Thursday, April 17, 2014

“Old Grand-Dad” Descended from the Hayden Family

One of America’s most familiar liquor labels is that of “Old Grand-Dad,”  a brand of whiskey has been around for almost 122 years.   Look closely at the portrait below taken from a current bottle of Old Grand-Dad.  It is the likeness of Basil Hayden who is accounted there “Head of the Bourbon Family”  and, it may be added, head of the Kentucky distilling Hayden family whose roots lie deep in antiquity.

According to Wikipedia, the Haydens can be traced back to England during the period shortly after the Norman conquest:  “One ancestor, Simon de Heydon, was knighted by Richard the Lionheart in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade in the 1190s. His son, Thomas de Heydon, was made Justice Itinerant of Norfolk by Henry III. Around 1400, another ancestor, John Heydon, appears to have been associated with "The Grove"– a large estate in Watford (Hertfordshire), located about twenty miles northwest of London. Some researchers have speculated that John Heydon was given the estate for his father Sir Richard de Heydon's services in the French Wars, where Sir Richard perished.”

Things changed radically for the family during the 16th Century.  After Henry the Eighth broke with the Pope of Rome,  much of England became increasingly inhospitable to Catholics.  As a result the Heydons (soon to change to “Hayden”) emigrated to the Virginia Colony during the 1660s.  After a few years they moved to Maryland, a colony more welcoming to Catholics.  They settled in St. Mary’s County on St. Clement’s Bay.  There in the mid-1700s, Basil Hayden was born and raised.  Apparently employed in the mercantile trades,  Basil is said to have supplied provisions to the Colonial Army.

Not long after American independence in 1785 Basil led a group of twenty-five Catholic families from Maryland into what is now Nelson County, Kentucky, near present day Bardstown.  They called the area “Greenbrier Station.” Their move likely was motivated by the opening of land for agriculture west of the Appalachian mountains.  There Basil cleared his plot and established a farm.  It appears that he also began distilling on small basis.  Some accounts say that he was notable for using a larger amount of rye in his whiskey than other distillers in the area.   Basil also was noted for having donated the land for the first Catholic church west of the Alleghenies and the first in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

After Basil’s death, the distilling tradition was carried on by a son, Lewis, sometime about 1820. He was married to a woman named Polly who was a member of the Dant whiskey-making family.  Lewis is recorded in the 1830 census living in Nelson County with his wife, eight sons, two daughters, and an elderly relative, likely his mother.   Sometime during the 1840s Lewis died and was succeeded by one of his sons. Raymond Bishop (R.B.) Hayden.  R.B. had been born in 1821, the second son.  The 1850 U.S. Census found him living at home, age 29, with his 70-year-old mother and other family members.  R.B. never married.

The distilling operation R.B. Hayden had inherited was a small one. He continued to pursue the liquor trade while engaged in major farming activities.  In the 1870 Census the value of his property was counted at $30,000,  the equivalent of $1.2 million in today’s dollar.  Seeing the growth of the whiskey industry in Kentucky and particularly Nelson County,  when he was in his late 50’s R.B. became the Hayden who took the family business into full-scale commercial production.  In 1882 he built the R.B. Hayden & Company Distillery at Hobbs Station in Nelson County, shown here.  He took as his partner in this enterprise F.L. Ferriell, himself the offspring of a line of Kentucky distillers and a former Federal revenue agent.  Their distillery had a daily mashing capacity of 100 bushels and could store 7,000 barrels for aging.

It was whiskey from the distillery of these partners that was first branded as “Old Grand-Dad”  It historically has been believed that R.B. Hayden named the whiskey in honor of his grandfather, Basil, and that tradition has been honored up to the present day.  As will be seen here, however, the image of the elderly gentleman has been altered from time to time. 

