco history that is not represented anywhere else as we explore the popularity of Waco’s artesian wells and their impact on the economy, and ultimately, the success of Dr Pepper. Highlights of the exhibit include a map of the artesian wells in Texas in 1891, an interactive stereograph viewer, and artifacts highlighting the history of bubbly water.
Opening Event and First Friday
At 4:30 PM, in partnership with The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Directors and staff of the Museum cut the ribbon on the Healing Waters exhibit. President and CEO Chris Dyer, along with Board Chair Blaine McCormick and Board Secretary and Interpretation Committee Chair Autumn Outlaw, said thanks and remarks for visitors and guests. Museum staff served guests samples of different kinds of mineral water, including the four different kinds of Crazy Water (generously donated by Crazy Water in Mineral Wells, Texas), The Mountain Valley Spring Water, and Saratoga Natural Spring Water. Visitors also got the chance to make their own soda using an old-fashioned seltzer siphon and house-made artisan syrups from historic recipe books such as Don’t Care (lemon, blackberry, and grape), Celery, and Spice of Life (black currant, raspberry, and lemon). Staff were on hand to lead guided Hidden History talks, which highlight architectural information about the AMBC Building, and present the Fantastic Flavors demonstration in the Liquid Lab.
The DPMFEI had the honor of being the location of First Friday Waco’s Mobile Market, which highlights different areas of Waco where businesses participate in First Friday. They raffled off a Waco basket and gave away goody bags to visitors who stopped by their tent in the Museum’s Courtyard. Vendors including A. McCall, The Artford, Black Oak Art, Curiosity Voyage Apothecary, Just Peachy, and Patacology were featured, along with the Gary’s Grill food truck and live music from Caution. Overall, we hosted over 425 visitors and we can’t wait for both new and returning visitors to see Healing Waters in the years to come.