Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thirteen Was Louis Rosenzweig’s Lucky Number

In an era when most liquor dealers were content to operate one or two stores,  Louis Rosenzweig could not have enough of them in Chicago.  Starting with one in 1902, by 1916 he was running thirteen around the city.  Moreover, he was recording their individual addresses on the ceramic jugs in which he sold his “Old Rose” whiskey.  As a result it is possible to track the rise of his retail whiskey empire.

Rosenzweig’s 1902 liquor store, according to Chicago business directories, was located at 256-258 State Street.  It must have been profitable because he began opening other stores in ensuing years.  As time progressed, Rosenzweig added outlets on W. North Avenue and Commercial Avenue.   By the mid-decade that number, as shown here on a jug, had climbed to nine.  He had added two locations on Cottage Grove Avenue, two on South Halsted Street, two on South Ashland Avenue, and one on North Clark Street. 

Within a short time, the number of Rosenzweig’s liquor stores climbed to ten — shown on the jug here — as he added a new outlet at 3418 Sheffield Avenue.  He began to advertise:  “…That our stores are so scattered in Chicago that we can deliver goods to any part of the city the same day the order is given.”  A single telephone number for customers came to the company headquarters at 3557-59 South Halsted that also served as the central warehouse.  Clerks there dispatched orders to the nearest stores and monitored stock control.

An eleventh store was added at 3169 Lincoln Avenue.  A jug shown here recorded that growth.  These addresses also were appearing in ads Rosenzweig was running every Saturday in local newspapers that proclaimed:  “Among other things to be remembered about us is that we have the largest assortment of Wines and Liquors in the city and sell them at bargain prices.”  In addition to Old Rose, Rosenzweig’s house brands included “Tam O’Shanter” and “Golden Drop.”  Apparently too busy building his empire, he failed to trademark any of those labels.

By 1910 Rosenzweig was advertising thirteen stores, his high water mark.  As shown here on a jug, he had added a second location on Ashland Avenue and one at 771 Milwaukee Avenue.  The earlier W. North Avenue address had been replaced by one at 550 North Avenue.  The horses from his delivery wagons had been retired and he was delivering liquor by automobile.  From time to time an address would be dropped from the thirteen and another added, including one on N. Lake Shore Drive.  

Rosenzweig also had ventured outside Chicago, opening a liquor store at 211 Jefferson Street in Joliet, the fourth largest city in Illinois, 45 miles from Chicago.  He called this outlet the Joliet Wine & Liquor Company and issued a souvenir Limoge China calendar plate for 1910 that also lists his Chicago locations.  In ads now calling his company the “Old Rose Distilling Co.,”  Rosenzweig boasted:  “Thirteen large stores under one management.”  His.

Meanwhile Louis Rosenzweig was having a personal life.  He was born in 1865 in a part of Eastern Europe that through the years was variously part of Poland, Russia and Germany.   He came to America as a youth, apparently with his family, the date of their arrival given between 1880 and 1885.  Louis soon found his way to Chicago.

There he met Rose Frank who had been born of German immigrant parents.  They were wed in Chicago on November 17, 1889.  If census data is to be believed, he was 19 and she was 16.  They began a family almost immediate when a daughter, Lillian, was born nine months later.  Just as Rosenzweig steadily added liquor stores, he added seven sons — Maurice Lester, Harry, Bernard A., Joseph, Jarvis, Geoffrey, and Norman — all born between 1892 and 1901.

Rosenzweig’s career began by managing Chicago saloons.  Along the way he apparently decided that it was more profitable to sell liquor at retail than just by the drink over the bar.  In order to build his organization, Rosenzweig leased retail space at carefully selected locations around Chicago.  His business plan was revealed in part during a lawsuit he brought against an erstwhile manager of one of his liquor stores.  In each outlet Louis installed managers all of whom signed a five-year contract that called for $150 per month (equiv. today of $3,750) and an increase if business was satisfactory.  In return a manager pledged to give his entire time to his employment and not to engage in the liquor business in the vicinity of the store for three years after leaving Rosenzweig’s employ.  In this way Louis hoped to limit future competition. 

