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Dive Bar Decor

Savoring Saranac Lake’s Rich Bottled History

One Glass at a Time


I’ve been Adirondack bottle diving for several years now, salvaging Saranac Lake’s rich bottled beverage history from beneath a variety of locations in its meandering array of tannin-stained waters.

A number of my more noteworthy finds have ended up in area museums. A pair of my bottle diving Frenette finds grace Tupper Lake’s Heritage Museum, which, I noted on my last trip through Tupper, appears to have recently relocated.

Tupper Lake Heritage Museum
Late 1940’s Frenette Bottle Display
Including a rare sized 6.5 oz. green glass Coke & brown glass Orange Crush bottle

It appears Frenette was a bit of an Adirondack Outlaw himself, bottling his own Coca-Cola syrup without a license, until he got caught.

My prized once in a lifetime F. M. Bull bottle diving find also makes its home in a museum. F.M. Bull was a Civil War veteran, pharmacist, one of Saranac Lake’s four original village trustees, and owner of Saranac Lake’s first pharmacy.

To the best of my knowledge, still the only known example of an F.M. Bull bottle in existence, my discovery is now a proud part of Historic Saranac Lake’s pharmacy bottle display.

Beyond that, approximately two years ago I donated twenty-five Collins Brother’s bottles to Historic Saranac Lake to sell in their store.

They proved quite popular and a success as a fund raiser.

Chessie Monks-Kelly, Historic Saranac Lake’s Archivist/Curator & I kept in contact. My bottle diving endeavors continued. I acquired quite an inventory. I still to this day believe I have the largest collection of Adirondack Bottling Works & Collins Brothers bottles in private hands. It keeps growing.

While the bottles in my primary personal collection are all fully intact, I slowly acquired an inventory of cracked or broken necked bottles that were not.

What to do with all the broken necked bottles? I hated the idea of simply discarding them. My wife bought me a glass cutting kit. I began practicing.

Preparing a bottle for cutting.
This device scores it.

It is difficult for me to know what a bottle’s true condition is when it first comes out of the water, dive fresh.

Many of them have fatal unseen flaws or cracks.

A Good Day’s Bottle Dive Harvest
“Dive Fresh”

Their 19th century glass is full of bubbles and imperfections.

The glass in each bottle, especially the early Merkels, Currans and Starks bottles, is unpredictably fragile and uneven.

A successfully cut Starks Bottle.
Note the uneven thickness of glass.

As a result, I lose one in three salvaged bottles even before I begin cutting. Then my glass shatter rate is at least 50% during the process of alternating hot-cold water bottle bathing to complete the cut process.

Post scoring hot water bath to complete the cut.
Alternating between boiling hot & ice water.

Long story short,

I end up with a good many shattered glass dead soldiers.

“Dead Soldiers”
Cutting these century old bottles yields over a 50% mortality rate.

Despite the fragile glass and high failure rate, after some practice, my early efforts finally paid off. I was able to successfully cut myself a pair of broken necked early Merkel bottles into cocktail type display glasses.

My 1st pair of successfully cut 19th Century Merkel bottles.
Note the different label styles.

I added these to my personal Adirondack Bottling Works bottle display. I snapped several photos in the process and shared them with Chessie Monks-Kelly.

Her response was “Oh! These would sell like hotcakes in our store!”

“Okay. Place your order. How many would you like?”

“Hmm…How’s about four?”

That conversation Between Chessie & I took place early last summer, a little over a year ago. So last year I redoubled my bottle dives in an effort to harvest as many bottles as possible.

I am loathe to cut an intact bottle, as they are so hard to find. Even when broken, I can’t cut the Collins bottles, as those bottles’ labels comes up too high into the neck.

Collins Bottle right.
Note label height on the neck.

So, with a total loss rate of well over 50%, I figured that to successfully cut four, I would need at least ten. Ten broken necked Merkel, Starks or Curran bottles is a big number. Each successful dive effort generally yields about a half dozen bottles, most of them Collins bottles, as they are most common.

I generally dive only three or four times a season. Last summer, I dove four times. My total broken necked bottle haul for the season was seventeen. Of that seventeen, four ended up having fatal cracks that made them uncuttable. Of the remaining thirteen, I was able to successfully cut seven.

So, with seven successfully cut 19th century Adirondack Bottling Works cocktail type display glasses, I decided to pair them, one each with an early 20th century Collins bottle, as a historic bottle bar display pair. Together each pair represents a fifty-year era, (late 1880’s -late 1920’s) of Historic Saranac Lake bottle making.

Then, wanting something to really accent and make the display pop and stand out, I painstakingly hand crafted for each set a pine “Historic Saranac Lake” base.

I now have seven of these Saranac Lake Bottle History Cocktail Bar Display sets, to be delivered to Chessie Monks-Kelly and exclusively available sometime in the near future as a fund raiser through Historic Saranac Lake’s store. These are the only such sets in existence. They are so “Dive Fresh” that as of this posting, Chessie has not yet seen them. She thinks she is getting four simple cocktail style display glasses.

I think and hope she will be pleasantly surprised.

She has no idea what’s coming.

So, if folks happen to see her in the interim, please don’t spoil the surprise.

For me, it’s back to the drawing board. Headed to SL tomorrow to deliver these beauties and get back into the water for my season’s first bottle dive.


One Final Note:

The minute Historic Saranac Lake successfully auctions or sells one of these Dive Bar Decor antique bottle display sets,

They are officially…

“This Bottle Not To Be Sold”

“Adirondack Outlaws”


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


(Author’s Endnote: This story appeared in the 7/27/23 online edition of The Adirondack Almanack.)