Sunday, March 29, 2015

James Bumgardner MADE Virginia Whiskey

On land that the Bumgardner family had owned and occupied almost since the American Revolution,  Capt. James Bumgardner came home from the Civil War to Augusta County, Virginia, to make whiskey as his forefathers had done.  In the process, he put the Bumgardner name in the forefront of American distillers and established Virginia-made whiskey nationally as a quality liquor.
Shown here in his elder years,  James Bumgardner was born in 1835,  the son of Jacob Bumgardner, who had inherited the land and started a small distillery.   When James was only in his early teens, in 1847 Jacob died and as the eldest son, he inherited his father’s entire interest in land, slaves and other property. Apparently because he was a minor, the transfer of the estate was not completed until 1855, when he reached 21.

By that time Bumgardner was already married, recorded as having wed a woman named Mary in Virginia in 1853.  By their birthrates on their tombstone, that would have made James 18 at their wedding and Mary only 11, possibly an error.   As his children came along — there would be 14 in all — Bumgardner saw the need to build a new and more substantial home for his family on his property .  To that purpose in 1857 he engaged Jonathan Brown, a Richmond carpenter and contractor who moved to Augusta County to oversee the construction.

Brown fashion a home known as Bethel Green, shown below, that still stands in and is on the National Historical Register.   Although the house was built according to the eclectic fashion of the times with Gothic style porches, fancy chimney stacks, scrolled lattice work, and Italianate bracketed cornices, the interior was Victorian from its wallpaper and carpeting to its furnishings, all of them preserved.  An historian has speculated that:  “Bumgardner apparently was determined to decorate and furnish his house in the latest fashion and the excellently preserved interior survives as an important example upper-middle-class taste of the period.”


However much Bumgardner might have enjoyed his new home, however, he had only a few years to enjoy it until the Civil War broke out.  Leaving Bethel Green and his family, at the age of 27 he enlisted in the 52nd Virginia Voluntary Infantry Regiment, organized in August 1861 in nearby Staunton, Virginia.  Many of its members were from Augusta County.  Whatever rank James Bumgardner might have entered with, he left as a captain, a title he kept for the rest of his life.  

The 52nd Virginia fought mostly with the Army of Northern Virginia.  It was active in the Seven Days Battles and the Confederate victories at Second Manassas, shown below, and Fredericksburg, but lost considerable men at Gettysburg,  Chancellorsville and Cold Harbor.   After retreating with Early from the Shenandoah Valley, Bumgardner’s unit surrendered at Appomattox in April, 1895. The Confederate captain was allowed to keep his horse and ride back to Bethel Green.  There he found that while his house was still standing, his farm and distillery were in ruins, many of his slaves had departed and the entire countryside around lay in ruins.

Undeterred, he determined to rebuild his fortunes by making “Bumgardner Pure Old Rye Whiskey” a well-known, well-respected national brand.  He rebuilt and expanded the distillery, calling his product “J. Bumgardner’s Pure Old Rye Whiskey.”  His unembossed bottles contained labels that depicted an artist’s view of his operation. Bumgardner's distilling company also trademarked its brand name and a logo, shown here.  His motto for his whiskey was:  “Wherever it goes, it goes to stay.”   Before long it was being sold coast to coast.

Like other distillers of his time, he was quick to elicit testimonials to the quality of his product.  From Prof. J. L. Campbell of Washington & Lee University at nearby Lexington, Virginia, he got the following testimonial:  “The sample of Whiskey sent here by you for analysis has been subjected to careful Chemical examination and found to be free from all drugs or substances foreign to Pure Rye Whiskey.  Its mildness and purity adapt it very well to Medicinal purposes for which PURE WHISKEY is wanted.”    Prof. R.S. McCulloch was singularly complimentary and added:  “Our people little know or imagine what villainous fabrications are sold to them, sometimes even poisonous by dealers in cheap Wines and Liquors.”

Captain James also was quick to protect his brand, even from a family member.  His son, Randolph, recounted this anecdote:   James, was a man of big heart, but positive in language and convictions. “[His brother, Lewis] after coming back to Augusta, decided to start a distillery and adopted as his brand, "Old L. Bumgardner Whiskey". [Capt. James] was far from pleased at the opposition business, and much more displeased at the similarity of trade names, with the consequent likelihood of confusion in the mind of the trade:  The following interview is said to have transpired:  "Lewis, I understand you are going to start a distillery?"
"Yes, James".
"They tell me you are going to call it 'Old L. Bumgardner Whiskey."
"Yes, James."
"Well, Lewis, all I have to say to you is, that you want to make that 'L' most damned plain.''

