From pre-teen to maturity, Francis William Bradley frequently experienced the deaths of loved ones and comrades, always moving on to new challenges, He ultimately fetched up in San Diego, where he ran a saloon, established a wholesale liquor house, founded a bottling company, and owned a locally famous mineral spring. For Bradley and his beverages, California truly was “The Golden State.”
The son of Nancy Scott and John Isom Bradley, a farmer, Francis was born in Audrain County, Missouri, in May 1848. His grandfather William had moved west to Missouri from Virginia not long after the War of 1812, in which he had served as a teenaged soldier. Many Southerners, taking advantage of inexpensive farmland, had moved to the area and Audrain was one of six counties popularly called “The Heart of Little Dixie.”
Francis would have his first experience of a loved one dying when his mother, Mary, passed away at the age of 33 when he was twelve. An only child, he was raised by his father. As soon as young Bradley was able, with the example of his grandfather, he joined the Union Army in his mid teens. It was something of a courageous decision. Audrain County was sharply divided about the war. Many Southern migrants had brought slaves and slaveholding traditions with them. Their sons, Francis’ schoolmates, were joining the Confederate Army.
In August 1864, Bradley enlisted as a private in Company A of the 44th Regiment of Missouri Infantry. Enlistment papers provide the following description: “Eyes: blue; hair, dark; complexion, fair; height 5 feet, 5 inches.” He quickly was sent to the Union Army camp for basic training at Rolla, Missouri, shown here. A month later Bradley was engaged in combat. By November he had fought in three major battles against rebel forces in Tennessee: the Battle of Columbia, the Battle of Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin.
At the Battle of Franklin, shown above, the Missouri 44th was severely tested. As a regimental history tell the story: “When the Confederate Army attacked the Union lines they were able to breach the area at the pike and as they did Union troops up front were forced back. The whole mass crashed right into the 44th Missouri. Simply stated, had the 44th faltered the Battle of Franklin may have been lost. Instead they stood their ground and fought with great courage until reinforcements came forward and until the retreating main line troops were able to gather themselves and rejoin the fight.”
In each battle Bradley had seen death all around as comrades and friends were killed on the field of combat. He himself was hospitalized, whether for wounds or disease is not clear, and in late 1864 sent to the Army hospital at Rolla. Months later he was transferred to the Marine General Hospital in St. Louis where he was mustered out of the service, discharged for disability. Although he later received a pension as an “invalid,” his medical condition apparently did not hamper his subsequent career.
His father having died during the war and with no immediate family left in Audrain County, after the Civil War Bradley moved about 200 miles west to St. Joseph, Missouri. St. Joe, as it was known by many, was the “jumping off point” for pioneers heading west. Often wagon trains tarried in the city, buying supplies and waiting for favorable weather conditions. St. Joe teemed with saloons and Bradley, 23 years old and a bachelor, found employment in one of them.
During the early 1870s Francis also found a wife in St. Joseph. She was Rachel Louisa Juliett Blondeau, a woman six years younger than he, born in Illinois of French immigrant parents. They were married on April 21, 1874, with the Rev. Henry Bullard, pastor of St. Joseph’s Westminster Presbyterian Church presiding. In quick succession the couple would have two sons, William B. and John E. The 1880 census found the Bradleys living on French Street in St. Joe. Francis continued to be listed as a saloon keeper.
What occasioned Bradley to moved his family across the continent to San Diego is not clear. Traffic through St. Joseph had fallen off during the 1890s as railway transport opened up large areas of the West. The saloonkeeper may have decided that brighter prospects awaited 1,700 miles away. About 1887 the Bradleys moved to San Diego, shown below as it looked at his arrival. There Francis is initially recorded partnering in a saloon called “Bradley & Williams.”
Only a year later death again was to strike down a loved one. Rachel, Francis’ wife of 14 years, died in May 1888, leaving him to raise their two sons, William 14 and John 11. About the same time San Diego directories recorded Bradley and a partner as proprietors of the “Eintracht” Saloon at 963 Fifth Street. Meaning in German “peace and harmony,” the Eintracht was one of city’s more upscale drinking establishments. A subsequent owner would call it a “resort.” The saloon featured a hot lunch available before noon, cold steam and lager beer, and mixed drinks — nor just shots of rotgut at the bar.
