Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Perrines: “Blue Bloods” in Philadelphia Whiskey

In the 1890 “Blue Book,” the defacto social register of Philadelphia, among the names to be found in that highly selective volume — 25,000 among 1.5 million population — were those of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Stout Perrine, living on fashionable Mount Vernon Street.  The entry did not mention that, along with his brother, Mathew, he was one of the city’s most successful liquor dealers.

The Perrines had long been an established American family.   Their founding ancestor, Daniel Perrin, known as “The Hugenot" (French Protestant), had arrived on these shores in 1665, settling in the New York area.   The Perrine brothers had been born in New Jersey.  Their father was Thomas Morford Perrine whose first wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of General James Cook.  When she died a year later in childbirth,  Thomas married a second time,  Elizabeth Stout, likely a cousin. She was the mother of Mathew, born in 1831, and Jonathan, shown here in maturity, born in 1836.   

Because the brothers claimed that the origin of their business was 1845 when both would still have been children, it has been speculated that their father started the liquor business in Philadelphia.  Thomas Perrine, however, was recorded serving many years the as the chief warden of the State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, and is not known to have left the state.  A more likely explanation is that the Perrine brothers bought an unnamed liquor dealership in Philadelphia that dated back to 1845.  Both brothers were recorded by the 1870 census working in the liquor business. Their company first was listed in business directories in 1871, called “M. & J.S. Perrine” and located at 37 North Front Street.
The substantial three story building, shown here,  that housed the liquor dealership indicates that the brothers were “rectifying” whiskey, that is buying it from the many distillers then operating in Pennsylvania, blending and compounding it, and selling under their own labels.  As a result of these activities, the Perrines were able to merchandise a number of brands.  They included “Chemically Pure,” “Palace Club,” “Palace Rye,” “Perrine’s Monogram Pure Rye,” “Perrine’s Old Memorial Whiskey,” “Perrine’s Golden Lake Pure Rye,” and “Perrine’s Pure Barley Malt Whiskey.”  They also featured a line of gins, brandies and products they called “Apple Whiskey and “Apple Ginger.”  With the exception of “Chemically Pure” in 1886, the company does not appear to have trademarked any of its brands.

For retail purposes, M. & J.S. Perrine sold their products in glass.  Shown here is a quart of their Pure Barley Malt Whiskey, with a paper label below a similar fancy embossed label.  Other liquor was presented in square cathedral type dark amber bottles.  Frequently the company name and address was included on the base of a bottle. Particularly attractive was the embossing for Perrine’s Apple Ginger, showing a glowing apple on the front.  This product was advertising with images that harked back to life in the original 13 states.
The Perrines marketed their Barley Malt Whiskey as a medicinal, claiming that it was a remedy for “malaria, indigestion and all wasting diseases.”   Since no one at that time knew a thing about malaria, it was a claim unlikely to be challenged.  The brothers advertised it with a colorful trade card with a picture of a winsome young woman filling orders from the apparently ague-striken, and sticking the Perrine label on the bottle. Her comely   presence emphasized the “purity” of the product.  Unlike the many malaria cures that contained   opium, the Perrines’ nostrum only provided substantial swallows of alcohol. 

With their vigorous marketing and apparently quality liquors,  the Perrines flourished, opening a second retail outlet at 238 North Water Street.  Meanwhile Jonathan was having a personal life.  About 1862 he had married Anna M., who also had been born in New Jersey.  The 1870 census found them living in Ward 14 of Philadelphia.  With them were their two sons, Edmund, age 7, and, William, age 4.  Also in residence was Jonathan’s 40-year-old brother and partner, Mathew.  In addition to Jonathan’s photo  above, we have a description of him taken from his 1890 application for a passport.  It disclosed that this Perrine was six feet, three-quarters inch tall, had blue gray eyes, light brown hair and a “pointed” chin.  

The brothers operated their liquor business with growing success throughout the latter part of the 1800s.  As his sons matured, Jonathan took William into the business.  Edmund, however, was destined to become a medical doctor of considerable reputation in the Philadelphia area. About 1894, Mathew, now age 63 and possibly in bad health, withdrew from the firm.  The following year the name of the firm was changed to J. S. Perrine & Son Company.  William, age 30, now was a full-fledged partner in the business.  