By dint of Bumgardner’s energetic merchandising, he was able to engage the H. B. Kirk Company of New York, an organization that marketed “Old Crow” Kentucky-made whiskey for a group of New York investors.   Kirk also began featuring the Bumgardner rye in its advertising calling the brands:  “The Two Best Whiskeys in the U.S.”   Given the national advertising of this group,  this Virginia whiskey was put firmly on the map of America.  Note that the two Kirk trade card have distinct “Old South” themes.  At right, the familiar “darkies are singing in the fields” is reprised.  At left an African-American lad is sitting on a rail fence, pointing at a mountain.  In reality, some of James’ freed slaves stayed around Bethel Green after the Civil War.  

Other family stories tell more about the Captain: “The old gentleman would never argue a proposition. He was firm in his convictions, and, if he thought, he was right, would invariably back his judgment with his money. If anyone challenged his opinion, his answer was, "I'll bet you ten dollars", and it was put up or shut up.”   As he aged, he turned his distillery interests over to two sons, William and J. Alexander, and enjoyed the comforts of his home.  As a descendent told it:  In his lifetime Bethel was a cheerful place with its large gathering around the blazing hickory-wood fire in the living room. Grandfather occupied the big horsehair chair in the center, his tall, gold-headed staff in his hand or in easy reach, and his favorite dog old "Tige" slumbering peacefully at his side.”
While both of the Captain’s sons are identified in various ways with the Bumgardner whiskey reputation, William and J. Alexander seem to have been less gifted businessmen than their father.  A family narrative blames them for another financial setback for the Bumgardner fortunes because of bad investments they made during an 1890s economic turndown.  They continued to pursue making whiskey at Bethel Green, however, until statewide prohibition was voted in Virginia in 1916.   After a history stretching almost back to the American Revolution the family’s distilling enterprise was forced to come to an abrupt halt.

Shown above in a newspaper photo, Capt. James Bumgardner died in 1925 at the age of 90.  He was buried in Bethel Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Augusta County, next to his wife Mary, who had preceded him in 1909.  The obelisk that marks their joint tomb is inscribed:  “Soldier for the Southern Confederacy.”   For my money it might have added:  “The man who made Virginia whiskey.”

Note:  Some of the personal items related here about the Captain came from a letter document written in 1923 by James Bumgardner’s son, Randolph, relating anecdotes about his father for the edification of his daughter.  The information is on the Internet and describes the life of the family patriarch in an affectionate, if episodic, fashion.  











Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Tale of Two Gieses in Great Falls, Montana

When Richard and Charles Gies, immigrant brothers from Germany, arrived in Great Falls, Montana, in the 1890s, they each headed into different aspects of the whiskey trade, one in wholesaling to saloons and the other running one, but both found success and recognition as pioneering businessmen of the West.  
The Gies brothers originally were from Hesse Cassel and their ancestors were prominent in the Prussian Army. Their grandfather, Johannes Gies Sr., was said to have been “well known in military circles.”  Their father,  Johannes Jr., had a distinguished record wielding a saber in a troop of Hussars light cavalry.  Johannes Jr. married Katherine Rickel and the couple had ten children, two daughters and eight sons.  Among them was Richard, born in 1865 or 1866, and Charles, born in 1868.

Their coming to America could have been triggered by any of several reasons:  In such a large family their prospects of inheriting any land or wealth may have been bleak, joining the Prussian Army often meant death for new recruits even in training, or they may have had a lust for adventure.   One story has the pair among three brothers who went to Montana in the 1870s, one of whom, Vincent, became a prospector and miner.   Another narrative has Charles at the age of 16 arriving in America in 1884 with an uncle and settling in St. Paul, Minnesota.  There he is said to have worked at the baker’s trade, one to which he had been apprenticed in Germany.  According to this story, it was not until 1887 that Charles traveled further west to Montana and joined his brothers at a settlement called Maiden.
Today a ghost town, in those days Maiden was a ramshackle but booming community, as shown above, a product of a gold strike in the region. By 1881 the population had grown to 6,000 with many men living in tents by a creek.  As the result of a push to build more sturdy structures, two years later there were 154 log and lumber houses and other establishments. 