Only three years after creating his distillery,  R. B. Hayden died, leaving no heirs.  His share of the facility was sold to a wealthy furrier and stock breeder and for a time the company was known as the Barber, Ferriell Distilling Company.  It continue to feature Old Grand-Dad as its flagship brand.  In 1899 the distillery was sold to the Wathen family.  The Wathens, like the Haydens, were heirs of a distinguished distilling tradition.   At the time of their purchase the Wathens also had become a major force on the Kentucky bourbon scene.  They changed the name of Hobbs facility to “The Old Grand-Dad Distillery Company.”  They also opened a sales office for the brand at 110 West Main Street in Louisville.

Nace Wathen became the distiller and manager of the Hobbs distillery only to see it destroyed by fire in 1900.  It was quickly rebuilt to accommodate a 400 bushel mashing capacity and operated up until 1919 and the advent of National Prohibition.  Then all the whiskey was removed to the Wathen’s federally regulated “concentration” warehouses and bottled for medicinal use.  The distillery R.B. Hayden had built was allowed to fall into disrepair and today, it is said, no ruins remain to be seen.

Shown here are images of artifacts bearing the name Old Grand-Dad.  It is doubtful that any of them date from the Hayden era.  The Wathens were known for their vigorous merchandising and  the pre-Prohibition artifacts here would have been issued during their ownership.   After Repeal the Old Grand-Dad brand name went through a series of owners. Today the label is produced by the Jim Beam Company.

Although the Hayden distilling line disappeared more than a century ago, its major figures have not been forgotten.  In addition to Basil’s face gracing the Old Grand-Dad label,  Jim Beam since 1992 has produced a small-batch bourbon called Basil Hayden Bourbon.  It comes in a fancy bottle with a paper “bib” that bears a short narrative about him.  Aged eight years at 80 proof,  it has been called “a nice sipping whiskey.”  Nor did the distilling industry forget about Basil’s grandson.  For a time before Prohibition, a brand of  Kentucky whiskey was sold under the label, R. B. Hayden.  A pocket mirror advertised it as an “Old Style Sour Mash” from Nelson County.  Raymond Hayden, a detail of his graveyard monument shown here, likely would have been pleased with the recognition.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

North to the Klondike with George Smithhisler

Only six inches high, the milk glass bottle shown here is shaped like a mountain range or glacier with brown and gold paint on both side that emphasize the rugged nature of the terrain being depicted.  Known widely as the “Klondike Flask,” it has been called “one of bottle collecting’s classical figural bottles.”  Less well recognized is George Smithhisler, the Ohio liquor dealer who designed it, provided the several swallows of liquor the bottle contained, and issued the flasks in substantial numbers, apparently as a memorial to the Yukon Gold Rush.

Smithhisler was a descendant of French settlers. His grandparents,  Philip and Mary Smithhisler, had immigrated to the United States in 1828, bringing his father, John Michael, and other children with them.  The family first took up residence in Baltimore, Maryland, where they remained until 1874 when they moved to Holmes County, Ohio, where Philip took up farming.   Like his father, John Michael Smithhisler was a farmer and in 1835  married a woman who also had emigrated from Alsace, France, with her parents.  She was Mary Milless, the daughter of Jacob and Catharine Milless.  The couple had a family of eleven children, eight sons and three daughters.  Among them was George Smithhisler.

In 1847 the Smithhislers moved from Holmes County to Knox County, located in the central part of the Buckeye State,  approximately 30 miles north and east of Columbus. The county seat is Mount Vernon, named after the home of George Washington.  Shown here as it looked circa 1870,  Mount Vernon was a railroad town, a stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad between Cleveland and Columbus and on the Baltimore and Ohio between Sandusky and Newark

By the time the Smithhisler’s arrived, the town had about 2,500 inhabitants, a court house, a market house, churches and a number of taverns.  I surmise that John Michael Smithhisler may have been making some liquor on his farm for local consumption and that his son George grew up in a tradition of distilling. George too became a farmer and in 1871, at the age of 21, married.  His wife was Sarah Frances Bradfield, a girl of 18.  The couple, reputedly shown here, were wed at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church in Mount Vernon by Father J. Brent.