By 1891, perhaps in part to have a mother for his sons, Francis married again. She was Ella A., a woman about his age who was born in Maine of parents from New England. The couple would have no children. The 1900 census found the family living downtown at the corner of Front Street and Broadway in San Diego where Bradley was running the Albemarle Hotel. The hostelry, built in 1888 during an economic boom, billed itself as a family hotel. It also was popular with officers of the ships docked in the nearby bay, as well as by traveling theater companies and comedy troupes.
The next few years would mark the heyday of Bradley’s success in San Diego. California would live up to its reputation as “The Golden State.” After leaving the hotel job Francis founded two businesses, the Bradley Spring Water and Bottling Company, located at 1225 C Street, and F.W. Bradley Wholesale Wines and Liquors, located at 1058-1062 Fourth Avenue. Francis advertised his liquor house relentlessly. The ad shown above ran at the top of dozens of pages of the 1901 San Diego business directory. Bradley’s flagship brand was “Good Roads,” a blended whiskey. He was issued a trademark for the name in February 1910.
At his liquor house Bradley was rectifying (blending) his own brands of whiskey in order to achieve a particular color, smoothness and taste, then retailing it in his own bottles. Shown here are an amber quart and a closeup of the embossed label. Note the elaborate monogram of Bradley’s initials. The transplanted Missourian also merchandised his liquor in clear embossed pint flasks, as shown below. Both containers likely initially bore paper labels that have been lost with the passage of time.
Throughout his career as a San Diego whiskey merchant, Bradley continued to promote his goods vigorously. Showing a figure straddling a rail, the ad below asserted: “On the fence as to where to secure the best wines and liquors of all kinds? Settle the question by buying here. Don’t poison yourself by buying inferior liquors when you can buy pure goods at very little more cost….Buy here and be sure of quality….”
At the same time, the proprietor’s spring water and bottling plant were flourishing. Francis claimed to be sole owner of what he called “the Celebrated Bradley Spring” near San Diego. His ads touted his bottled spring water as “a pure natural mineral water, efficacious in all kind of kidney and stomach problems.”
His company also sold a full line of carbonated soft drinks, including root beer, ginger ale and flavored soda waters. Bradley bottled his non-alcoholic beverages in Hutchinson type bottles that featured a spring stopper that prevented the escape of carbonation. Those bottles also carried his embossed name.
Bradley's enterprises proved to be highly profitable, allowing Francis and Ella to buy one of San Diego’s more elegant homes, shown here. It is now on the register of San Diego historical houses. Constructed in 1887, the mansion is said to exemplify the “architectural and aesthetic development of San Diego in the Second Empire Victorian style.” Located at 1546 A Street, the house was a “medium to large” elite dwelling. The Bradley’s purchased it from the original owner in 1904 but lived in it only two years and sold, possibly finding it too large for a couple living alone.
Then death visited Francis Brady once again. Ella, his wife of 16 years, the woman who had helped him raise his sons into maturity and stood by him as he advanced in business and wealth, died in March 1907 at the age of 55. Within a year, Bradley had married a third time. She was Ida May Little, born in California, the daughter of William and Honora Little of San Diego. One record shows her as having been married earlier, possibly in her early teens. At the time of their nuptials, Ida May was 32, Francis was 60 — a 28 year difference in their ages. At least for a time, they may have lived apart. The 1910 census indicates that although recorded as married, Bradley was lodging alone at an apartment building on San Diego’s D Street, his occupation given as “merchant-wines.”
Two years later, death, something that Bradley had known so well in his life, became personal. He succumbed to a heart attack in San Diego on May 3, 1912. He was 66 years, 11 months and 10 days old. Under the auspices of the Heintzelman Post, No. 33 of the G.A.R., his funeral was held at the chapel of a local funeral home. Francis Bradley was buried San Diego’s Mount Hope Cemetery. Shown here is the graveyard monument memorializing his Civil War service.
Addendum: Bradley’s relationship with third wife Ida May, despite some apparent separation, must have remained cordial because he named her as the administratrix of his very substantial estate. A controversy subsequently arose with the whiskey man’s other heirs, likely his sons William and John, over a private sale of property by Ida May. They claimed that it had been sold for considerably less than it was worth and hinted at collusion. After hearing arguments the probate judge voided the sale.
Note: The information and illustrations for this post have been taken from wide variety of sources. Two of the more important ones are the Western Whiskey Gazette website of January 20, 2010, featuring a brief story and images of Bradley whiskey bottles, and a Legacy 106 Historic House Research report by Ronald V. May and Kiley Wallace on the former Bradley mansion, a document that contains a brief biography of the whiskey man.