Harry Feuer, a manager at 6310 Cottage Grove Avenue, decided to test Rosenzweig and the validity of the contract.  On April 5, 1916, Feuer quit his job but returned  less than two weeks later to open a liquor business in a building literally next door.  Rosenzeig reacted strongly to Feuer’s defiance and hauled him into Circuit Court in Chicago.  When that judge ruled in the owner’s favor, Feuer took his case to the Appellate Court of llinois.  After hearing the appeal, Judge Jesse Baldwin affirmed the earlier decision.  Rosenzweig won and Feuer left the neighborhood.

Yet another reason for Rosenzweig’s success was his emphasis on giveaways.  He gifted the traditional shot glasses, with a difference:  often he listed the addresses of each of his liquor stores, adding locations on the glass as the numbers grew.  Shown here is a shot with 13 addresses crammed on the surface.  Others simply declared the number of stores and provided the telephone.   He also gifted an attractive watch fob featuring a red rose that advertised his “Old Rose” brand.

By far Rosenzweig’s most interesting giveaways were his carnival glass dishes and plates.  These were made by a company founded by Harry Northwood, a British immigrant who came to America in 1880.  In 1902, just as Rosenzweig was beginning to build his empire, Northwood opened a factory in Wheeling, West Virginia.  There he developed his formula for carnival glass.  Rosenzweig issued several such items, among them a rose-colored glass dish decorated with roses.  Another was a glass plate with a grape and grape leaf pattern with characteristic carnival iridescence.  The base identified “Old Rose Distillery, Wines and Liquors, Chicago.”

Unlike other parts of America, the Windy City stayed “wet” until the imposition of National Prohibition.  The time allowed Louis to bring several of his sons into the business with him.  The 1910 census records that Maurice L. Rosenzweig at 18 years old was working as a bookkeeper for the company.  The 1920 census found son Harry, 26, as an office worker in the headquarters and son Jarvis, 21, as a clerk.

Nonetheless, as 1920 approached, the numbers of Rosenzeig liquor stores dropped from 13 to 11 and then there were none.  Still only 56 years old and continuing to be energetic, according to the 1930 census, Louis moved into the real estate market, owning and managing his own mortgage company.  With him in this enterprise was son Maurice.  Rosenzweig had only four more years of life, dying at about 69 on April 22, 1934.  By that time he had seen the country’s “great experiment” on banning alcohol all but come to and end.

To my knowledge no other whiskey man has ever done what Louis Rosenzweig accomplished in Chicago — sustaining at one time as many as thirteen individual liquor outlets, some of them also containing saloons.   The management skills required to make a success suggest that Louis Rosenzweig might have been just as competent as the president of General Motors or Microsoft.  


Sunday, March 18, 2018

John Kelly and His Iconic Portland Bar

Kelly’s Olympian, the Portland, Oregon, bar shown above, regularly is featured in local media that trumpet its more than a century in existence.   Nothing, however, is revealed about John E. Kelly, the man who gave his name to the establishment during a lengthy career running Portland saloons and selling whiskey.  This vignette is aimed at remedying that omission by telling Kelly’s story.

John Kelly was born in New York in December of 1865 of immigrant Irish parentage.  While in his late teens, he migrated to Portland, Oregon, possibly because of promised employment with relatives running saloons in the city. He first surfaced in Portland business directories in 1888, at the age of 23 as the co-owner of a saloon located at 147 1/2 Third Street.  His partner was a fellow Irishman, James R. Foley.

By this time Kelly was married and had started a family.  At the age of 21 in 1886 he wed a young woman named Mary Emma, born in Washington State, the daughter of parents originally from the Midwest.  A year later they had an infant son, Francis, called “Frank.”  The 1890 census found the family living in Portland’s Fourth Ward.

Kelly’s partnership with Foley was relatively short-lived.  By 1891, Foley had departed and Kelly had renamed his Third Street drinking establishment the “Elite Saloon.”  About 1900 he had relocated his drinking establishment to 341 Morrison Street and had taken a new partner, a former bartender named D. John Caswell.  Caswell & Kelly became a popular Portland watering hole but by 1909 Kelly had decided that selling liquor as package goods was more lucrative than just by the drink over the bar.