During their eleven year marriage,  the Smithhislers would have four children, two boys and two girls.  Then, at age 30, possibly in child birth,  Sarah died.  Left bereft and with small children to raise,  George five years later remarried.  She was Sarah Gertrude Murray and their wedding  also was held at St. Vincent’s.

Meanwhile,  Smithhisler was establishing himself as a wholesale and retail liquor dealer, located at 15-17 West Vine Street in Mount Vernon.  A trade card indicated  that he was dealing in both foreign and domestic wines and liquor.   Moreover, he had become the area representative for the Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee.
It was around the turn of the century that Smithhisler issued his famous flask.  At that time the Klondike held great fascination.   A region of the Yukon in Northwest Canada, east of the Alaska border, it lies around the Klondike River, a stream that enters the Yukon from the frontier town of Dawson at the east.    Gold had been discovered in 1897 and precipitated the Klondike Gold Rush that saw thousands heading there with dreams of riches.

It also inspired Smithhisler to issue his small milk glass flask of whiskey to memorialized the event.  It bore a round red label, announcing the contents as “Nuggets of Pure Gold from Klondyke” -- an alternative spelling -- and included his name and location. The flask also featured a metal screw cap that sealed the threaded neck and covered the ground-off top of the bottle.  Through the years this artifact has attracted considerable attention from bottle and glass collectors.  It was blown in a mold that took a considerable amount of time and attention to create the mountain effect.  It also required painting by hand to overlay the glass with gold and brown pigments.   Over the years, as shown here,  some examples have lost their labels and significant amounts of paint.  In one case an owner stripped the bottle down to its milk glass base, revealing the full extent of the ridges and valleys.

An expert on American glass and bottles, Dr. Cecil Munsey, has been fascinated with Smithhisler’s creation and has written about it, calling it a “classic.”  He has noted that it is believed by many that the bottle was inspired and made just before the beginning of the 20th Century to commemorate the Klondike gold strike.  Munsey commented:  “Supposedly, besides the strike itself, the bottle honored the pioneering prospectors who, like Yukon Jack McQuesten, made the gold strike possible.”  Known as the “Father of the Yukon,”  McQuesten (1836-1909), shown here, was a native of New Hampshire who became a pioneer in Alaska and Yukon as an explorer and prospector.

Dr. Munsey may be right about what Smithhisler’s flask is meant to commemorate.  My additional suspicion is that George, having lived all his life in Central Ohio, digging furrows in the soil for crops, might himself have wanted desperately to go “North to the Yukon” to seek his fortune digging in the tundra for gold.  With a wife, four children, a farm and a liquor business, that was a dream Smithhisler would never to be able to achieve.  His flask may well have been “Plan B.”

Little else about Smithhisler has entered the historical record. He seems never again to have designed and  issued a figural flask or a notable bottle of any kind. His liquor business  closed by 1916 when Ohio voted to go “Dry.”  In his later years it appears he relocated to Cleveland, perhaps to live with one of his children.  In November 1930, Smithhisler died at City Hospital in Cleveland at the age of 80. His body was returned to Mount Vernon where he had spent most of his life and was buried in Calvary Cemetery there.  Meanwhile, the flask that bore his name lives on in collections throughout America.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Did Hop Lee Show Jack Daniels How to Make Whiskey?

Granville,  an unincorporated community in Putnam County,  Tennessee, offers little to suggest a visit.  Its welcome sign is in clear need of repair.  No reason to stop in town except the lure of its local history museum, the building shown here at left.  Among the exhibits stands a mannequin wearing a coat, tie, and straw hat posed between two metal containers meant to resemble a distillery.  The set also contains a canning jar in which to store “white lightening.”  A flyer tacked behind the diorama identifies the figure as “Hop Lee.”  It makes the claim that Lee was the man who taught the Jack Daniels distillery how to make whiskey.

