The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Sunday, September 1, 1996             TAG: 9608300076
DATELINE: RURAL RETREAT, VA.                LENGTH:   85 lines


DON'T YOU LOVE that name? A long time ago - I can't be more exact that that, but it was stagecoach days - this place was called Mount Airy. There was a tavern here called the Rural Retreat, and eventually this Wythe County community a mile off Interstate 81 came to be called that as well.

Mostly because that is what it was . . . and is: a pleasant rural retreat in the southwestern Virginia Highlands.

Once it was also called the ``Cabbage Capital of the World,'' but not any more. So we don't have to deal with that.

Today it is known, at least to pursuers of trivia, as the home of Dr. Pepper, and maybe even the birthplace of Dr Pepper, the soft drink. Or at least the place of its conception, which is sometimes considered even more memorable.

(Note to editors, and readers as well: Dr Pepper, the soft drink company, dropped the period in its name when it started using in its logo a particular type face in which the serif part of the ``r'' looked like a period. When used with an actual period the lettering was confusing.)

There are more than a dozen versions of how the drink got its name. I will tell you the one I like best because it begins here. It may or may not be completely true.

Doctor Pepper was Charles Taylor Pepper, a former Confederate surgeon raised in nearby Christiansburg, who set up a pharmacy in Rural Retreat after the war. In his spare time, so the story goes, he began mixing mountain herbs, roots and seltzer into a fizzy brew, which his assistant, Wade B. Morrison, began to mass-produce.

The sign over the ex-drugstore - it closed about two years ago and is now a florist and gift shop - at the corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue, across from the depot, boasts that it was the home of Dr. Charles Pepper, who developed the formula for the soft drink. That's their story, and they're sticking with it.

You can still get a can of Dr Pepper there for 50 cents - the new proprietors keep some on hand for trivial pursuers like me - but the cooler had a lot more cans of Pepsi than anything else.

``We sell just enough to buy some more,'' a lady told me.

Anyway, the story goes that the doctor's daughter fell in love with Morrison. The doctor wasn't too pleased about that, so he sent her off to school. And he fired Morrison.

So Morrison did what a lot of other Virginians from this region - Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, among others - had done, although not all for the same reason: he moved to Texas.

In Waco, Morrison set up a pharmacy of his own, the Old Corner Drug Store at Fourth and Austin streets. The Texas version of the story is that Morrison's pharmacist, Charles C. Alderton, began fooling around with combinations of flavorings when he wasn't making medicine and that, about 1885, he invented the drink.

Morrison began selling batches of the mix, drugstore to drugstore, promoted as a tonic, until 1891, when he opened a bottling plant.

So why was it called Dr Pepper? Nobody seems to want to give the Virginia doctor credit. Some even claim it was named after Morrison's horse, Pepper. Why would Morrison have named his horse that? Think about why he left Rural Retreat.

The drink's precise recipe remains a secret, although it is known to contain 32 ingredients, including juices, herbs and spices. It does NOT contain prune juice. That was one of those rumors that got started about 50 years ago - my impressionable years - and one I still halfway believe despite the disclaimer.

There is a Dr Pepper Museum in Waco in what was the company's bottling plant from 1906 to 1923. That year the company left Waco for Dallas. Last year the company was bought by Cadbury Schweppes PLC, the British conglomerate.

``We want Dr Pepper to come and paint our water tower like a can of Dr Pepper,'' a lady in the pharmacy turned florist shop told me, ``but they don't want to have anything to do with Rural Retreat.''

Come on, Mr. Cadbury and Mr. Schweppes. Lighten up. What harm can a Dr Pepper water tower in Rural Retreat do . . . except to the pride of Waco?

Meanwhile, the remains of Dr. Charles Taylor Pepper rest with those of his wife and several children in Mountain View Cemetery overlooking the town. He died in 1903 in his 73rd year, a man destined to be remembered at least in legend.

At the foot of the modest marble obelisk marking his grave lay an empty Dr Pepper can, slightly crushed and already sun-faded. It was a special commemorative can marking the 105th anniversary of the drink that bears his name. ILLUSTRATION: Photo


A florist and gift shop in Rural Retreat is the former site of the

drugstore of Dr. Pepper, who may have invented the soft drink. by CNB