In 1909, without Caswell, he moved down the street to 354 Morrison Street and opened “The Family Liquor Store.”  The establishment also included a bar.  One of his first hires was a Matthew Kelly, a relative and bartender.  Several years later his son, Frank, was hired, initially working as a clerk.  The proprietor issued etched shot glasses, given to favored customers.

Meanwhile, at 127 Sixth Street, another liquor purveyor named Morris Nelson was running The Lotus Buffet and Billiard Parlor, a step up from the usual Portland saloon as indicated by its exterior and internal bar, both shown here. Nelson became known for his giveaway items, that included ceramic “nip” bottles in the shape of an elk’s tooth that celebrating the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks fraternity.  He also offered carnival glass pin trays, as well as less costly items like matches and bar tokens, shown here.

Whether it was Nelson’s generosity or the advent of a statewide ban on making or selling alcohol, the Lotus was thrust into bankruptcy with the Scandinavian Bank of Portland as the principal debt holder.  Having been forced to shut down his Family Liquor Store as a result of Oregon’s ban on alcohol sales, Kelly saw an opportunity.  Working with the bank he became the manager of the Lotus.  Both Matthew and Frank were employed there.  Although he could not sell booze at the Lotus, Kelly apparently found he liked the restaurant business.  When an opportunity came to own one himself, he took it.

The Olympian had been founded in 1902 as a saloon “tied” to the newly founded Olympia Brewing Company, a practice common in pre-Prohibition days.  The only brews served there were Olympia beers.  Hired by the brewery to manage the establishment was Albert H. Greenberg who made a success of the saloon. It has been described this way:  “It is truly a colorful part of Portland’s history.  In the early days it was a popular gathering spot for locals as well as visiting timber men, sailors, shipyard workers, longshoremen and others passing through.”

In 1916, however, both Olympia Brewery and the Olympian were forced to shut down by the state law.  Anxious to unload the property, the owners were happy to sell it to Kelly.  He incorporated, naming himself as president.  Matthew became vice-president and Frank, secretary-treasurer.   The Olympian Company, as it was now designated, advertised its cigars and tobacco, soft drinks and restaurant food.  Before long, the name was altered to Kelly’s Olympian.

Some speculate that Kelly was not just purveying soft drinks.  The Olympian sits above the Old Portland Underground, better known locally as the “Shanghai Tunnels,” a complex of passages that connected the basements of saloons and hotels to the waterfront.   One tunnel is said to have had an outlet in Kelly’s basement.  More recently it has been discovered that one section of that basement contains a peculiar patching of a wall and remnants of an old tile floor, possibly the remains of a speakasy that existed during the “dry” years.”

Was John Kelly involved?  Both his moves to the Lotus and then to the Olympian suggest to me that he had not given up the liquor trade just because it had been outlawed by Oregon lawmakers.  Having spent much of his life purveying alcolhol, Kelly — I believe — likely had something in mind outside the law.  The answer is unknown as Kelly went to his grave in 1925, age seventy, without an arrest or public confession.  He was buried in Section A, Lot 61, Space 2 of Portland’s Calvary Cemetery.  His wife, Mary Emma, later would join him in Space 1.  His grave is shown here.

About a century after Kelly owned and re-named the saloon, the establishment is still extant, offering whiskey and other liquor as he might have, reckoned the third oldest watering hole in Portland.  Shown above, the place definitely is worth a visit when in the city.  If you go, be sure to lift a glass to John Kelly, a whiskey man worth remembering.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Whiskey Men Who Fought for the South, Part 1

Foreword:  The Civil War that raged between 1861 and 1865 was a defining event in American history.  An increase in alcoholic consumption among the public during and after the conflict has been attributed to it.  The war also has been credited with spurring the temperance movement in the country that ultimately led to National Prohibition in 1920.  Many who fought on both sides had an interest in the liquor trade.  Often their stories are compelling.  In this post and two to follow, brief profiles will be drawn of whiskey men who fought in that war, beginning with combatants for the Confederacy.