Hop Lee?  Who the hell was Hop Lee?  You can search the Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey sites at length and never find a mention of his name.  Nevertheless, Lee was a Tennessee native and worthy of attention for his accomplishments as a whiskey man.  What he may or may not have done for the Daniels folks is almost extraneous to his story.

Lee was born Hopkins Turney Lee in November 1846 in Putnam County, Tennessee, and grew up in a house that his father, John Milton Lee, had built in the mid-1800s adjacent to Martin’s Creek Road west of Cookeville, the county seat.   John Lee was a native Tennessean who about the age of 25 in 1929 married a woman five years his junior named Sara, also a native Tennessean.  They had eight children of whom Hop was the seventh.

The youngster knew tragedy early in life . When he was only nine years old his father was murdered, possibly right in front of his eyes.  John Lee’s slaying occurred in 1864 during the Civil War.  Tennessee had been a major battleground in Western regions of the conflict, with Putman County a conflicted area.  As Union and Confederate forces contended over the Tennessee countryside,  lawlessness grew and bands of “home guards,” actually little more than bandits, roamed the hills.  When a gang descended on John Lee and his family demanding money,  the father refused to give it to them and was killed.  That left Sarah to raise several minor children, including Hop.

For the next few years the record is scanty about Hop Lee.  According to the Granville Museum display, at some point he moved to that locality where he set about making whiskey.   His having been part of the Jack Daniels operation may be apocryphal, however, since that distillery incorporated at Lynchburg, Tennessee, in 1866 when Hop still would have been a youngster.  There is no question that later he became thoroughly familiar with distilling and it is possible he was hired for a time at Jack Daniels and trained workers such as those whimsically shown here on a saloon sign.

About the age of 25 Hop Lee got married.  His bride was Sarah Jane, also a native of Tennessee.  They had five children over their wedded life, all born in Tennessee.  Hop appears to have engaged in several enterprises, not all successful.  In 1897 in an open letter to a local newspaper in Paris, Tennessee,  more than 100 miles from Putnam County, he announced that because of “dull business” after six years in the retail trade in Paris he was selling out at below cost and urged the citizenry to come and buy something.  “...I am sorry to leave, but I can’t make a living here and I am compelled to move away.”

His plea about not making a living may have been somewhat disingenuous.  Three years later the U.S. Census found him living with his wife and two minor children in Putnam County.  Two servants were in the household. He gave his occupation as “farmer” but he clearly was heavily involved in the whiskey trade with a retail outlet in Nashville.  His store was located on Broadway, a principal commercial avenue shown here in the late 1880s. Lee was a whiskey wholesaler selling his product in ceramic jugs of several sizes.  He also sold at retail and featured proprietary brands such as “Hop’s White Corn,” merchandised as “Wild Cat Kind.”  That was the slogan affixed to a giveaway mini jug he passed along to favored customers.  Shown here, it  featured the name he had given his facilities -- “Hoptown.”

Tennessee passed a statewide prohibition law in 1910, effectively barring the legal distillation of whiskey within the state. The Jack Daniels Co. challenged the law, obviously with Hop Lee’s concurrence, in a test case that eventually worked its way up to the Tennessee Supreme Court. When the court upheld the law as constitutional it meant the end of both Jack Daniels’ and Hop Lee’s liquor businesses.  By this time, however, Hop had made the most of his years in the whiskey trade and was deemed a wealthy man.  In 1907 he became a director of a new Putnam County financial institution, the Baxter Bank & Trust Company, with deposits of $272,000 in today’s dollar.

