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Antique soda fountain, once a drugstore fixture, returns to Brooks

By Ben Holbrook | Jul 21, 2016
Photo by: Ben Holbrook This Arctic Soda Apparatus fountain once dispensed beverages to customers in a drugstore in Brooks. Later moved after the store closed, the soda fountain has since returned and is now on display at Brooks Historical Society.

Brooks — A soda fountain that once graced this town's drugstore, but was later moved by a relative of the shop's owner, has returned and is on display in the historical society's new barn.

Weighing in at a hefty 600 pounds, the fountain, “The Arctic Soda Apparatus,” was a longtime fixture in the town's drugstore, which was owned and operated by Albert R. Pilley. When poor health forced Pilley to close his store — the building still stands today across the road from Marsh River Cooperative — he gifted the monolithic apparatus to his nephew, Bob Elliott of radio and television comedy team Bob and Ray fame.

Elliott, in an article for Yankee Magazine, described the soda fountain as “an overpowering beauty in its own way,” despite its immense heft.

The soda fountain features a 1 1/2-inch-thick marble base, measuring 35 inches wide by 30 inches high, enclosed by a slant-roofed cover. A 20-inch-tall glass dome protecting a small Statue of Liberty-esque figurine would sit on top of the machine. The dome sits on a table near the fountain in the barn because there isn't adequate clearance between the machine and ceiling in the barn.

“Within the box are a dozen tin banks for holding syrups of various flavors, with pipes leading to the outlets on the working side of the fountain. About two-thirds of the way up from the counter base to the top are two large faucets: one for Root Beer, the other, Saratoga Water. Between them, the actual spigot for dispensing the carbonation,” Elliot wrote in the Yankee Magazine article.

Along the bottom of the machine are 10 flavor faucets that would dispense such offerings as Maltese Orange, Pineapple, and Ginger Teaberry. There is also one faucet marked “Don't Care” that Elliott suggests in his article might have allowed fountain owners to more quickly sell less popular flavors.

“Should a customer sit up to the counter to order a soda, expressing no particular preference, Uncle Al could select the 'Don't Care' tap, piped into the less popular 'Pineapple' tank,” Elliott wrote.

The Arctic Soda Apparatus was patented June 30, 1863; Nov. 24, 1874; and Jan. 13, 1880, by J.W. Tufts of Boston, Mass.

Elliott eventually moved the soda fountain out of his great-uncle's store but it was destined to return to the small Waldo County town, albeit decades later.

Fast-forward to 2005 when Elliott inherits the home in which his mother, grandmother and great-uncle were born, and which still bears their family name, and gives the residence to Brooks Historical Society. He also promised to give the organization the soda fountain, Betty Littlefield, historical society president, said.

While the historical society was eager to take possession of such an iconic piece of the town's history, the home-turned-museum Pilley House lacked a floor strong enough to support the fountain, Littlefield said.

That prevented the historical society from claiming the fountain until earlier this month when it was retrieved and installed shortly before a July 3 barn dedication ceremony.

The soda fountain can be viewed in the historical society's new barn and will be on display during an Aug. 14 open house, Littlefield said.

She said the historical society is also looking for a buggy wagon made in Brooks. The wagon would have a brass tag on the back of the seat with Isaac Staples & Son, Brooks, Maine, etched on it, Littlefield said.

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