At the time the Gieses were resident, Maiden boasted seven general and clothing stores, a blacksmith, two barbers, several banks, a feed stable and eight saloons.  Among those drinking establishments was one run by Richard Gies, whose tin bar token is marked with his name stamped on one side and “Maiden” on the other.  There also was a Gies Meat Market and Bakery in town, likely Charles’ enterprise.  One account indicates that he may also have run a restaurant.

As gold deposits in the area began to play out,  the Gies brothers had the foresight to see that Maiden was a rapidly diminishing economy.  By 1896 only about 200 residents remained.  Earlier they had looked down the road to a place called Great Falls that quickly was becoming a thriving industrial and supply center, boasting ample hydroelectric power and a stop on the Great Northern Railway.  Shown here on a map of 1891, Great Falls seemed destined to become one of Montana’s larger cities. Leaving Vincent behind in Maiden, the Gieses took their energies and savings there in the mid-1880s.





Charles Gies may have been the first to open a business.  In July 1888 he is said to have begun a bakery and pursued selling bread and pastries, apparently with success for four years.  In 1896, however, he apparently concluded that another occupation would be more rewarding.  Selling his baking factory and store, he formed a partnership with a local, Frank Glab, in the wholesale liquor business.
According to their letterhead of 1898, Glab & Gries Co. also were selling cigars and were “bottlers of all kinds of mineral and soda waters.”   The brands of whiskey the company advertised indicated that they were getting national brands by railway from the East.  Those included “Our Pride,” from J. & E. Freiberg of Cincinnati and “Old Hume.” from Humphrey-Staff of St. Louis.  In addition, they were bottling and labeling a proprietary brand they called “G & G Monongahela,” indicating a Pennsylvania origin.
During this period, the Gies Brothers were having personal lives.  In 1894 Richard married Isadora F. (sometimes given as Issadore) Turnblade, a woman who had been born in Iowa.  Future census records would show them with a family of three boys, as well as harboring Isadora’s widowed mother.  Two years later Charles tied the knot with Mayme Miller (sometimes given as Mame), the daughter of Matthias and Katherine Bauer Miller.  They would go on to have a family of five, three girls and two boys.

Glab & Gries grew rapidly as Great Falls expanded and in their ads, as on this trade card for “Yellowstone Whiskey,” called themselves “The Leading Montana Wholesale Dealers.”   Yellowstone was a nationally distributed brand from Taylor and Williams of Louisville that advertised Western scenes like that shown here, a view that clearly was intended to appeal to a Great Falls consumer. 
In 1900, for unexplained reasons, Frank Glab and Charles Gies dissolved their partnership and Gies continued in the business by himself at 504-506 Central Avenue.  His letterhead from 1906 indicated that the firm now had an additional line of goods in bar supplies and glassware.  He also was advertising a new line of whiskeys, including Tippecanoe and Union Club from the Union Distilling Co. in Cincinnati and Hermit Old Rye from F. P. Gluck of the same city.  (See my post on Gluck, June 2014). 
As prohibitionary forces were gradually reducing the markets for Gies’s products, he was able to fall back on non-alcoholic drinks as a bottler and jobber of “all kinds of mineral & soda waters.”  Shown here is a quart bottle of Chas. Gies “Orange,” advertised as a “a most refreshing and palatable beverage.”  But even soft drinks could have pitfalls.  In 1913 the Montana Department of Agriculture cited Gies for “misbranding” his 12 ounce strawberry soda, claiming that the bottles tested failed to meet that volume. 

Meanwhile Brother Richard Gies was operating a highly successful drinking establishment.   He called it the “16 to 1” Saloon, a reference to the hottest political issue of the day — the ratio of silver to gold coinage value.  Gies like most of his Great Falls customers was a “Silverite,” members of a political movement who believed silver should continue to be the monetary standard of the U.S.  The cause was popular in the West where advocates believed “cheap silver” would help them alleviate their debts.  As in Maiden, Richard issued bar tokens and for special customers, a match case of metal and celluloid. 
The businesses of both Charles and Richard came to a halt in 1920 when National Prohibition arrived.  As a number of other ex-liquor dealers did, Charles took his profits and invested in the fast-growing automobile business and in real estate development.  Richard all along had diversified by being active in gold mining.  About 1897 with profits from his saloons, he had purchased four mining claims for $40,000 ($1 million equivalent today) and over time added other mines, until Gies had nine key claims and consolidated them as “The Goldstone Mine.”
When Richard Gies died in 1920, his widow Isadora stepped up to manage his business interests, noted for her financial acumen.  Eight yeas later Charles Gries was stricken with what was called “influenza-pneumonia” on a Sunday  morning in February and within several days was dead.  The brothers are buried not far apart in Section 11 of the Great Falls Highland Cemetery.  Each of their gravestones are shown here.  At their deaths both whiskey men were hailed in Montana newspapers as respected pioneer businessmen of Montana.  
Note:  The story of the Gries family origin in Germany and of Charles Gries career in the U.S. was obtained principally from a 1913 book entitled “History of Montana” by Sanders.  Other material on the brothers was derived from a variety of sources, including U.S. census records.