During this period, the Perrines were active in the fight against the Whiskey Trust, formally known as the Distillers and Cattle Feeders Company.  In 1892, Jonathan was a leader in organizing a meeting of prominent wholesale liquor dealers in Eastern cities, said to represent $6 million ($150 million today) in assets.  Their purpose was to organize an association for their own protection against the Trust which was viewed as “stretching out its influence all over the land….”   Most of these anti-Trust Eastern liquor dealers would have been “rectifiers” like the Perrines, blending and compounding whiskey bought from distillers.  The Trust was known to seek a distilling monopoly and then hike prices steeply to rectifiers.  The new association was described as seeking to “free its members from the exactions….” of the monopoly.   Perrine was elected treasurer.   Faced with similar organized opposition in New York State, Kentucky and elsewhere, the threat from the Illinois-based Trust eventually dissipated.

Meanwhile, the Jonathan Perrines had achieved “Blue Book” status.  While that publication disclaimed “to pass upon the social standing of the parties embodied within its pages,” the implication was clear.  Being in the Blue Book made one a Mainline Blue Blood.  The book recommended itself to “wives and daughters at home” (i.e. about marriage eligible men) and “the commercial and professionally community in their offices and counting-rooms, (i.e., about doing business).  Wealth, even from whiskey, went a long way to gaining social status. 
Jonathan Perrine died in October, 1906, at age 72, while in Moorestown, Pennsylvania.  He left an estate to his wife, Anna, and his sons said to be worth $135,000 ($3.375 million today).  He was buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in suburban Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.  He would be joined in death by Anna six years later. The couple’s gravestone is shown here.  Lying nearby is Jonathan’s brother and partner, Mathew Perrine, who had died in 1898.  Meanwhile, William was guiding the fortunes of the Perrine enterprise which moved at least twice during his management.  Records indicate that William died in 1914, but the business continued on until 1818, apparently run by other family members.  The last address was 62 North Front Street.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Grommes Brothers Created a Chicago Landmark

Look closely at the quaint 1860s scene above.  It is an etching of a view of Chicago’s La Salle Street from its Court House Square.   Now look again at the close-up left of one of the buildings.  A caption that accompanied the picture advised:  “Before leaving the Court House, take a few minutes to stroll through its lovely grounds for a soothing respite from the busy city.  Across LaSalle Street stand two well-known Chicago enterprises:  the State Savings Institution and Grommes & Ullrich.”

That attention must have been gratifying to the Grommes Brothers,  Hubert and John Baptiste, immigrants from Germany, who had begun their liquor, wines and specialty grocer business only six years earlier.   Hubert was the elder, born in 1831, and John Baptiste, circa 1845 (dates differ).  They were the sons of Pierre and Catherine (Klein) Grommes of Malmody, Bavaria, They had emigrated to the U.S., settling in Chicago, when Hubert was 19 and John Baptiste was a youngster.

The first 10 years of the brothers' lives in this country have gone undocumented.  My surmise is that Hubert went to work for one of the many grocers in the Windy City, accumulating both the experience and the financial resources necessary to strike out on his own.  With a partner named Michael Ullrich, in 1860 Hubert established a liquor, wine and specialty grocery at 76 LaSalle Street under a company name that would prevail for almost a half century,  “Grommes & Ullrich.”  The partners issued a cheese crock that carried a cobalt reproduction of the LaSalle St. site — the low building was theirs — and the words, “Fine Foods.”  
By 1870 the firm was using the LaSalle St. building principally for warehouse purposes, moving it sales operations to several locations on Randolph and subsequently Madison Street.  A letterhead, shown here, cites the latter address and identifies the firm with “cigars, wines, and liquors.”  Grommes & Ullrich featured a number of proprietary whiskey brands, indicating that they were also rectifiers, that is, blending and compounding whiskeys to achieve smoothness and flavor.  Among their brands were “Marquette Pure Rye,” “Great Union Pure Rye,” “National Club,”  Pullman Palace Car Rye,”  “Westmoreland,” and later for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition a “World’s Fair Rye.”  For wholesale purposes the company packaged these whiskeys in ceramic jugs, of several sizes and shapes.  Its retail sale were in glass, from quart size to flasks, often in amber with the firm name embossed.
As he was growing his business,  Hubert Grommes had married a woman named Louisa and begun a family.  They would have five children, four girls and a boy.  The only son, born in 1876, was named John Baptiste Grommes.   This identical naming with his uncle, who had been taken by Hubert into Grommes & Ullrich at an early age, seemingly caused considerable confusion in Grommes biographies of the time.  

