Sam Jessup moved to Charlottesville in 1908 for the same reason that motivated the arrival of many city residents. He relocated to Charlottesville from Martinsville thanks in large part to the educational opportunities afforded by the University of Virginia.
That was also the year that Jessup, 31 and the father of five, obtained a license to bottle the 10-year-old soda product, Pepsi-Cola, invented by a young pharmacist in New Bern, North Carolina, who owned a drug store with a soda fountain.
Jessup “brought Pepsi here from Martinsville in 1908,” said his grandson, Jay Jessup, who owns Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Central Virginia with his sister, Suzanne Brooks. A copy of Pepsi-Cola’s oldest franchise agreement signed by Pepsi founder Caleb Bradham and dated December 28, 1908, adorns the wall of their Charlottesville office.
“He wanted to go some place that had a good school,” Brooks said. “He had gone through the eighth grade and he wanted to have a good school option for his kids. So, with the University of Virginia here, and no bottling company here, he thought it was a great opportunity.”
Two of his sons attended UVa and two daughters graduated from the College of William & Mary, she said.
Jessup, whose father had died when he was 5, had grown up learning the value and responsibility of hard work and providing for a family, his grandchildren said. He became an entrepreneur as a teenager, buying a small tobacco farm and starting a general store and a post office before moving from Patrick County to Martinsville in 1904 and then to Charlottesville four years later.
His entrepreneurial skills in the 52 years he was a business and civic leader in Charlottesville until his death in 1960 went far beyond marketing and bottling Pepsi. He and his soon-to-be six children at times ran a dairy and ice cream plant, a bus company, an insurance business, a laundry, a beer franchise and even a cigar company. He served eight years on Charlottesville City Council.
“It didn’t matter whether you were male or female in the family, if you were business oriented, you were in the business,” Jessup said. “My aunt wound up running the dairy.”
“As different opportunities arose, he took advantage of them,” Jessup said of his grandfather. “I don’t think he sought to get into the dairy business,” but he noticed a man looking for a place to locate some ice cream manufacturing equipment and struck up a conversation with him, Jessup said. The elder Jessup showed the man a 15-by-15-foot unused space and the two men became partners in a budding dairy business. Jessup eventually bought the business when his partner decided to leave the city.
Monticello Dairy was established in 1912 in a small room in Jessup’s bottling works on Fourth Street between Main and Water streets. From 1935 until she died in 1975, daughter Betty Sue Jessup ran the dairy, which grew significantly and moved to Grady Avenue with more than 300 employees and a delivery fleet of 124 trucks and trailers.
For the first five years of his bottling business in Charlottesville, Samuel Jessup’s horse-drawn Pepsi delivery wagons were a regular sight around the city until gasoline-powered trucks started replacing them in 1913.
One of the horses drawing a Pepsi wagon was a favorite named Stella, who enjoyed and even insisted on drinking the product while making deliveries across the city. Family lore has it that Stella “had a habit of nudging employees with her nose until they opened up a Pepsi and held the bottle for her to drink,” according to a 1962 Daily Progress story.
Samuel Jessup bought the Virginia Stage Lines, later Virginia Trailways, in 1926 and helped it grow into a 385-employee business with routes across most of Virginia and into North Carolina and Washington, D.C. Son Claude A. Jessup became president and general manager of the bus company and remained proud of one he started called the Charlottesville-Crozet Bus line.
City Laundry was another Jessup family business as was an Anheuser-Busch beer franchise that was sold to the Sieg family in the 1960s. But Pepsi and its many related products remains the principle family business with annual sales of 8.5 million cases a year and 362 current employees, Brooks said.
“The fourth generation is now working here, Jay’s daughters,” she said.
For more than 100 years, the Jessups quietly have supported numerous charities and community programs to benefit the lives of area residents. Samuel Jessup no doubt would be proud of what his family Pepsi business has become in the 35 years it has been located on Pepsi Place near Greenbrier Drive where his grandchildren run it, and before that on Millmont Street behind the Barracks Road Shopping Center where it was run by son Jimmie in the years 1963 to 1983.
Bob Gibson is a senior researcher at the Academy for Civic Renewal at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.