  














Friday, March 20, 2015

Justin Gras of Shreveport and His Spirit(s) of Generosity

A street is named for Justin Gras in Shreveport, Louisiana, and a marker at the place where he once sold alcoholic spirits, including whiskey, wine and beer.  Speaking no English and virtually penniless when he immigrated to the United States as a youth, he became one of the city’s most respected and wealthy businessmen.  That said, Gras’ most lasting monument is the Community Foundation he endowed that continues to provide the philanthropic giving that he practiced so generously while he was alive. 
There was little acclaim when Gras first arrived in town, said to have only a nickel in his pocket and speaking no English.  He was born in Embrun, a small town in the High Alps region of Provence in 1868.  At the age of 23 in 1891 he left his homeland to assist his uncle, Justin Ricou, a Shreveport grocer who recently had lost his young son and helper.  Ricou had come to the U.S. years before, expecting to go on to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but never got farther than Louisiana.  Instead he settled in Shreveport, got married, and started a grocery and liquor business.
Gras proved a quick learner both of the language and the mercantile trade.  Within four years in 1895 he was able to open his own small store at the southwest corner of Texas Avenue, the street shown above, and Common Street.  In time he grew the business to be the largest retail grocery and liquor store in Shreveport.  He also likely was blending and compounding whiskey on his premises and selling it in various size jugs both to retail customers and wholesale to Shreveport saloons, of which there were many.   As shown. his jugs carried various labels but always with his name in large letters.  

Even as his wealth increased, Gras was bringing other family members over from France, including two brothers, a sister, a brother-in-law and a niece. The 1900 census found him, a bachelor,  living in Shreveport with his brother, Emendor.  At the same time, however, he began to make important investments in real estate, fueled largely by his sales of alcoholic spirits.  In 1900 he financed and oversaw the construction of the Justin Gras building in downtown Shreveport at 525 Louisiana Street, a structure that still stands and bears his name carved at the top of the building facade, as shown right.

It is not clear if Gras maintained a store there.  He initially meant the building to be a hotel but it actually operated as gambling hall and for other purposes.  There is a “ghost sign,” on the back of the building announcing that it once was the home of the “Big Casino Saloon.”  This establishment offered drinking, a lunch counter and gambling.  Women were allowed on the premises and the Big Casino had the reputation for housing a brothel, one of the few allowed to operate outside the legal red light district in Shreveport.  Commenting on the sign one observer has said:  “The words merely hint at what happened inside.
It is not clear how much Gras knew about what was occurring in the Big Casino.   Certainly  he was aware in February 1904 when the saloonkeeper, one P. Draiss, was hauled into court by local authorities.  Although it was against the law to sell liquor on Sunday by city ordinance, an employee with Draiss’s knowledge had opened the saloon and sold beer on the Lord’s Day. In addition to fine, the ordinance stipulated forfeiture of the liquor license.  Hauled into court, a local judge, likely a “wet,” ruled against the city that then took the case to the Louisiana Court of Appeals.  That court declared that the penalty for breaking the law was sufficient and that forfeiture of the license would be an additional penalty and could not be enforced.  The Big Casino Saloon stayed in business.

Meanwhile, Gras’ wealth, primarily from liquor sales was growing.  Nonetheless, he continued to live the bachelor life, owning a house at 630 Elmwood street with six bedrooms, and inviting boarders, many of whom were the clerks in his store, at least one with a family.  Even then he was becoming known for his generosity.  In the wake of World War One,  he contributed to rebuilding a school and chapel in his home village of Le Petit Puy destroyed in the fighting, and the restoration of the Cathedral of Embrun, an historical Church built by Charlemagne in the Ninth Century.  In 1954 he was awarded the Benemerenti Award by Pope Pius XII for these gifts. 

