Monday, July 25, 2016

Ike Mallory — The Arkansas Orphan Boy Who Made Good


Isaac W. Mallory, shown left in maturity,  was an orphan boy.  His mother died when he was two years old, his father when he was only eight.  From that time on he lived with a succession of relatives, including a brother who may have been less than hospitable.   Despite his youthful hardships, Ike developed a ebullient spirit that served him well as a saloonkeeper and liquor dealer in Forrest City, Arkansas, and ultimately the owner of the largest hotel in town.

His father and mother, Edward and Elizabeth (Chambliss) Mallory,  were accounted pioneers in their part of Eastern Arkansas.  Both of them were born and raised near Petersburg, Virginia, moving in 1846 to Shelby County, Tennessee, and engaging in farming.  Four years later they moved about 45 miles west across the Mississippi River to St. Francis County, Arkansas.  There Edward, chucking farming for the law, made his mark, was elected to the state legislature and later became a local judge.

Ike was born in November of 1860, the youngest son, a few months before the start of the Civil War.  His father was an early volunteer for the Confederate Army,  joining the Fifth Arkansas Regiment, often called “The Fighting Fifth.”  Its battle flag is shown here.  Edward Mallory was appointed a major in that unit, one that saw considerable combat in the Western war. In 1862, as the conflict raged, Elizabeth Mallory died at the age of 37.  Although Edward came home to care for his family, in 1868 he died, perhaps from aftereffects of the war, leaving his four children orphans.  Ike, now eight years old, was sent for a year to live with an aunt.

By 1870, his older brother, George, had reached maturity and with a sister, Pauline, 18, they were able to take care of a younger sister named Eddie and Ike.  A biographer identified this as a particularly happy time for Ike after the loss of his parents.  When George married, Ike lived with him and his new wife for a time.   Shown here, George Mallory in his obituary was given credit for his kindness to his orphaned siblings.  Yet when he purchased a livery stable in Forrest City in 1877, he sent Ike to live there.  By his own account the 17-year-old Ike “could do anything from swilling the hogs to driving the best team in the stable.” 

Despite his ability at the livery, Ike later recounted:  "When it came to driving a drummer to the outlying towns, why that was pepper in my gravy, because I got to eat at a hotel and sleep in a real bed, for [if] I stayed at home and worked in the stable I had to eat with 'Mose', and sleep in the hay loft….”  At some point George “cut him loose” and Ike went to live with neighbors.  At the same time a yellow fever epidemic was raging in the vicinity of Memphis and the Mississippi River, during which 17,000 cases were diagnosed and more than 5,000 died, including some in Forrest City,  “I hope it never be my misfortune to go through another yellow fever epidemic,”  Ike told his biographer.  The 1880 U.S. census found Ike, age 18, living on a farm outside town and working as a field hand.
Not long after, Ike left agriculture to work in the liquor trade in Forrest City.  In 1874 the town had been made the seat of St. Francis County, bringing hundreds of new residents and many businesses.  Forrest City was strategically located on a major east-west highway between Memphis and Little Rock (now I-40) and Arkansas Hwy. 1, a important north-south route.  Calling itself “The Jewel of the Delta,” the town also was a railroad transfer point.  Front Street, shown here in the early 1900s, faced the tracks and was a bustling area.
Meanwhile, the youthful Ike Mallory, shown here with bow tie and walrus mustache, had a new incentive to succeed.  He met a young woman named Elma Riaford.  She had come to Forrest City from Mississippi as a youngster with her father, Squire P. T. Raiford, a revered Confederate veteran and later township magistrate.  Elma’s obituary testified to her personality:  “It would be safe to say that she was without an enemy, as her disposition was such that acquaintances became loving friends.”  Ike was smitten and later said “I have the best wife…of any man in the state.”

They wed in January 1892.  Ike was 30 years old, Elma was 23.  The 1900 census found them living in Forest City.  After eight years of marriage they had a son, Ned, and an infant daughter.  She died the next year, leaving the Mallorys with heartbreak.  Ned would live to adulthood.

At some point after his nuptials, Ike struck out on his own.  In the late 1890s he was recorded as purchasing a building in Forrest City for $16,000 (equiv. today of $400,000) and opening a saloon that he called “The Pearl.”  He was also selling liquor to retail customers from his watering hole, including whiskey in gallon ceramic jugs.  Note that on the one shown here he offered 10 cents to anyone returning the container.

In 1901 he sold The Pearl, including all the fixtures and stock, apparently to allow him to buy the largest hotel in town, one that fronted on the railroad tracks.  Known as the Belser Hotel when he purchased it, Ike changed the name to the “Marion Hotel,”  apparently after the hamlet in St. Francis County where he had been born.  Shown here is photo view of the hotel, followed by a postcard depiction when the railroad station, quite conveniently, had been built immediately in front of it.
Ike also opened a new place on Main Street.  He called it “Ike Mallory’s Green Tree Saloon.”  It was hailed in an article in the Arkansas Democrat in April 1904: “Every city has a popular place where the boys like to go to wet their whistles and meet the proprietor that is a jolly, fine fellow and treats you so nicely when your whistle is dry, you will return. Mr. I. W.. Mallory has more friends and acquaintances than any one male in Forrest City.”  To this Ike would have agreed, likely adding as he once said:  “I have the best saloon and the best liquors in Eastern Arkansas.”

