How a small-town soda fountain was transported to the basement of a KC museum

Elixir in the basement of the Kansas City Museum/Zach Bauman

More than sixty years after it shuttered its doors, a small-town soda fountain lives on underneath the main floor of Kansas City Museum.

In 1925, C.W. and Wilma R. Kirby’s drugstore in Modena, Missouri, approximately a hundred and forty miles northwest of Kansas City, was the social hub of their rural community. For nearly fifty years, the Kirbys, with the help of their six children, ran the combined drugstore, post office and soda fountain, serving homemade ice cream and phosphates, a popular drink in the early 1900s also thought to have health benefits. Drinks like Pluto Water, Green River and Wine-sip were popular fountain offerings at the Kirby Drugstore. While the latter two were flavored drinks, Pluto Water’s catch-phrase was “America’s Laxative.” 

The Kirby’s drugstore was open fourteen hours a day, six days a week and a half-day on Sundays. The family, who lived upstairs, also ran an outdoor “movie theater” with weekly screenings on the side of the building. The Kirbys closed shop in the 1970s. In 1977, the Kirby children donated the entire contents of the drugstore, including original fixtures purchased from a St. Joseph company, to the Kansas City Museum.

With the donation, the museum recreated an old-fashioned soda fountain, the “1910 Drug Store and Soda Fountain.” It was an interactive exhibit that included a working soda fountain and also served phosphates and ice cream.

When the museum, which is housed in a Beaux Arts mansion on a three-and-half-acre estate in the city’s historic northeast neighborhood, shut down around 2008 for renovations, so did the soda fountain.

Along with the entire property, the soda fountain was also revamped. Now known as Elixir, it has been given a modern twist.

The white tin ceiling is still there, along with the original soda fountain counter, but sleek tables and plush booth seating has replaced much of the older decor.

“My hope is individuals who come back to visit the museum and experience many of the new parts of the museum and the soda fountain can sit down and create new memories,” says Paul Gutiérrez, a museum staffer. 

As of press time, Elixir is awaiting city permits before fully opening the soda fountain. That could happen any day.

In the meantime, the museum is offering special ticketed culinary events, Gutiérrez says.

For example, Michael Crane from Crane Brewing held an “educational and tasty” event in the Elixir space teaching how water, grains, hops and yeast come together to make beer. Gutiérrez encourages people to check the museum’s calendar for upcoming events. 

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