The bulk of Gras’ giving, however, was local.  He is said often to have repeated the motto:  “What’s good for Shreveport is good for me.”  In that mode he helped found and support the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce and was a benefactor of Centenary College, St. Vincent’s and St. Mary’s Schools, the French Benevolent Society and other local charities.

Gras remained a bachelor until the age of 57.  On a cruise in 1925, however, he met a woman almost twenty years younger and he fell in love. They married shortly after.  She was Eugenie Torr, originally from San Jose, California.  The two had no children but she proved to be highly supportive of Justin’s generosity.  The photo of the couple shown here, likely taken in the 1940s, shows Eugenie  to have a pleasant face and warm smile. 
Gras remained generous even when faced with business setbacks.  The imposition of National Prohibition in 1920 was a blow to his liquor business and he was forced to shut off whiskey sales in his stores.  By that time he was recognized as the largest landowner in Caddo Parish.  He owned commercial property in New Orleans and farmland in southwestern parts of the Parish.  He also was a major stockholder in Paramount Pictures, General Motors and dozens of railroads and utilities.

Although he was able to sell liquor again after 1934, the Great Depression and changing patterns in the grocery business proved challenging, although it is said that he worked just as hard as a wealthy old man as he had as a struggling youth.  In the 1940 census, Gras, age 72, still gave his occupation as “grocer” and continue to be active for years after.  One biographer tells a story that reveals Gras’s personality:

“Many relatives were also employed by Gras and his other employees he treated as if they were his relatives.  By the mid-1950’s, however, Gras was in his eighties and large supermarket chains were beginning to supplant locally owned businesses like that of Gras.   Because his stores were losing money, Gras decided to close his grocery firm in 1955.  He kept one store open another year, however, so that one lifelong employee could continue to work there past his sixty-fifth birthday and thus receive full Social Security benefits.
Gras died at his Elm Street home, shown above, suffering a fatal heart attack in 1959 at the age of 91.  At his death his estate was valued at $2.3 million.  Through his will this philanthropist executed his greatest act of generosity by establishing the Community Foundation of Shreveport-Bossier and endowing it lavishly.  At Eugenie’s death in 1971 she also gave the Foundation the residual portion of the Gras estate that she had inherited  The couple lie together in a large mausoleum at St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery on Texas Avenue, shown here. 

The good works of Justin and Eugenie go on as their gifts provided the cornerstone of the Community Foundation.  Among beneficiaries over time have been the Shreveport Symphony, the Strand Theatre, Louisiana State University at Shreveport, and the Red River Revel Arts Festival.  The Foundation continues to support local causes and in recent years sums of more than $100,000 have been awarded to organizations in the Shreveport area from the Gras’ funds.

Note:  Much of the information provided here is from a biographical article about Justin Gras in the book “Shreveport, Faces of the Past” by Eric J. Brock.  The picture of Gras that opens this post is from the same source.  


















Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Untold Life of Louis Taussig, San Fran Whiskey Man



My belief is that “Everybody Has a Story.”  Researching Louis Taussig, a man who gave his name to a highly successful San Francisco wholesale liquor business, revealed more than just a story.  It was a shocker. Evidence is that Taussig, a Jewish immigrant from the Czech part of Bohemia, upon arrival in America converted to the Mormon religion, had three wives simultaneously in Utah, and fathered at least three children before decamping to California for a new life, a new wife, and riches selling whiskey.
Arriving in San Francisco at an undetermined time, Taussig claimed in his newspaper ads to have been in business since 1856, an unlikely date. For a while he worked with the liquor firm of Louis Altschul Co. and ultimately bought it.  The origins of that firm may provide a clue to the earlier date.  Louis Taussig & Company, Importers and Wholesale Liquor Merchants, first surfaced in San Francisco business directories nine years later, in 1865.  It was located at two successive addresses on Sansome Street from that year to 1872.  As Taussig’s business expanded, he moved frequently, serially to two addresses on Battery (1873-1883) and then to 26-28 Main Street, the building shown here.
Although claiming to own a distillery in Covington, Kentucky, called “White Elm,” my research does not reveal any such facility.  The Latonia Distillery was a large Covington distillery that did business under numerous guises, possibly among them “White Elm.”  Regardless of where he was getting his raw product, Taussig was a rectifier, that is, he was blending and compounding whiskeys from multiple sources to achieve a desired smoothness, color and taste.  Like many rectifiers, he featured a wide number of brands, including "Elk Run,” "Game Cock,” "Game Cock Bourbon,” "Gold Spray,”, "Mascot C.C.", "Old Hoss Pony Whiskey,” “P. Morville  AAA Old Bourbon Whiskey,” "Rose Bouquet,” "The Major Bourbon,” and "White Elm.”  He seems never to have trademarked any of these labels.