Meanwhile the company was gaining in reputation both for its fine groceries, wines, and superior brands of liquors.  The Filson Library has letters from the famous Kentucky distiller, Col. E. H. Taylor, written during the 1870s urging the Grommes to feature his OFC Bourbon, claiming that it was at least the equal of other brands they were carrying.  The company also was making a reputation for the number and quality of its “giveaway” items.  Competition among liquor dealers in Chicago for the business of its many saloons was fierce.  Grommes & Ullrich understood that and were noted for their gifts.  Among them were glass etched, clear “back of the bar” bottles that advertised their several brands.  Shown here is one for Marquette Rye.  Another was for National Club.  For their World’s Fair brand, the company would issue both an attractively etched shot glass with a globe showing North America and marking Chicago.  An even more expensive item was a silver plated World’s Fair teakettle.  Placed on a bar it might hold tea or hot water to be mixed with the firm’s whiskey.

Meanwhile a management change had taken place at Grommes & Ullrich.  Hubert Grommes, widely viewed as the founder of the firm, was no longer involved, according to city business directories. In a1876 directory only John Baptiste Grommes was listed, along with Ullrich.  Hubert Grommes was recorded as an insurance agent.  By this time John B. also had married.  In 1873 he took to wife Bertha Lehrkind.  They had three daughters,  born in 1877, 1881, and 1885. The family lived down Dearborn Street, several blocks from the company address at 194 Dearborn.  John Baptiste also was branching out in business as a member of a Chicago cigar firm called Grommes & Elson.
By the early 1900s, other management changes had taken place at Grommes & Ullrich.  John B. was still the president but Ullrich, while listed as a director, was no longer in direct management.  Frank A. Rehm was listed as vice president and director; F. Diehl was Secretary and director.  The 1900 U.S. Census found Hubert, now apparently retired, living with his daughter and son-in-law.  His occupation was given as “capitalist,” a term used for person no longer in the workplace but investing.  With the family was his son, the younger John B., who was working in the cigar trade.  Five years later, at age 86, Hubert Grommes died in Chicago.

As he aged, John Baptiste Grommes turned over the day to day operation of the firm to younger associates.  Likely under his watchful eye, the company continued to be a major Midwest liquor house until 1918, as National Prohibition closed in.  His wife, Bertha, died in 1919.  The following year the census found John B. living alone in a boarding house in Chicago.  He also maintained a summer home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and was residing there in August 1922 when he died.  He was buried in the Grommes family crypt at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  His name appears over the doors.

The immigrant Grommes brothers had proved themselves to be outstanding businessmen, intent on quality.  Their first retail establishment had been pointed out as a landmark to visitors as early as 1866.  Their real Chicago landmark, however, was the liquor dealership they headed, one that began before the Civil War in 1860 and endured until after World War One, a period of 48 years.  Another tribute to their quality products was the resurrection of their whiskey as a brand name after Repeal in 1934 when Schenley bottled whiskey for a time under the Grommes & Ullrich label.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cleveland’s Daniel Myers Frequented the Bar — of Justice

Daniel Myers, a major Cleveland business figure, a man thoroughly steeped in liquor and wine merchandising, is pictured here in 1901 in association with three companies,  Benton, Myers Druggists, Metropolitan Fire Insurance, and the Computing Scale Company.  All three connections would entangle Myers in the U.S. justice system, once to his great peril.

The dapper Myers, with his stern eyes, flowing mustache and ample goatee, began his career working for Horace Benton, a well-known Ohio druggist, who was the senior partner in a firm founded in 1865, called Benton, Myers & Canfield.  Myers was a self described “junior partner.” Beginning as a wholesale drug firm, the company in the early 1880s branched out into whiskey, wines and other beverages.  A Cleveland business directory lists them in that trade in 1874, located at 127 Water Street.  In 1882, Canfield left the firm and it became Benton, Myers & Co.  It sold a wide range of goods, including products for soda fountains.
At that time it was not unusual for wholesale drug firms to be in the liquor trade.  Benton, Myers packaged its whiskey, probably secured from Ohio and Kentucky sources, in a variety of ceramic jugs, as shown here.  These kinds of containers frequently were used by liquor dealers, knowing that that saloonkeepers and bartenders would pour it into their own bottles, many with fancy labels.  Early Benton, Myers jugs usually are straight-sided and have the words “druggist” on them.  Two are shown here, one with an Albany slip top and a Bristol glaze base, the other entirely covered with the brown glaze and a stenciled label.  Later whiskey containers omit the “druggist” reference and are “ginger jar” shaped with underglaze labels.  Some had bail handles.
It was wine, not whiskey, however, that first put Daniel Myers and his firm into the courts.  In 1884 it has made a longterm agreement with a Sandusky, Ohio, wine grower named Duroy to market the firm’s premier wines through their firm.  After a few years, Duroy decided to establish his own winery and bottling operation in Sandusky, thus abrogating the agreement.  Benton, Myers quickly sought an injunction against the use of the Duroy name, citing their contract.  The case initially was heard in a Cleveland district court.  The conflict, to use the modern vernacular, “went viral.”  According to a report in an 1893 issues of The American Druggist periodical, the suit became the talk of the industry.  The judge found that the Duroy Wine Company was a trademark exclusive to Benton, Myers, but that Duroy could use an alternate label using his name.  That was fine with Daniel Myers and his partner but Duroy proceeded to fight the case in the circuit court and finally took it to the Supreme Court of Ohio.  After a lengthy hearing of the evidence, that body reaffirmed the decisions of the lower courts. Benton, Myers continued to sell Duroy-labeled wines but the source was not Duroy’s vineyards.
The next brush with the legal system for Daniel Myers was more serious and put him personally in jeopardy.  Myers had been an officer of a fire insurance company in Buffalo, New York, which apparently put him in touch with similar commercial interests in New York City.  In February 1899 he was elected president of the Manhattan Fire Insurance Company in Gotham and moved swiftly, according to a New York Times story, to control most of its stock.  Within months the company was found to be insolvent with debt of $600,000 (equivalent to $15 million today) and assets amounting to virtually nothing.  Accused of grand larceny in draining the firm’s resources, Myers was arrested in Cleveland by a New York detective sergeant and brought to the city where he was indicted.