One of the last Confederates to leave the field after the defeat at Fort Walker on Hilton Head, Hermann Klatte, shown here, three years later returned to his home in Charleston following the Civil War to open a liquor business. There he was hindered at every turn by Prohibitionist forces and finally put out of business by the government of South Carolina two decades before National Prohibition. 

Despite being a German immigrant and owning no slaves,  Klatte immediately went on active duty with a Charleston artillery company on December 20, 1860, the day South Carolina voted to secede from the Federal Union.  Klatte and his unit were among those Confederate forces that physically took over Fort Sumpter.  Subsequently Hermann was sent to Hilton Head where he was in the garrison at Fort Walker for the battle of Port Royal in November 1861. In the end Yankee fire power proved too strong and a Southern retreat was ordered.  According to one account, Lt. Hermann Klatte was the last officer to leave the field, cannonading the Yankees until the last moment.

In the aftermath of the Port Royal battle Klatte’s artillery unit was employed primarily to defend South Carolina’s coastal defenses.  When those were evacuated in February1865 as Confederate resistance crumbled, Klatte, now a full lieutenant, was in command of an artillery battalion.  He tried to join remaining Confederate forces, but was deterred by General Sherman’s march into South Carolina, and surrendered at Greensboro at the close of the war.  Ending his service ranked as a captain, Klatte’s heroism subsequently was hailed by several Southern commentators.

Upon returning to Charleston, he opened “Hermann Klatte & Bro” as wholesale dealers in foreign and domestic liquors and wines.  He also advertised sales of mineral water, “segars,” tobacco and both foreign and domestic beers.  For decades Klatte’s liquor house was a success.  Just before Christmas 1892, however, the South Carolina legislature voted for a corrupt scheme that put the governor in total charge of whiskey merchandising and prohibited all other sales of alcohol. 

Virtually in a moment, almost two decades before National Prohibition, the state that Klatte had fought so hard to protect, put him out of the whiskey trade.  Directories show that he struggled on with tobacco and nonalcoholic products for several years and then, at age 61, folded his business. There may have been times when Klatte wondered if his military service on behalf of the South had been worthwhile.

The Battle of Five Forks, fought on April 1, 1965, was the last major clash of North and South in the Civil War.  Nine days later Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.  But for Elijah Betterman,  whose subsequent career as a Tennessee whiskey man brought wealth and prominence, the war was far from over.  Captured at Five Forks he would spend months after the surrender in a Yankee prison camp.  After his release and subsequent marriage, Betterman found success elusive until he opened  a wholesale liquor business in Chattanooga under the name E.R. Betterton & Co., as shown on a company letterhead.

Ultimately Betterton found it necessary in 1895 to open his own distillery, located on Signal Mountain Road near Valdeau, Tennessee.  Betterton called it “White Oak Distillery.” Unfortunately his first plant, although it prospered, had no easy transportation access.  It was a distance from the Tennessee River and five miles from the nearest railroad.  As a result, about 1899 Betterton and a partner built a second White Oak Distillery on the south bank of the river just east of Chattanooga’s Market Street bridge.  An illustration of this facility emphasizes its nearness to river and rail transport.

When Tennessee went “dry” in 1913, Betterton and a partner opened a wholesale house under the name “E. R. Betterton” in Rossville, Georgia,  just over the Tennessee state line.  Liquor still could be sent by freight from Chattanooga to Georgia. For a time, it was still legal for Betterton to ship his whiskey back from Georgia to his Tennessee customers by express freight and even parcel post.  As a result, by 1917 he had exhausted most of the stock at the distillery and in his Tennessee warehouses.  The former Johnny Reb persisted in business.  In 1914 he formed the Betterton & England Shoe Company, footwear wholesalers, in Chattanooga.  

Henry Gunst, like Hermann Klatte, was a German immigrant, without slaves, who settled in Bowling Green, Virginia, a small town between Richmond and Washington, D.C.  Although married with children when the Civil War broke out, Henry shut down his tannery, left his family, and joined the 13th Virginia Infantry Regiment. Shown here in maturity, Gunst saw fierce action throughout the war, fighting at First Manassas, in Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign, Cold Harbor and in the battles up and down the Shenandoah Valley. 