The 1920 census found Hop, now 64 years old, living on his farm, a widower, because Sarah Jane had died several years earlier.   Living with him was his son, Benton, Benton’s wife, and two grandchildren.  One of them was named Hop T. Lee Jr.  The family had a live-in cook.  Once again Hop gave his occupation as “farmer.”  He died six years later in Putnam County and was buried in cemetery just a stone’s throw from the home he had known as a youth.  According to the family,  Hop Lee as “the most prosperous resident” of the graveyard was accorded the largest tombstone, shown here, and the cemetery officially became known as the Hop T. Lee Cemetery.

In 1946 the house Hop’s father had built a century earlier burned. It was rebuilt but then abandoned and the family cemetery was allowed to fall into disrepair.  In the 1990s descendants were wading through the weeds surrounding the derelict structure when one stumbled over a headstone.  They determined to put the cemetery back in working order and since 1998 it has been restored.  Hop Lee’s headstone can be seen at left.

So far this post has not addressed the issue posed in the title.  Well, perhaps Hop Lee did not teach the Jack Daniels folks how to make whiskey.  There is no corroborating evidence for the claims of the Granville Museum.  Lee has been accorded at least two honors, however, that many other whiskey men have failed to achieve.  First, he has a mannequin of himself and a museum display about his distillery.  Second, he has a Tennessee cemetery named for him.  Considering those memorials who needs Jack Daniels?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Jacob Barzen: “Small Undertakings” Led to “Business of Magnitude”

Born in Riel on the River Moselle, Germany, in 1854,  into a family of wine growers,  Jacob Barzen spent his early years in what a biographer termed, “small undertakings,” before locating in Kansas City, Missouri.  There he made liquor his trade and “business interests of importance and magnitude” resulted.

In a 1908 history of Kansas City the biographer dwelled extensively on Jacob’s German ancestry.   The Barzen family for at least five generations back had grown grapes and made wine in the famous Moselle Valley.  The Barzen men were notoriously long-lived.  Jacob’s grandfather died at 97.  His father lived to 92 and was said to be a man “who never ate a meal without his wine on the family board.”  Born in a house that dated back to the 1500s,  Jacob was the seventh in a family of ten children.  He was educated in the public schools of Riel but left home at the age of 14, possibly recognizing that by birth order he never would inherit the family wine lands.

The first of Barzen’s “small undertakings” was to go to work in a wholesale grocery in Coblenz, Germany, where he was employed in the office and warehouse.  He spent three years there, learning the trade and working his way up in the firm.  He next went to Nuenkirchen, again working in a wholesale grocery but also employed on the road as a salesman. At the age of 18 in 1872,  Barzen emigrated to the United States, the only one of his siblings to come to the New World.  He settled first in Chicago, working as a bookkeeper in a series of mercantile firms that dealt principally in wines, liquors and cigars.

In Chicago Jacob met his wife, Martina Heiderich, a woman three years his junior.  Born in Louisiana, she was the daughter of Martin Heiderich, a German immigrant and tobacco manufacturer in Quincy, Illinois.  The young couple married in May 1875.  Jacob was 21; Martina was 18.  The 1880 census found the Barzens living in Chicago, already with three children.  It may have been Jacob’s recognition of his growing financial responsibilities that caused him to forego “small undertakings” working for other people.  He went to Kansas City in 1882 looking for a favorable location to open a store.  Along the way he had met Isaac Glasner who had established a grocery in KC almost a decade earlier.  When Glasner offered him a partnership Barzen agreed.

Almost from the beginning Jacob appears to have acted as the lead partner.  Two years after arriving he sold off the grocery business and engaged exclusively in liquor sales. The Glasner and Barzen firm that emerged was both a retailer and wholesaler.  Like many wholesalers, it also was a “rectifier,” blending and compounding raw whiskeys to create and market proprietary brands.  Needing a steady supply of “raw” product, Barzen eventually determined buy a distillery.