Myers’ attorney attempted a plea bargain in which his client would plead guilty and confess in return for immunity as a witness for the prosecution.  That offer was turned down.  His second proposal was to plead guilty in return for a suspended sentence.  That too was rejected by prosecutors but Myers was allowed to go free on bail until his trial.  As the legal process proceeded Myers frequently was in the headlines in New York, Cleveland and around the country.   Amazingly, given his apparent willingness to confess, Myers subsequently was found “not guilty” by a jury and was free to resume normal life.

The unfavorable publicity surrounding Myer’s criminal trial may well have blighted his business career.   By the following year, he either had resigned or was pushed out by Horace Benton.  In 1876 Benton had taken as a “silent” partner the firm’s star salesman, an Ohio native named Lucien Hall.  In 1904 the company that once bore Myer’s name became Benton, Hall & Co.  By 1909 it was no longer being listed in Cleveland directories as selling liquor.
Myers apparently still had a hand in business as a director of the Computing Scale Company, a Dayton, Ohio, outfit.  One of the company products is shown above.  The firm’s board had sued the Toledo Computing Scale Company, complaining that it had infringed to of its patents on drum scales.  The dispute worked its way through the courts until it reach the Chicago bench of the famous Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  Landis found for the Dayton company, one of whose scales is shown here.  He ruled that the Toledo Computing Scales Company had infringed its patent rights, that the Dayton company could recover monetary damages and granted a “perpetual injunction” against the Toledo firm making, using or vending any scales made on the trademarked patent.  Myers and his fellow directors emerged victorious.

Information about Daniel Myers’ personal life are scant. He did marry and had at least one son who became a Cleveland businessman.  He seems to have avoided the census taker throughout his life and his gravesite is not identified by Internet sources.  Much of his activity is revealed through court documents.  We are left contemplating a individual who at least three times went before the bar of justice and and came away each time tasting the sweet liquor of success.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Arbonas of Pensacola and the Skeleton in the Cellar

As we approach Halloween, a ghost story seems appropriate.  This one involves a family named Arbona that ran a saloon in Pensacola, Florida, for thirty five years.   When the premises, shown here, later were being expanded, the skeleton of a man was found in the excavation.  Evidence indicated he had been stabbed in the chest.  Since then, the Arbona Building widely has been considered haunted.
Certainly the scion of the family,  Eugenio Arbona has fallen under suspicion as knowing something about the bones and how they got there.  Born in 1931 in Palma Mallorca, Spain, he emigrated to the United States while still in his twenties and settled in Mobile, Alabama, working as a bartender.  Eugenio and a friend were convicted of murdering a local cigar making named Encino Hernandez and were sentenced to prison at the Alabama prison in Watumpka,  shown below.  When the Civil War broke out in 1961, the government released him after serving only ten years of his sentence, possibly expecting him to join the Confederate Army.
Instead, Arbona moved to Georgia.  There he met his future wife,  Fannie (Frances) Trice.  She came from a long established Southern family.  Eight years younger than Eugenio, Fannie was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson  and Susan McDonald Trice.  Following their marriage, the newlyweds left Georgia and moved to Watumpka where Eugenio, apparently ignoring his earlier incarceration there, sought out business contacts.  It was in Watumpka that their eldest son, Joseph, was born in 1867.
Perhaps sensing better business opportunities in Pensacola, in 1869 Eugenio moved his growing family to Pensacola, shown above as it looked in the 1880s.  That city in Florida’s Panhandle was experiencing something of a economic boom as its port access to Gulf of Mexico ship traffic and railroads led to a rapidly increasing population.  Saloons were numerous and Eugenio likely found work in one.  The Arbonas moved into a home at 115 Zaragoza Street.  When it burned in 1884, the family escaped harm and Eugenio immediately rebuilt it on the same site.  Did that work give him an opportunity to stash a cadaver in the cellar?