Although the 13th Virginia was present at Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox, Henry apparently had returned to Bowling Green by that time. According to a family legend, when he attempted to restart his tannery, a Yankee officer told him he first had to swear an oath of loyalty to the Union. Henry, the story goes, chased the officer out of town with a pitchfork.

Moving to Richmond after the war, Gunst founded a liquor business, claiming to be both a distiller and whiskey blender.  His partner, Straus, appears to have exited early. Nevertheless, Straus-Gunst & Co. remained the name of the business throughout its lengthy existence. Its principal brand of whiskey was “Old Henry.”  As the business grew and flourished, Henry became a rich man, recognized in Richmond for his business acumen.  He and his wife lived in a mansion and he was chauffeured around town in a fashionable buggy.

Despite being on the losing side, Gunst continued to be proud of his “Johnny Reb’” Confederate past. In 1888 he attended a Virginia exposition related to the Civil War and displayed a 10-chambered pistol he had taken from an Union officer on the battlefield. A fond grandfather, as shown below,  Old Henry died in 1907, never to see statewide prohibition imposed in Virginia in 1916.

Note:  This post deals with former Confederate soldiers who remained in the South; a subsequent post will feature three Rebel whiskey men who went North and flourished.  Longer vignettes on each of the three featured here can be found on this blog at the following dates:   Hermann Klatte, March 23, 2014;  Elijah Betterton, August 10, 2013; and Henry Guntz, August 3, 2011.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Farm Girl Flora — Boston’s “First Lady” of Whiskey

In 1898, a farmer’s daughter, Flora Doble, found herself filling the shoes of her late husband, Otis Neale, at the head of a large liquor, wine and bottling business in Boston.  It secured her a place in the high society “Blue Book” of Boston, but also brought financial and legal challenges that she may not have expected. 

Flora J. Doble was born on a farm near Oxford, in the southeastern part of Maine about 1846, the daughter of Phineas and Lucinda Doble.  Although girls were being educated in local co-educational public schools and private “seminaries,” it is doubtful that Flora received more than an elementary education.  Likely growing a little hay and feeding cattle, her father, according to net worth figures given in the 1860 census, was far from rich.  Moreover, the Dobles had five children to feed and clothe.  The oldest four were girls.

Thus it probably was considered a family blessing when Flora, still in her teens, was courted by Otis S. Neale, shown here in middle age.  Neale had only recently returned from Civil War military service.  At the outbreak of the conflict in 1861, at the age of 19 he had enlisted as a private in the Massachusetts 1st. Light Artillery Battery and almost immediately shipped out to guard the Nation’s Capitol.  A gunner, he later was extolled for his “generosity, tact, and energy” in military service.  Advanced to full corporal during the war, Neale was mustered out in 1864 and returned to Boston.

How Flora and Otis came to meet is uncertain, but on June 14, 1866,  they were married and took up housekeeping in Boston.  At some point in the 1860s Neale went to work for an old established bottler of mineral and soda waters called Moses Fairbanks & Co.  Shown left is an embossed bottle from the company.

Since its earliest beginnings this company had been located in the Athaneum theater building on Howard Street.  Among the city’s most famous theaters, shown here with adjoining buildings, the address was a prime one for beverage sales.After the retirement of Moses Fairbanks,  Neale, showing promise as a  business executive, about 1872 became a junior partner in the business with Levi Fairbanks.  By the early 1880s the Civil War veteran had taken over full ownership, renaming the business the Otis S. Neale Co. while remaining in the Athaneum building, shown right.

Meanwhile, Flora was playing the role of dutiful wife and mother.  The couple had a single child, Albert.  In the 1880 census her occupation was given as “housekeeping.”   There is no indication that she was playing any part in her
husband’s rapidly expanding commercial activities.  Dubbing himself “Doc” Neale, Otis was selling a “fine old private stock” whiskey under his own name, as well as a line of liquors called “Outing Club” that included whiskey and cocktails. 

He also offered ginger ale, twelve flavors of tonics, apple cider, brandy, rum, gin and wine by the barrel or by the gallon, in cases or by the bottle, as those shown here.  He also offered lager beer “of the best brands” and Philadelphia ale and porter.  His ads touted a wide range of beverages, both alcoholic and non-.   In short, if it was drinkable, “Doc” Neale could sell it to you. 