The Taussig Co. soon became one of the largest wholesale liquor outfits in the West, eventually opening offices in Cincinnati at 15 Sycamore Street, and New York City at 9 Delancy Street.  Those outlets gave Taussig access to markets nationwide. He also had an eye for packaging his goods attractively in embossed glass.   The “Grand Prize Bitters” bottle shown left recently sold for $1,000.

Whether Taussig ever revealed his past during his rise to the top is unknown and is so bizarre as not to be creditable if the Mormon tradition of careful genealogy were so not well established.  Church records show that Louis was born in the Bohemian (Czech) part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the son of Rafael Taussig and Catherine Levi.  The date of his birth remains in question. He told U.S. census takers in both 1880 and 1900 that he was born in 1837.  His Mormon biography gives the year as 1819, a startling 18 years earlier, but adds:  “The birth date…is the date Louis himself gave at the time he received a Church ordinance.”   Taussig’s statement likely was made when he was baptized a Mormon in 1853.  

The date of Taussig’s immigration into the United States also has not been established.  Other family members appear to have emigrated from Europe about 1848.  That was a period of strong Czech nationalism and although Jews earlier had fared well there, anti-Semitic riots in Prague may have prompted Louis and other family members to leave.  Sometime after 1847 he appeared in Salt Lake City with a woman he called Mary Aspin Taussig.  “Presumably Mary was Louis’s wife,” commented a Mormon biography.

If the alluring female images on his signs and  tip trays are an indication, Louis may have been drawn to Utah because of the Mormon practice of polygamy.  It was in Salt Lake City, in addition to Mary, he wed Sarah Houston Pratt.  One writer described her thus:  “She was a strong and noble character, being large in stature and of a very kindly disposition.” Sarah also was the widow of Parley Parker Pratt, an early adherent of the Church of Latter Day Saints, often called “The Apostle Paul of Mormonism” for his energetic promotion of its doctrines.  Also an energetic polygamist, Pratt was murdered in May 1857 by the estranged husband of his twelfth wife.  He left behind 30 children, with descendants estimated to number today as many as 50,000.  This Apostle was the great-great grandfather of Mitt Romney.

Among Pratt’s children were four from his marriage to Sarah, a ceremony conducted by no less than Joseph Smith himself.  In October of the year of her husband’s death she entered into a polygamous marriage with Taussig, at the time reportedly running a tannery business in Salt Lake City.  The couple would have an additional three children, two boys and a girl, born from 1858 to 1862.   Louis also added a third woman to his entourage.  She was Rebecca Reed Catlain, a woman who had emigrated to the U.S. from England.  She first married a French Canadian Mormon named John Catlain.  After he was killed by marauding Indians in Utah, she wed Taussig, the event recorded in 1857.

Then suddenly Louis Taussig was gone.  One account says he disappeared during an Indian raid.   Another author seems simply to dismiss him as having run away.  He left behind in Utah wives Mary, Sarah, and Rebecca, and seven children, three of his own making.  Did Mormonism not suit him?  Or the demands of three wives?  Or the needs of seven children?  In any case, Taussig lit out for California.  The timing of these events suggests that he could not have arrived in San Francisco until late 1862 or 1863.

Once there he showed no hurry in contracting another marriage as he built his whiskey empire.  In the meantime both Sarah and Rebecca either divorced him or assumed him dead, and married again.  Mary Aspin Taussig faded into the mists of time.  In the early 1870s Louis ventured to the altar once more, this time to wed an English-born woman named Annette. They would have one daughter, born in 1871 in San Francisco.