The rebuilt Arbona Building, as it was now called, was designed to be occupied by a saloon on the first floor and Eugenio, Fannie and by now five children, lived on the second floor.  They called their drinking establishment "The Gulf Saloon."  In addition, the Arbonas likely were blending and compounding whiskey and selling it at wholesale as well as serving it over the bar.  A two toned stoneware jug bearing Eugenio’s name, dates from this time.
After two years running a saloon, the Arbonas divorced.  Had Fannie became aware of the skeleton underneath their feet?  Or had Eugenio’s reputed bad temper proved too much?  He is said to have tried on several occasions to have one of his children arrested.  After the split Eugenio determined to go back to Spain and signed the business over to his wife.  Fannie proved to have a singular ability to run the establishment.  The Gulf Saloon became even more popular because she had the foresight to purchase refrigeration equipment that made it possible for her to serve the only really cold beer in Pensacola.

Fannie was assisted by her oldest son, Joseph, who also demonstrated ability as a saloonkeeper.  After an absence of several years, however, Eugenio suddenly reappeared in Pensacola.  He demanded that the family sign the property back over to him.  But Fannie, Joseph, and other family members refused.  The father returned to Spain where, on July 15, 1890, he committed suicide.
As his mother aged, Joseph took over increasing responsibilities for the business, expanding into tobacco products and advertising and distributing nationally known products like Duffy’s Malt Whiskey.  Joseph also married.  His wife was Margaret.  The 1900 U.S. Census found them living in Pensacola, wedded three years.  Meanwhile Mother Fannie was keeping an eye on the premises, living upstairs until her death. In 1920 with the coming of National Prohibition, after a business life of 35 years under the Arbonas, the doors of the Gulf Saloon were shut.  
Joseph was forced to find a new occupation and, as many ex-whiskey men did, opened an automotive business.  The 1920 census found him still in Pensacola, living as a widower with five children, ranging in age from thirteen to one year old.  Following Repeal in 1934, Joseph and family members continued running a drinking establishment at the Zaragoza address.  Fannie Arbona died in 1935 and was buried in Saint Michael’s Cemetery in Pensacola.  Her son Joseph followed in 1951.  The gravestones of both Arbonas are shown here, memorializing individuals who overcame a hot tempered, and possibly dangerous, husband and father to give Pensacola a storied saloon.

Here is where the ghost story begins. In 1991 the Pensacola Historical Museum was moved to the Arbona Building.  That is when spooky things began to be noticed.  Museum volunteers have reported many paranormal experiences.  According to a book called “Pensacola Haunted,”  objects in one location in the museum in the evening are found in a different location the next morning.  Cigar smoke is smelled at times although smoking is forbidden.  Noises frequently are heard after hours on the second floor where the Arbonas lived.  Visitors have run down from the second floor in fright because of a strong feeling they were not alone. The elevator has been known to move between floors on its own.  In 2008 a young woman was touring the museum room shown at left when she felt a sharp tug on her shoulder.  She thought it was her boyfriend, but when she quickly turned to complain, not a soul was standing there.  

In 2008 the Atlantic Paranormal Society came to Pensacola to film an episode of “Ghost Hunters” in the museum.  Members of the filming group were standing at the front desk talking about Eugenio and analyzing his shady past.  As recounted:  “Suddenly, everyone present heard three rapping sounds coming from the back of the building.  They were the only ones in the Arbona Building at the time.  They concluded that someone did not want Mr. Arbona’s name slurred in his own house.”

My own speculation differs from the conclusions of the  Atlantic Paranormal Society.  If anyone was rapping, it more likely was the spirit of the skeleton found in the foundation of the Arbona Building.  My guess is the ghost was signaling:  “Just set me free and I will be avenged on my killer.”  Would the target be Eugenio Arbona?  Only the ghost would know for sure. 
Notes: “Haunted Pensacola” is by Alan Brown, and part of a series called “Haunted America.”  It was published by The History Press of Charleston, S.C., in 2010. Not only is the book the source of much of the information in this post and the photo of the museum room, the book is an interesting and sometimes spooky read.  The Arbona jug shown above recently sold at auction for just over $1,400.  Maybe, sometimes, crime does pay.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

George Buchanan: Kentucky’ s Once and Future Whiskey King

In 1872 George C. Buchanan was accounted the largest distiller in Kentucky, operating no fewer than three major plants capable of mashing 4,885 bushels of grain and producing 500 barrels of whiskey a day.   Twelve years later, forced to sell at auction a mansion he had just redecorated, Buchanan made headlines as the “Bankrupt Whisky King.” Undaunted, he revived his fortunes and his reputation as whiskey royalty.

