If, as is said, a picture is worth a thousand words, then the saloon sign above can afford a few choice ones. With the assumption that it is his likeness on a label of his whiskey, D. L. Arey, a liquor dealer from Salisbury was clearly in love with his North Carolina birthplace. Instead of giving local drinking establishments the typical lounging nude, Arey provided wholesale customers with a panorama of the state’s industries.
Let’s begin with the sow and piglets at lower left side of the picture. Hog farming has been an important part of North Carolina agriculture since colonial times. The Berkshire breed had been introduced in Arey’s day. This major upgrade in the quality of hogs was the spark that led to a massive industry with a gross value today in excess of 2 billion dollars annually.
Now move right to the man in the hat whose back is to us. He has a small shovel and a pan in his hand while kneeling over a stream. He is panning for gold. Few know that North Carolina was the site of the first discovery of gold in the United States. Although the mines have long since been exhausted, for decades resident and visitors — I among them — have visited local streams to pan for gold.
Almost directly above the panner is a second man looking approvingly at a leaf of tobacco. Tobacco and tobacco growers put North Carolina on the map. Beginning in the 1800s tobacco was North Carolina's key product. Farming and industry in the state were built around the crop, and two of the four largest cities developed as company towns for the world's largest tobacco companies.
Moving off the left shoulder of the miner we view the distinctive equipment required for making whiskey — the kettle, the coil, the barrel and a sluice of water. This does not appear to be a licensed, revenue-paying operation. Amidst apparently legitimate occupations, the men in the picture seem to be operating a moonshine still.
But wait! Over the shoulder of the standing moonshiner, barely seen in the picture, is a man elegantly dressed in a hat, coat and tie. He is carrying a rifle in his hand. Although he might be a customer for whiskey and the rifle is for protection against bears, a more logical explanation is that he is a revenue agent about to initiate a raid on the still — perhaps an omen of the future.
The final element of the saloon sign are two cases of “Pride of North Carolina” whiskey, the flagship brand of the D. L. Arey Company, showing both flask and quart sizes. Arey expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for this entire scene. It was replicated on the labels of his “Pride of N.C. Corn Whiskey.” Moreover, he took the time and expense of registering the image with the Patent & Trademark Office, claiming it had been in use by his company beginning in 1897, possibly dating the origin of the saloon sign.
Dougal Lindsey Arey was born in April 1856 in Rowan County, North Carolina, the son of farmer Milas and Nancy Arey. From his name his origins might be inferred as Scotch-Irish or English. His surname, however, originated with a pioneer ancestor named Peter Ihrig who immigrated from the German Palatinate in 1749 and settled in Rowan. There he changed his name to Eary; many of his descendants subsequently changed it once more to Arey.
When he was four years old his father died and Dougal grew up working as a farm hand. He was still farming at 22 when he married Nancy Lugenia Shemwell in 1880. Both were from Rowan and about the same age, possibly childhood sweethearts. They would go on to have eight children, two of whom died in infancy. Perhaps it was his growing family that propelled Aery off the farm and into Salisbury, the seat of Rowan County, where during the 1890s he opened a wholesale grocery business that specialized in liquor sales.
The 1900 federal census found the Areys living in Salisbury with five children, three sons and two daughters, whose ages ranged from 4 to 19. A fourth son would be born a year later. Also living with family were two servants, a cook and a “day laborer.” Aery apparently found alcohol sales very profitable, providing funds for real estate investments. Upon his death, his obituary accounted the liquor dealer “a man of considerable means and…probably the largest property owner in the county.”
As he prospered, the prohibition noose was slowly tightening around liquor sales in North Carolina. Imposed initially in small towns and rural areas, the ban did not affect Arey’s operation in Salisbury, In 1908, however, a referendum enacted statewide prohibition twelve years before National Prohibition. North Carolina became the first state in the South to ban alcohol completely. The “Pride of North Carolina Corn Whiskey” no longer could be made or sold. Revenue agents like the one on Aery’s sign above swarmed over the Tarheel State destroying stills and whiskey.
By this time Dougal had brought his son, Ernest Cass Arey into his liquor business. While the father stayed behind in Salisbury to look after his real estate and other business interests, Ernest moved the D. L. Arey Company to Danville, Virginia, a city immediately on the North Carolina border with excellent railroad access to its southern neighbor. From there the company could send mail order liquor via railroad express to virtually any part of the state. I have found only a single Aery artifact from the Danville location. It a folding card with an “Ourgood Bank” outside cover that inside contains a mail order price list for bourbon and corn whiskies and other liquors.
By 1909, as Virginia itself inched closer to a ban on alcohol, D. L. Arey Company also opened an outlet in Baltimore at 21-23 Pratt Street. There Ernest made an agreement with Maryland’s Cecil Distillery to provide him with whiskey for Arey brands. Among them was “Arey’s Malt Whiskey” that sold in gallon glass jugs and carried a picture of an older gentleman that I have identified with Dougal himself.
With whiskey production a major Maryland industry, that state seemed unlikely ever to go “dry.” Despite that assurance, Arey’s Baltimore experience was far from trouble free. In March 1911, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia seized two barrels of Arey whiskey shipped from Baltimore to Savannah, Georgia. The charge was misbranding.
A violation of food and drug laws was alleged by Federal authorities because “Pride of North Carolina” had not been aged five years nor had it been made in Salisbury as indicated on the barrels: “…The whiskey actually used in the manufacture of the product consisted of 50 percent new corn whiskey and 50 percent corn whiskey of older grade, all of said whiskey being procured from Distillery No. 19…in the State of Maryland, known as Cecil Distillery….” D. L. Arey pleaded guilty and was fined today’s dollar equivalent of $15,000.
The coming of National Prohibition in 1920 brought an end to all aspects of D. L. Arey Distilling Company and its brands. In Salisbury, the founder himself had other investments to merit his attention. In declining health as he aged, on March 20, 1922, Arey suffered a fatal stroke while at home and never regained consciousness. He was 65 years old. Arey’s funeral took place in his home on North Boundary Street and he was interred in Salisbury’s Chestnut Hill Cemetery. His monument is shown here.
Given Aery’s lifelong dedication to North Carolina, a commitment expressed in he saloon sign that opened this vignette, he must have mused frequently how his home state abruptly had terminated his thriving liquor business, requiring a scramble to Virginia, thence to Maryland and then nothing. Could it be, Dougal, that the revenue officer with a rifle lurking in the underbrush of your saloon sign was a peek into the future of things to come?