Just as Taussig seemed intent on moving the location of his San Francisco business every few years,  he also reorganized his management structure with some frequency.   In 1873, he created a partnership with two local businessmen, Adolph Fried and Adolph Eisenbach, possibly to tap additional financial resources for his company expansion that year.  Not long after he brought into the management structure two men whose name also was Taussig, likely close relatives.  One was Gabriel Taussig, born in Prague in 1830; the other was Edward, born there in 1925.  Soon Gabriel’s two sons, Rudolph and Hugo, were employed at Louis Taussig Co., Rudolph working as a traveling salesman.

Having achieved considerable wealth, Taussig apparently tired of the whiskey trade and in 1886 bowed out of the firm that continued to bear his name.  Becoming involved in real estate, he maintained an office at the firm’s Main Street store.  Gabriel Taussig rose to the presidency of the liquor company and in 1892 brought John J. Carroll into management.  Carroll had joined the firm as an errand boy in 1873, followed by stints as cellarman, bookkeeper, traveling salesman, confidential clerk and finally as a full partner.  In tribute to him, the firm added “Carroll Rye” to its line of whiskeys.  The trade card below indicates that Gabriel resigned from the firm before 1900, leaving his sons and Carroll in charge.

In 1900, Louis Taussig died in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the site of his burial.  Family members continued to guide the destinies of the firm.  Although the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 dislodged them from their Main Street address, they relocated quickly but temporarily to 16th Street, then to more permanent quarters on Mission Street.  Taussigs were still doing liquor business in San Francisco when National Prohibition made them shut their doors.  

Louis Taussig’s age at death would be anyone’s guess given the date of birth he gave the census and the alternative cited by the Mormons — a range from 63 to 81 years old.  He likely was buried in one of the many graveyards outside San Francisco but I have been unable to identify the location.

Taussig is a fascinating character for his alternative lives.  As he built his fortune in San Francisco,  I wonder whether he ever thought back on the three wives and family he had left behind in Utah.  Did he ever contact them or seek a relationship with the children who bore his name?  And finally, did he tell his fourth wife or anyone else in San Francisco about his past as a polygamous Mormon? 

Note:  Some of the information in this post was derived from an article on Taussig and his bottles by Ben Heinemann, written several years ago for a bottle collecting magazine.  Heinemann, who knew nothing of his subject’s Mormon past, speculated at the opening of his piece:  “It is not known exactly when or why Louis Taussig came to California.”  Now we have a better idea.  






























Friday, March 13, 2015

Charles Wharton Jr. Was “Master of Chestnut Grove”


“The Wharton family is known for their political and mercantile influence in Philadelphia and surrounding regions in Pennsylvania”  — Wikipedia entry

The distinguished family into which Charles Wharton Jr. was born in 1816 could trace its roots back to Westmorelandshire, England, and early American colonialists who settled in Pennsylvania. His heritage included some of the most noted business and political figures in Philadelphia history. Yet this Wharton’s claim to fame was selling whiskey.   Because he did so in spectacularly colored bottles, most embossed “Chestnut Grove,”  his name today is considerably more familiar to bottle and glass collectors than to historians.

Wharton’s parents were Charles and Anna Maria Hollingsworth Wharton.  His father, like many of his ancestors, was a leading Philadelphia businessman.  Our Charles was the first of five children and given the best education available at the time.  His childhood was spent in very comfortable circumstances.   For example, he would have known summers spent at the idyllic Wharton country home, Bellevue Mansion, shown here in a painting.  Now on the historical register, the house is located in North Philadelphia, off Allegheny Avenue between North Marston and North Etting Streets. 
Wharton seems to have gravitated early in life to ventures in the construction industry and seemingly had a taste for big projects.  An 1837 exchange of letters exists between Charles and Richard Delafield, Captain of the U.S. Engineers, in which the young man sought to build a causeway to connect offshore League Island to the Philadelphia mainland.  Wharton also offered to build piers on the south side of the island to accommodate shipments of coal and other products and to facilitate transport directly into the city.  Delafield and other important figures endorsed Wharton’s plan and it ultimately was accomplished, to the credit of a man then still in his twenties.

Why this blue blood with big ideas for advancing Philadelphia’s economy ultimately turned his attention to selling liquor is something of a puzzle.  Gaps exist in understanding Wharton’s career path.  His father willed his estate to Charles Jr. and a brother with stipulations for the care of Charles Sr.’s grandchildren.  The bequest included parcels of real property that Charles likely managed.   

