The Villa Rica woman’s collection grew to fill nearly the entire house at one point. But after her passing in 2010, the items are now part of the Georgia welcome center in West Point on the Georgia-Alabama state line.
Mrs. Boutwell’s husband can’t recall exactly how his wife started collecting Coke items, but he knows it took off fast.
“I’m not really sure how it started,” said Jerry Boutwell. “It was around 35 years ago. We went from nothing to a whole lot. Originally she wanted it to have an old country store look. I built her that in the yard and it filled up right away. Time went by and we filled up another place and then another.”
Boutwell said the idea for putting the collection in the welcome center came about when he stopped there following a trip to Mobile, Ala. Walking through the center, he asked why a Georgia welcome center didn’t have any Coca-Cola items.
“I told them it was unusual that they didn’t have any Cola-Cola stuff anywhere, with this being the home of Coke and the World Coke in Atlanta,” said Boutwell. “They agreed. They said they’d be interested if somebody wanted to fill the display and I told them I could. They were thrilled about it.”
Most of Hilda Boutwell’s vast collection is gone now, but many of the best pieces are found in the collection at the welcome center. Besides being an international company and one of the world’s most recognizable logos, Coca-Cola is a symbol of Georgia. Her collection even includes bottles from both Georgia and Georgia Tech’s football national titles.
Rebecca Clopp, who works at the welcome center, said it’s a big draw for tourists.
“We have people who go out and get their cameras to take pictures of it,” she said. “Their favorite thing is the Barbies on the top shelf. They also like the old bottles that were made in Villa Rica or West Point. People really like the older Coke memorabilia and old signs, it’s reminiscent.”
Clopp said she sends people to Atlanta’s World of Coke from the exhibit all the time. The company and its beverages connect to people emotionally, she feels.
“I think it’s just that Coke has always been around,” Clopp said. “Coke has those Georgia roots, so when they come and see it they put the connection together. It’s a Georgia-made and Georgia-grown product, we love promoting it.”
Though Mrs. Boutwell passed away a few years ago, her love of Coca-Cola lives on through the exhibit. Coke was even part of her funeral service.
“The pastor at First Baptist included Coke in the funeral,” said Jerry Boutwell. “She was known as a Coca-Cola person. I don’t know how it came about over the years, but if you went to a restaurant and they asked would Pepsi be all right she’d say, ‘No. Let’s go somewhere else.’”