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Irish ale bottles served as footpaths
by Kenda Nelson
Jul 15, 2010 | 1690 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bill and Sal Rayburn takes a picture to prepare for the eBay sale that begins next week.
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Early settlers in Refugio were recyclers, but not necessarily for the same reasons that drive modern-day residents.

The bounty of one pioneer family’s recycling attempts will hit the eBay auction on the Internet next week.

Grosvenor crockery bottles, once filled with Irish brew and shipped to Refugio from Glasgow, Ireland, were recently excavated by one of the descendants of the town’s founders. As of this week, nobody knows how much money the bottles are worth.

Jerry Stratmann, whose great-grandfather owned Doughty’s Saloon, uncovered the bottles buried in his mother Betty Stratmann’s yard on Osage Street. The original owner of the house was the late Willie Doughty, sister of the saloon owner.

“I was putting in a new sidewalk at my mother’s house and was digging up the old sidewalk when I found the bottles,” Stratmann said.

The first shipments of Irish ale bottled in crock pottery are believed to have sailed into the port of El Copano. The port was abandoned after several hurricanes wrecked havoc on the families settled there.

Jerry’s great-great-grandfather ran a supply wagon from El Copano to Refugio. In addition to bringing the ale to town, he also delivered lumber to build Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church, according to Stratmann.

The ale also might have arrived via St. Mary’s before that port suffered the same fate as El Copano. The trail of the relics begins in Glasgow, Ireland.

The brew was loaded into the hold of sailing ships and used for ballast for crossing the Atlantic and into the Gulf of Mexico. Once unloaded in El Copano, Stratmann’s great-great-grandfather transported the ale to Refugio. Emptied by thirsty patrons of the saloons of Refugio, still another use for the bottles was summoned.

In Refugio’s early years, the unpaved streets turned into mud puddles for customers at the taverns. Boards were strategically placed for makeshift sidewalks but the abundance of the flat-bottomed bottles didn’t escape the imaginations of Refugio’s settlers.

Buried neck down, the thick pottery provided a smooth walking surface.

Years later, during the oil boom, the discovery of oil and gas generated enough revenue for the town to pave its streets.

John Borglund, who was a kid when the concrete streets were poured, salvaged one of the bottles.

Whether a few or many of the bottles remain buried under Commons Street remains a mystery. Also unclear is whether Mr. Doughty or his sister constructed the makeshift sidewalk at his sister’s home.

Either way, Jerry Stratmann’s unexpected discovery shines a new light into the resourcefulness of early Refugians.

From ship’s ballast to satisfying thirst to creating a sidewalk, the crockery bottles will perhaps find yet another use – gracing the homes of history buffs across the country and perhaps the world when the relics of days gone by land on the Internet auction block next week.

Antique glass dealers Bill and Sal Rayburn of Refugio have taken the bottles to sell on eBay from their glass shop. When they obtain the go-ahead from Jerry Stratmann, the bidding will begin.
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