According to one author, Buchanan, with his brother, Andrew, began their business careers as wholesale grocers.  They moved into distilling about 1870, with George credited with buying and building three major distilleries in Louisville.  They were known as the Anderson Distillery (RD #97), shown above, the Buchanan Distillery (RD #353), and the Nelson Distillery (DR #4), adjacent to each other in Federal taxing district #4.   As noted earlier, the three plants had the capacity for producing whiskey amounts second to none in Kentucky. 
   An advertisement linked the three outfits and provided illustrations of their advertising logos.  The Anderson distillery featured a Maltese or Greek cross on much of its materials.  Shown here, for example, are a paperweight and a shot glass both touting Anderson’s handmade sour mash, copper fire whiskey.  These items would have been produced to give away to saloonkeepers and bartenders featuring Anderson’s brands.  The Anderson distillery produced a small-tub, hand-made whiskey that is said to have been light, rich, smooth and fragrant.  The grain was scalded with spent “beer” in small tubs and was left 24 hours before being mashed.  It was then fermented naturally and some liquid was boiled in a copper still and others in a copper vessel directly over the fire.

The Buchanan marketing approach featured more elegant designs.   Buchanan’s Green Label whiskey displayed an elegant script and a wire-covered top.  Equally interesting was a liquor called “Buchanan’s Electro-Ozonized Bourbon” for the lungs.  Taking advantage of newly discovered interest in electricity, this whiskey was advertised as “in the best shape for use when an alcoholic preparation for the LUNGS is needed.”  Nelson Distillery used barrels to announce its products, including brands known as “Coon Hollow” and “Big Spring.”  These were, it claimed, “whiskies of the people.”
The Buchanan Distillery produced a heavy-bodied, hand-made sour mash whiskey that could be blended but when aged became deeply flavored and had a fragrant bouquet.  The Nelson Distillery produced a mash of 80% rye and 20% malted barley that was labeled as “Nelson’s Pure Rye.”  It also made “Nelson’s Pure Malt,”  composed entirely of barley malt and stored it in both charred and uncharred barrels.  Another featured brand was “U.S. Club,” whiskey that was used for both rye and bourbon blends.  It also marketed what the owners called “a quick maturing whiskey,” aged only three or four months.  A relatively cheap drink, it had a substantial customer base.

The overall company was known initially (1871-1875) as Newcomb, Buchanan & Co.  George Buchanan was president.  In 1876 and 1877, the distillery outfit reorganized with similar management and a slightly altered name.  Along the line the Buchanan built the Greystone Distillery, later known as Elk Run.   

By now a very rich man, Buchanan did as many whiskey royalty and bought a mansion.  It had been designed by Henry Whitestone, one of Louisville’s most noted architects at the time, originally for a man named Tompkins.  In the Italian Renaissance style, as shown here, the structure has a definite institutional look with its flat facade rigidly articulated by a belted look at each floor.  Like many houses in Louisville at the time only the main facade was of limestone, the remainder brick.  It was later used by a school.  However homely the exterior might be,  Buchanan determined to make the interior the height of Victorian extravagance.  A local newspaper contained a description of the still-new decorations at their height:  “Nothing short of the most lavish means could have provided such a bewildering array of blended utility and artistic beauty.”  A photo of the Buchanan parlor and a room beyond attest to the elegance of the place.
By 1884, however, Buchanan was bankrupt and the Louisville Courier-Journal speculated that he might have been “on the lam.”  The paper called him “a sort of Napoleon of the liquor trade.”  It added:  “All his operations were colossal, and his successes or failures were pitched on the most splendid scale.”  When he had promised earlier to pay his enormous debts, people had believed him.  Now he was bankrupt and missing.  It was whispered to be a case of fraud. But Buchanan’s friends knew where he was and he quickly returned.  He had assets. There were at least 67,000 barrels of whiskey in Buchanan’s warehouses.  Some 3,000 were slated for removal subject to $8,000 tax, equivalent to $375,000 today — an amount the distiller could not raise.  In the end, Buchanan was forced to put his distilleries into bankruptcy.  His mansion and its furnishings went too. 