In 1903 he found one not far from Kansas City.  It was the Blue Springs Distillery in Leeds, Jackson County, Missouri, in IRS terms, “District 3, No. 6.”  Shown here, the facility had been owned by the B.B. Joffee distilling interests and already was part of the Federal bonded warehouse system.  The company incorporated that same year with a name change to “Glasner & Barzen Distilling & Importing Company.”  Sales offices also moved to new and much larger quarters, shown here.  Located at 519-521 Delaware, the building was five stories with large storage space and ample room for rectifying the production from the Blue Valley Distillery.

Subsequently Glasner and Barzen sold a veritable blizzard of brands, some their own proprietary whiskeys, others nationally known and advertised labels.  Their own names graced many of their containers, including gallon and larger jugs that were used in their wholesale trade.  For retail customers they featured fancier stoneware containers with gilded gothic lettering.

The firm advertised several of their proprietary brands widely, including Diplomat Sour Mash Whiskey.  Promoted as “Just Right,” and featuring a Colonial gentleman on the label,  the name “Diplomat” was trademarked in 1905 and sold at retail in bottles in a range of sizes from miniatures to quarts.  Whatever the brand the names Glasner and Barzen usually were embossed in the glass, as shown below.

Like other Kansas City whiskey men, Barzen was lavish in furnishing his favored customers with giveaway items.  They issued a number of different shot glasses with their name and the name of their products etched on the glass. Among them was a fancy a three-inch high shot glass advertising Diplomat Whiskey.  My personal favorite among their gifts is an attractive knife with a brass finish in the “art nouveau” style.  It was given to bartenders, reminding them about G&B products as they worked opening bottles and cutting fruit.

Glasner & Barzen’s business grew steadily from year to year.  At the outset sales were in the “small undertaking” range at $35,000 annually but by 1908, reputedly as a result of Barzen’s “enterprise and energy,” the company had grown to a “business of magnitude” with annual revenues approaching  $1 million annually (over $25 million in today’s dollar.)  Barzen, however, had not limited himself to the liquor trade.   He was prominent in financial circles as a director of the Pioneer Trust Company.  He also made significant investments in Kansas City real estate.  His own home at 2823 Forest Avenue was accounted a mansion.

As Jacob’s business and his wealth was growing, so was his family.  Eventually the Barzens would have eight children, two of whom, boys, died before reaching maturity.  Surviving to adulthood were four daughters and two sons.  One of the sons, Carl Barzen, upon reaching maturity was brought into the business.  According to his biographer,  Jacob was “devoted to the welfare of his wife and family and finds his greatest happiness in contributing to their pleasure.”

Barzen also was conducting an active life in Kansas City business and social circles.  He was a member of the Commercial Club, the Rich Hill Hunting Club, the Pioneer Bowling Club, the Elm Ridge Club, the Kansas City Club, the Kansas City Athletic Club, and the Elks Lodge.  He also was a member of the board of directors of the German Hospital and several times served as its president.  Moreover, a Roman Catholic, he actively participated in church activities and was known as a generous contributor to charitable causes. Unlike other Kansas City liquor dealers, however, Barzen deliberately kept out of politics.

Much of Glasner & Barzen’s business was via sales throughout the Midwest and West.  The company claimed representatives in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.  Although Missouri was a “wet” state,  Prohibition forces eventually cut off most of that out-of-state business, either the result of state bans on alcohol or local option laws.  With the coming of National Prohibition,  Barzen was forced to shut the doors on his business by 1919.

The 1920 Census found him living in his Beacon Hill neighborhood mansion with Martina, his wife of 45 years, and several servants.  Clearly his real estate and other financial interests had helped shield him from the shock of his “business of magnitude,” being summarily terminated.  Barzen gave his occupation to the census taker as “retired.”  For the 1930 census he was still living at 76 years old, as was his wife, Martina.  Despite the tragedy of losing two sons,  the couple could take comfort in their remaining children, some married with their own children, most living near the aging couple in Kansas City.