Neale ascendancy did not go unnoticed by his colleagues.  In 1883 he was elected to the board of a national organization called the United States Bottlers’ Protective Association, a group primarily concerned about the growing temperance movement.   He also found time to become the manager of the A. J. Houghton Brewery, founded in 1891 and located in the Roxbury District of Boston.  

Then in 1898 Otis Neale suddenly died, only about 52 years old, perhaps weakened by the strain of running both a major liquor house and a brewery.  His funeral was well attended and marked by the rituals of the Masonic order to which he had belonged.  He also was accorded military honors by the GAR, the veterans organization in which he had been active.  He is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery, his monument shown here. 

Seemingly in an instant Flora Neale was thrust forward into running the Otis S. Neale Company.   As the 1901 bullhead that opens this post indicates, she assumed the titles of both president and treasurer of the company, the only woman in Boston with that distinction.  Although aided by a manager named Gardner, evidence is that Flora was an active participant in the business from 1898 forward.  She advertised extensively.

The “Blue Book” of Boston, a directory of the rich and powerful took due notice of the widow, Mrs. Otis T. Neale.  She was listed, along with several neighbors, living in one of the area’s luxury apartment houses.  Shown here, Richmond Court likely was the first in the Northeast made to resemble an English Tudor manor house.  On the National Register of Historic Places today, it was then a highly fashionable place to live.  Flora, the former farm girl, made herself at home.

Flora’s time at the helm of the company was not, however, without its difficulties.  In 1908 an involuntary petition in bankrupcy was filed against the Neale Company by three creditors, the largest being Burkhardt Brewing, an Akron, Ohio, a company also headed by a woman.  It claimed to be owed $13,000, the equivalent of more than $300,000 today. Flora appears successfully to have survived that challenge.  The company avoided bankruptcy.

Flora also found herself in trouble with the Massachusetts Board of Health from time to time over beverages her company was selling.  In February 1907 she was called to account as the result of an analysis of her “Golden Seal” champagne cider, found to contain neither champagne nor cider.  Rather, said the Board, it was a “large admixture of sugar, malic acid and carbonated water.”  The state came down hard on her again in 1913, this time for a purported “non-alcoholic” temperance drink.  Along with eight other similar Massachusetts products, her “Imperial - A Liquid Food” was found to be adulterated with salicylic acid, considered poisonous if taken in quantity.

The last year for Flora’s leadership of the Neale Company appears to be 1913.  That year she moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts, an oceanside Boston suburb, and was living in elegant apartment with a relative.  No further references to the Neale Company can I find past that date.  The company Otis built passed into the mists of history.  I have also been unsuccessful in finding details of Flora’s death.

Note: I am always on the lookout for women who had responsibilities for whiskey related businesses as distillers, distributors or saloon keepers during the pre-Prohibition era.  Thus it was that the billhead from the Otis T. Neale Co. of Boston caught my eye.  “Mrs. Otis T. Neale, President and Treasurer,”  it read.  That was all I needed to begin researching the farmer’s daughter who began life as Flora Doble.  Brief profiles of five other women who succeeded in the whiskey trade can be found in my post of June 19, 2017.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Born Free — Three Generations of a Rye Distilling Family

For more than 62 years a Pennsylvania family named Free perpetuated a whiskey-making tradition that ended only with National Prohibition.  From Adam to Henry & Augustus to H. Kister & Ralph, three generations of Frees gave America a rye whisky that claimed to be: “Always the Same.”   Their hometown was always the same — York, shown below as it looked in 1890.

The progenitor and first distiller of the Free family was Adam, of Scotch descent who began life in Maryland about 1795 and relocated to Pennsylvania in 1818.  After spending several years working as a carpenter and saving his money, about the age of 30 he purchased a farm near a crossroads called Emigsville, adjacent to York.  Early on, Adam Free began distilling, using his excess grains to make whiskey and selling it locally.  That trade proved highly lucrative and having started with virtually nothing, he built an estate in property worth the equivalent of $1.8 million today and was elected a York County commissioner.  Adam died in 1854, age 54.