But George was far from finished.  Although his distilleries were reorganized under new ownership, he apparently retained the confidence of whiskey men in Kentucky and throughout America.  He set himself up as a Louisville whiskey broker.  He could, he said, arrange large quantities of whiskey from distillers to wholesalers and retailers, and offered to bottle whiskey for parties under their own labels.  Shown here is an Anderson whiskey issued through a St. Louis outfit that may have been the result of a Buchanan brokering effort.  In his advertising Buchanan said:  “I have close business relations with the owners of a very large percentage of these old whiskies and can execute on the most favorable terms.”  He proved those relationships by issuing a 169-page booklet about Kentucky whiskey that carried ads from many major distillers.  He called it “Fine Whiskey Facts” and gave it a fancy cover. 

This publication also gave Buchanan an opportunity to pontificate on Kentucky whiskey:  “A standard Kentucky Whiskey is the best and safest beverage in the world, and especially suited to the American climate in which a stimulant of its specific character is a necessity.”  He ended this screed with a warning to Kentucky distillers and dealers to be “satisfied with a legitimate profit” so as to encourage the “cheapness at which they can be afforded” and thus increase sales.  He also strongly advocated lowering Federal taxes on whiskey.

By 1905, Buchanan was firmly back in control of the distilleries he had built and nurtured.  He had established a relationship with the New York City-based Paris, Allen Company, who were attempting to make their own “Trust-like” inroads into the Kentucky whiskey trade.  When Paris, Allen bought the Anderson-Buchanan-Nelson Company, they capitalized it at $2 million and incorporated it in New York State.  They named Buchanan as the president and general manager of the new entity.  The King of Kentucky Whiskey had returned.  A trade paper in reporting the deal opined:  “The Bulletin feels that the stockholders of the new company are to be congratulated on securing the services of Mr. Buchanan in the operation and distribution of the products of these plants;  we also congratulate Mr. Buchanan on having returned to his old first love.”

According to Kentucky tax records, the firm subsequently became known as the Allen-Bradley Distillery and operated under that name until about 1914. The property subsequently was known as the Elk Run Distillery before the entire complex was shut down by National Prohibition.  During the “dry” era the warehouses were under Federal supervision and used to store medicinal alcohol. A flood damaged large steel tanks on the property that broke loose and demolished several warehouses.  All but one of the distilleries then were dismantled, most buildings were razed, and the property became a scrap lot.

By that time George Buchanan had largely disappeared from the public record.  He seems to have eluded the census taker throughout his life. He is, however, worthy of a final word.  His mansion, now part of a university campus, still bears the Buchanan name and is listed on the National Register of Historic Properties.  In the official narrative that accompanies such designations, the Whiskey King is described, quoting one of his contemporaries.  The quote makes a fitting conclusion to Buchanan’s story:  “He was a liberal promoter of public improvements and a generous contributor to charities that administer to the helpless…” [but nevertheless] “…retained a very ample supply of this world’s goods.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Historic Legacy of Green Bay’s Frank Duchateau


In Green Bay, Wisconsin, a town known for its football team rather than archeology,  Frank John Baptiste Duchateau, who had inherited a thriving liquor dealership from his father, used his riches to amass a collection of Native American and other early artifacts that became the basis of the city’s noted history and science museum.  The local newspaper called Dechateau’s gift “a historic legacy.”

Frank was the son of Abelard (sometimes “Abeillard”) Louis Donat Duchateau, a native of Oud-Heverlee, Vlaams Brabant Province, Belgium, and his wife, Felicite Juliane, also of Belgian origin.  At the age of 20, Abelard had immigrated to the United States arriving at Green Bay as a port of entry in July 1856.  He initially found work as a tailor in Door County, Wisconsin,  moving to Green Bay around 1867, with Felicite, whom he had married in 1861.
About 1870 with his brother, Abelard established a liquor dealership in Green Bay,  calling it Duchateau & Brother.   It was located at the corner of Main and Washington Streets in the heart of the city’s commercial district.  The locale is shown above on a postcard, apparently during a patriotic parade.  The 1880 Census found the family residing on Cedar Street with their five children, ages 18 to 11.  Frank, born in 1868, was 12.  Abelard’s occupation was recorded by the census taker as “liquor dealer - merchant.”
The Duchateaus were not only liquor dealers but also rectifiers, that is, blending and compounding whiskeys to achieve a specific taste.  They packaged their products in glass with an embossed logo on the front.  The company’s flagship brand was “Old Beauford Rye.”  Although the name apparently was never trademarked, it was advertised on saloon signs like the one shown here depicting an affectionate elderly couple at mealtime with a flagon of booze at hand.