My research has not disclosed the time and place of Barzen’s death and burial.  A tribute by his biographer earlier may serve as a fitting final tribute:  “...All who know him respect him for his loyal citizenship, his benevolent spirit and the kindly purpose which he displays in his relations with his fellow men.”  On his journey from small undertakings to a business of importance and magnitude,  Jacob Barzen quite evidently had not lost his humanity.

Note:  Much of the information contained here is taken from "Kansas City, Missouri. Its History and Its People, 1800-1908. Vol. III". by Carrie Westlake Whitney (1908), S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago.  The image of the Diplomat Whiskey bottles is adapted from the online collection of Paul Gronquist.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Col. John W. McCulloch Rode on a Green River of Whiskey

Born in Kentucky into the tradition of Irish Catholics who had settled there and entered the liquor trade,  John Wellington McCulloch, later a Kentucky “colonel,” distilled a whiskey he called “Green River”and rode that whiskey stream to fame and fortune. 

Although McCulloch was born in Missouri in 1960 (some records say 1861), he was from a Kentucky family whose roots were in Ireland.  For early on he appears to have lived in Owensboro, Daviess County and was practiced in the whiskey trade.   In November of 1884 McCulloch, about age 24, married Jessie Holmes, a local girl and the daughter of Margaret and Thomas Holmes.   Their first child was born a year later and the couple would go on to have seven children.

During these early years McCulloch was working as an employee of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a gauger,  an official who tested the alcoholic strength of distilled whiskeys.  It was a political job in a Republican administration and he was a party member.  With his rapidly growing family, McCulloch may have decided that government pay was insufficient.  He had worked at a distillery on the Green River about one mile below Owensboro and he purchased it in 1888.

McCulloch incorporated his business in 1900, changing the name to the Green River Distilling Company. He immediately set about upgrading the facility.  Insurance underwriter records for 1892 indicate that most of the distillery was new and had a single frame warehouse with a metal or slate roof, located 150 feet south of the still.  Over time McCulloch continued to upgrade facility, eventually building two U.S. bonded warehouses under the “Bottled in Bonding” legislation.  Those warehouses are the two low buildings at the back of the property,  shown below.  A Louisville Courier-Journal reporter described them:  “His warehouses are of peculiar and costly construction, built well off the ground, closely floored, with only three tiers to the rick, low metal roof, thickly studded with skylights, every barrel at some time in the day receives its share of light and air.” McCulloch was proud of his participation in the government program and featured it prominently in his merchandising.

Another McCulloch strategy was entering his whiskey into contention at world fairs and expositions.  In 1893, he won a medal for excellence at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, a major prize.  He also took his liquor overseas, winning a gold metal for quality at the Paris Exposition of 1900 and the “grand prize” at the 1905 Exposition Universelle de Liege, Belgium.  Domestically he won a grand prize at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon,  at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, and the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia.  Often his display was only a plain glass case with hundreds of bottles on it, left unattended.  It was enough, however, to garner a prize for Green River, each award advertised widely by McCulloch.

The Colonel prominently featured his family in his vigorous advertising of his Green River Whiskey, his flagship brand.  He pictured five of his children about 1897.  At left, the boy hugging the baby is his eldest son, Wendall.  The baby is brother, Charles.  Below them are two other brothers, on left is John Wellington, Jr. and on right, Hugh.  Standing at right is his daughter and the oldest child, Martine.

McCulloch also became noted for another image that epitomized Green River whiskey.  It was of a black man dressed in a top hat, vest and coat with patches on his britches. He is holding a horse with a large jug of Green River strapped to its side.  In the distant background is an image of the distillery.  The Colonel used this image over and over.  Above it is seen on a trade card.  It was replicated as a gilded chalk statue, shown here, as well as a saloon sign, a lighted back bar item, a watch fob, a ink blotter, a good luck token a deck of cards and other giveaway items.