We also know that in 1842 the Rev. J. T. Marshall Davie married Charles to Mary McLanahan Boggs.  Several years older than her husband, she was the daughter of a physician, Dr. John Boggs and his wife, Isabella.  The Whartons’ firstborn they named Charles but the baby died within two months. It may have been growing family obligations that spurred Wharton into the lucrative whiskey trade.  His fifth youngster was born in 1850, the year that the Charles Wharton Jr. Company claimed its origins.  When the firm first appeared in Philadelphia business directories in 1858, child number nine had arrived. A tenth — and last — baby followed a year later.

Wharton’s business address was 116 Walnut Street, a five-story building, shown here, where a sign announced “Chestnut Grove Whiskey,” and “Chas. Wharton Jr., Sole Agent.”  Not only was Charles the agent for this brand, he almost certainly was blending and compounding it from supplies of raw whiskeys obtained from the many Pennsylvania distillers of his era.  Unlike other rectifiers who fancied many brands, Wharton appears to have preferred to be the master of just one — Chestnut Grove.

From the outset the proprietor had determined that a key to success was to package his whiskey in attractive glass bottles, often embossed with his name and the date of his founding (not the age of the whiskey).  An example shown left bears that label.  It is an unusual ewer-like container that appeals to collectors for its unusual shape and distinctive pouring lip.  Wharton also featured a round bottle, shown right, that carried  “slug plate” that read “Chestnut Grove Whiskey” and carried his initials.  Other distinctive Wharton bottles are on display below.  They include quart sized containers as well as “pumpkin seed” bottles with rounded bottoms.  All are notable for the richness of the colors in the glass.

Their attractiveness is attributed to the New Jersey-based Whitney Glass Works, below. This company had been formed in 1838 when Thomas H. Whitney bought out an existing glassworks and renamed it, “Whitney and Brothers.”  Later Whitney’s two sons, Thomas and Samuel, joined their father in the business.  In time the company became known as the Whitney Glass Works and developed into an enormous operation, as shown in an illustration above.  The factory continued to make all varieties of glass from 1838 until 1929 when the invention of the bottle machine put glass blowers out of business.  During the 1850s and 1860s when Wharton engaged the company it was at its peak of perfection in the coloration of glass.  His appreciation of his bottles is evident in the letterhead that introduced this post, showing three sides of a glass jug.
Wharton also was notable for the emphasis he put on the “purity” of his product.  Almost a half century before the passage of the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act, he was advertising in medical journals like the one shown here that his Chestnut Grove Whiskey was the “purest diffusible stimulant that has ever been prepared for medical use.”  Its nutritious properties were preserved by a process solely his own, the ads claimed, so that all noxious ingredients had been removed. 

He also offered testimonials from individuals said to be “the most eminent analytical chemists” of  Philadelphia, New York and Boston.  Philadelphia was represented by the firm of Booth, Garrett and Camac which testified that the whiskey did not contain “the poisonous substance known as fusel oil.”  James Chilton of New York said his testing showed that Chestnut Grove was “entirely free of any poisonous or deleterious substances.”  His endorsement was echoed by Dr. A. A. Hayes, the State Assayer of Massachusetts.   Author/collector Donald Denzin has commented:  “These testimonial, all from 1858, are actually quite subdued for the period. Notably they don’t say Mr. Wharton’s whiskey is good; they say only that it wasn’t bad.”

Given the number of Chestnut Grove bottles extant, Wharton’s whiskey must have been good enough to have found a substantial customer base.  His liquor dealership appears to have been in business for about 30 years.  Directories record a move from the Walnut Street address to 236 North Second Avenue in 1878.  That change may indicate some diminution of business. The building that still stands at that address is only three stories and considerably smaller than the Walnut Street structure that served Wharton for 28 years.  All directory references to the company end in 1880, when the proprietor would have been 64 years old.  One can speculate that his advancing age and the possible lack of a successor among his children caused him to shut the doors on his Philadelphia establishment.

Wharton died on July 10, 1886, about a month short of his 75th birthday.  By that time his wife, Mary, and four of his children had died, leaving six progeny to mourn his death.  He was buried in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery alongside Mary.  Unlike many of his ancestors whose lives have been chronicled by historians of Philadelphia, the record is relatively silent about Charles Jr.   This Wharton is remembered primarily through the rich trove of glass jugs, flasks, decanters and other bottles he has left posterity as the “Master of Chestnut Grove.”
Note:  The examples of Chestnut Grove bottles shown here are principally from the Peach Ridge Glass website of Ferdinand Meyer V, current president of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.