But not all the Duchateaus advertising was so benign.  A trade card has a definite suggestive motif.  It shows what appears to be a couple sprawled on the ground under a large red umbrella.  A man, identified by his shoes, pants, and jacket, appears to be atop a woman.  We see only one of her shoes and a bit of stocking.   Most surprising is the figure of a second man with a straw hat and a fishing pole who is calling out, “Hold on, I’m in for some of that too.”   What is this, a group grope?  But no!  When opened it reveals a young foursome sitting by a lake drinking from a full case of “Old Beauford Rye.”  Everyone is enjoying a beer glass full of the liquor, which may indicate that the real action may come later.
Frank Duchateau was educated in the Green Bay public schools but left at the age of 16, working first as an office boy and then as a clerk in a shoe store owned by a relative, entering his father’s liquor business in 1885.  His first job was as bookkeeper, advancing to manager. The company progressed to being Green Bay’s largest import and wholesale liquor operation.  Frank was fully trained and capable of taking over the business when Abelard died in 1889 and was buried in the Green Bay’s Allouez Cemetery.  His gravestone is shown below in winter.  

Frank Duchateau was married in September 1890 to Marie Beaupre. a native of Green Bay and the daughter of a local doctor.  Three years later she died in 1893 leaving him with a daughter, Olive Felicite, to raise.  Frank subsequently married a second time, to Mrs. Julia Lucas O’Leary, a widow whose father had been an early settler of Green Bay.  This marriage produced no children before Julia too died in 1911. Despite these tragedies in his personal life, Frank proved to be undeterred and as acute a businessman as Abelard.  In tribute to his father, about 1900 he changed the name of the firm to simply “A. Duchateau Company.”  

Like many other whiskey men of his time Duchateau branched out with a patent medicine called “Dr. Munros’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters.,” said to be a remedy for all type of intestinal disturbances.  The label carried a picture purported to be the visage of the estimable Dr. Munro, possibly a fictitious personage.  This nostrum eventually would be targeted by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Food and Drug officials among purported medicinal preparations with an excess amount of alcohol and reported to be “insufficiently medicated to render them unfit for use as a beverage.”  As a result, Dr. Munro’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters thereafter would be subject to a special Federal tax on sales and were branded by Dr. Wiley, head of the Food and Drug administration, as a useless potion.

Meanwhile, Frank Duchateau was making a name for himself in Green Bay.  His business interests encompassed real estate, banking, the telephone and electric companies.  A Republican, he served five years as a city alderman from 1892 to 1897.  He also was active socially as a trustee of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, a member of the Knights of Pythias Lodge, the Green Bay Yacht Club, the Green Bay Driving Club, the Green Bay Turn Verein and the Green Bay Gun Club.  In 1919 the king of Belgium honored Duchateau for his money-raising efforts to aid wartorn Belgium after World War I by awarding him the King Albert Medal.

Important as these activities were, Duchateau’s real passion was for archeology.  For many years he avidly pursued the collecting of relics of early Native American and French trader life.   Described as “one of Wisconsin’s most ambitious collectors,” Frank amassed an assemblage of archeological items as well as early farm tools, ceramics, fire arms, kitchen utensils and foreign currency.  Among the rarest of these was a mortar and pestle used by the Menominee Indians to crush corn, similar to the items pictured here.  The mortar stood about two and a half feet tall and the pestle was six feet long.  Not content with buying them, Duchateau often found rare artifacts on his own.  While exploring at Point Au Sable near Green Bay, he came upon a brass sundial made in Paris centuries earlier.  It carried the longitude and latitude of many of the cities of an earlier age and was considered highly rare.
In 1915, Duchateau help found the Neville Museum of Natural History of Brown County, located in Green Bay.  Over his lifetime he donated some 12,000 items to the museum, a gift termed by the Green Bay Press-Gazette newspaper as “a historic legacy.”  He also donated the first display cases and served as the first vice president of the museum board, a post he held until 1929.   

Although the coming of National Prohibition, shut down his wholesale liquor business, Duchateau was able to throw his abundant energies into his real estate interests, including erecting buildings on six blocks in downtown Green Bay.  He lived to be 87 years old, dying in 1954. He had seen the 1934 Repeal of Prohibition; the 1940 death of his third wife, Mary Laughlin;  World War II, and the Korean War.  Most of all, Duchateau witnessed the growth of a remarkable local museum, the Neville, one that continually garners positive online responses like this:  “Their permanent exhibit about the history of the area is truly remarkable and can be enjoyed by folks of all ages.”  Quite clearly the legacy of Frank Duchateau, Green Bay’s  whiskey man and amateur archeologist, lives on.