Some authors have seen this image as having racist overtones, but that opinion appears erroneous.  The inspiration reportedly was a story told to McCulloch, a Kentuckian whose family had opposed slavery. According to the tale, a lengthy rainstorm disrupted liquor supplies arriving at  local Kentucky tavern and the bar had run dry.  Suddenly an African gentleman, braving the gale, appeared in town to deliver Green River Whiskey aboard his mule.  Suddenly the rain stopped and a rainbow appeared.  The thirsty crowd cheered and celebrated for days.  To me, the black man shown on the joker card looks anything but a racial stereotype.  McCulloch likely wanted it that way.

Although Kentucky was deeply divided on the question of secession both during and after the Civil War,  McCulloch was an unabashed Unionist.   In 1895 when the first Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) “Encampment, an organization of Union soldiers, was held in Louisville,  McCulloch was quick to issue thousands of bottles of Green River with a souvenir label and sold 13,000 of them to men from all over the United States.  The Courier-Journal praised him for the effort, lauded the quality of his products, and concluded “doubtless thousands of old soldiers will leave Louisville, ready to endorse his whiskey anywhere.”  This gesture may have contributed to McCulloch being given a major contract to supply whisky to the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service several years later, a credential that he advertised widely.

Meanwhile,  the Colonel was playing a major role in the Republican Party of Kentucky and the nation.  Always an active member of the state party and a delegate to the National Nominating Conventions,  about 1912 he was elected as the member of the National Committee for the State of Kentucky, a singular honor.  It was not without controversy, however.   Kentucky Republicans increasingly were being dominated by Prohibitionists who took a dim view of a distiller like McCulloch. He also drew fire from the “Wets.” Although McCulloch upheld liquor interests in Republican forums, he was criticized for continuing to raise money for the party, one which ultimately declared for state and national prohibition.

Among McCulloch’s other activities was being a member of the board of directors of the Great Southern Fire Insurance Company of Louisville.  This office was particularly ironic because in August, 1918,  the Green River distillery caught fire.  As the Owensboro Daily Messenger headlined:  “In Three Hours Every Building of Big Concern is Reduced to Piles of Ashes.” Although portions of three warehouses were saved, McCulloch lost 18,000 barrels of aging whiskey.  The loss was estimated at $3,000,000 ($45,000,000 in today’s dollar) and the greatest conflagration up to that time in Owensboro.

Another headline proclaimed:  “Col. McCulloch Returns to Find Green River Gone.”  Undaunted, he soon rebuilt and continued producing his distillery for a short time until he recognized that the onset of National Prohibition would shut him down.  He shipped off most of his stock, much of it to the Federally controlled “concentration warehouse” at the Old Taylor facilities in Woodford County.  There it was bottled “for medicinal use” under the Green River label by the authorized American Medicinal Spirits Company.

John W. McCulloch did not live to see Prohibition repealed.  At the age of 67 he died in near Owensboro.   He was buried at the Mater Dolorosa Catholic Cemetery there while his wife, Jessie, children, grandchildren grieved by his graveside.  His headstone lies beneath a large obelisk with a cross at the base and “McCulloch” emblazoned in large letter.  Other family members are buried nearby.

During Prohibition the distillery McCulloch built had been demolished, but the family continued to own the land and with Repeal rebuilt the facility and began to produce Green River whiskey.  The revived distillery continued to be a family affair.  It was incorporated by John W. McCulloch Jr. in December 1933.  The heirs, however, found the whiskey trade difficult and were in business only a short time.  They sold the Green River label to Old Tyme Distillery of New York with the whiskey produced at the A. B. Chapeze plant in Bullett County, Kentucky.

Although John McCulloch is gone the whiskey he initiated remains of interest because of the artifacts he created.   Recently the blue and white mini-jug shown above sold at auction at $1,025.   The original watch fob is worth enough that it has been counterfeited.  In addition, there are thousands of other artifacts out there to remind us of the Kentucky colonel who gave us a wealth of items by which to remember him and Green River whiskey.