Thus was the pattern set for the next generation of Free sons.  Adam had married a Pennsylvania woman of German ancestry seven years his junior named Mary Hake.  Over the next fourteen years their union would produce eleven children, among them were sons, Henry and Augustus.  Henry, born in August 1831, was educated in local schools and lived on the family farm.  His first occupation was buying and selling livestock but apparently soon tired of that trade.  In 1856 he joined with younger brother Augustus in a partnership to distill whiskey.   

Calling it H. Free & Company, the brothers located their facility on the turnpike along the Susquehanna River that linked York to the state capitol at Harrisburg. Initially the site of a tavern that had been an important stopping place on the stage coach route, the crossroads became known as Free’s Distillery.  The brothers began with the capacity of mashing 100 bushels of grain daily, a major step up from the production of their father and other local farmer distillers.  With the coming of the York and Cumberland Railroad to their vicinity, Henry and Augustus were able to ship their rye whiskey to other parts of Pennsylvania.

The brothers bottled their rye in amber-hued glass, as shown here. It was heavily embossed with “Established 1887, H. Free & Co., Free’s Pure-Rye Whiskey, York, Penna.”  The bottle was covered with a black and white paper label that contained the Free logo and declared:  “Pure Rye, fully matured in wood before being bottled, unsurpassed in purity, flavor and mellowness.”

Not long after establishing the distillery, Henry married Leah Rutter, the daughter of John Rutter, a well-known figure in York County.  Not a young woman when they married, she bore him four children and died in 1881 at the age of 50 when the younger ones were still in school.  Despite the burdens of a single parent Henry found time to do public service, as his father had.  A Republican, Henry repeatedly was elected township auditor.   His wealth from liquor allowed him to buy three “fine farms” near the Free distillery, and to help organize the State Capital Oil Company and serve as a director.   

Meanwhile his brother, Augustus, also was prospering from the distillery.  The 1870 census gave his net worth at the equivalent today of $247,000.  During the mid-1860s, Augustus had married Jennie Kister, a local woman about five years his junior.  Their first child, Harry, was born in 1869, to be followed by a daughter, Annie, in 1874 and a son, Ralph, in 1878.  

As the brothers aged, they looked to a new generation of Frees to take over the reins of management.  Henry’s sons, all of them with advanced education, including one who became a doctor, apparently had little interest in the distilling trade.  By contrast, Augustus had groomed his sons, Harry — now known as H. Kister — and Ralph, for the business.  When Augustus died in 1900,  Henry Free was semi-retired and living on a small farm one mile north of York where his daughter was keeping house for him.  He died four years later at the age of 73, his monument shown here.

Upon his father’s death H. Kister immediately had taken the reins of management and changed the name of the firm to his own.  Now the embossing on the amber bottles read:  “H. Kister Free, Successor to Established 1857 H. Free & Co., Free’s Pure Rye Whiskey, York Penna.”   With the help of his brother Ralph he was vying with the William Foust Distillery at Glenn Rock for the rye whiskey market in York and surrounding counties.  Given Billy Foust's reputation for multiple giveaway items to customers,  the Frees issued a number of shot glasses advertising Free’s Pure Rye, proclaiming it “Always the Same.”

The sons of Augustus successfully maintained the distillery for the next nineteen years, until forced to shut down by National Prohibition.  H. Kister then moved into restaurant management, according to the 1920 Census.   By this time he was married to Annie M. Stallman.  They would have two sons, both of whom died in childhood.  Eventually H. Kister would engage in selling insurance.  When Repeal came in 1935, the Frees made no effort to return to distilling.  H. Kister died in 1952 at the age of 83 and is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery, York, where many of his ancestors lie. 

The 62 years the Free Distillery and Free Pure Rye existed, while impressive, is not a Pennsylvania record.  But if the distilling of Adam Free is considered, the tradition stretches back an additional 25 years — a truly astonishing story of a family devoted to making rye whiskey.

Note:  Much of the material on Adam and Henry Free is from the 1886 volume, “History of York County, Pennsylvania,” edited by John Gibson and published by the F. A. Battey Publishing Co., Chicago.  My vignette on the Billy Foust and his distillery was posted June 9, 2011.