Although Ike had a female manager looking after his hotel, his multiple enterprises, also encompassing a saloon, retail sales and a wholesale house, may have been a strain.  In 1905 he took on a partner named Andrew J. Vaccaro, a slightly younger man from Forrest City with a wife and two sons.  The company became Mallory & Vaccaro.  Under that name the enterprise continued to prosper.

Ike’s health faltered after his fiftieth birthday.  He died in 1914 at the age of 54 and was buried in Mt. Vernon Cemetery, the oldest active cemetery in St. Francis County.  Elma would join him there 14 years later.  Today an historical marker tells visitors that the burying ground was opened in 1854 as a family cemetery by the Mallory clan, whose original home was nearby.  Although other families later were permitted to use the cemetery for burials, management has continued to be with Mallory descendants.  At least 38 members of the family are buried there.

Two years after Ike’s death the State of Arkansas in 1916 voted to ban all distilling and sales of alcoholic beverages.  Among the casualties were what remained of Ike’s liquor enterprises.  For a time, however, an orphan boy, with all the deprivation that term implies, had risen above reduced circumstances and lack of formal education to become a popular and successful Forrest City businessman.  Blessed with an ebullient spirit that helped him overcome obstacles, Ike Mallory epitomized the lore of the orphan boy who made good.





























Friday, July 22, 2016

Charles Feahney Served Up Whiskey and Chicory in New Orleans

     

Born in Apalachicola, Florida, in 1855 of Irish parentage, Charles Feahney found success in New Orleans as a grocer purveying his own brands of whiskey and coffee with chicory, the roasted and ground root of the endive plant.  As the 1903 ad left indicates, Feahney put a strong emphasis on his wine and liquor sales, but it may be for his chicory that folks in the “Big Easy” most remember him.

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop at the Cafe Du Monde, famous for its “beignet” donuts and coffee with chicory.  Cafe management would have you believe that the brew was developed in France during its civil war and that the Acadians from Nova Scotia brought the taste for chicory to New Orleans.  
Some food gurus are skeptical of this history.  One has suggests that evidence is slim that there was any strong tradition for the combination until the Depression of the 1930s.  Another has countered”  “On the other hand, as early as 1906 companies like Charles Feahney Importers and Roasters were marking their Poydras Market brand of “Roast Coffee and Chicory.” 

After years of working for other local grocers, Feahney first surfaced on his own in New Orleans business directories in the 1880s with a grocery at 501 South Rampart Street, corner of Poydras.  An illustration of his store shows a wrought iron balcony at the second level, overhanging the sidewalk and supported by posts.  The roofline features a large cornice and parapet.  Two horse-drawn grocery wagons bearing Feahney’s name are visible as is a large sign advertising “Headquarters for California Wines and Liquors.”  Among the latter were whiskeys being bottled on the premises, proprietary brands such as “Feahney’s AAAA Whiskey,” and “Feahney’s Chief Celebrated Old Whiskey,”  the last brand trademarked by his widow in 1908. 

Feahney had married in 1880 at the age of 23.  His bride was Grace F. Bennett, 22, born in Louisiana; her mother was from the state, her father a Kentuckian.  In rapid succession Charles and Grace would have a family of six children. Their first, a girl they named Florida, was born in 1881.  Then came Charles Jr, 1882; Grace, 1883; Lelia, 1884; Edna, 1886, and Roy, 1890. 

With the evident success of his Rampart Street store, Feahney was able to expand his operations to the Poydras Street Market, shown here at right.  Founded in 1838 and highly successful, the market drew customers from all over New Orleans and became a gathering place for the rich and famous.  The building’s interior scenes were favorites of local artists.  According to one author, “Many of the market merchants were well known throughout the city.  Charles Feahney roasted and sold his own Poydras Market brand coffee from the grocery he had operated in the market since the 1880s.”  Coffee with chicory, that is.
With his growing wealth and growing family, Feahney purchased a home for them  in the “Faubourg Livaudais” District of New Orleans at 1755 Jackson Avenue.  Built before the Civil War the house, shown above, had 3,700 feet of space on a third of an acre. It boasted fifteen rooms and a two-story separate guest quarters.  Italianate in styling, today the structure is eligible for the National Historical Register.

Feahney had only a few years to enjoy his success.  In August, 1904, he died at the age of 44.  His family still counted two minor children.  As his relatives and friends mourned his passing, Charles was buried in Metairie Cemetery in one of the above-ground family mausoleums so common in New Orleans.  The first name inscribed on the marble door is his, followed by other family members who subsequently were buried with him.

In the wake of his death the enterprise he had founded became known as “The Estate of Charles Feahney.”  His widow, Grace, inheriting ownership of the grocery, hired a manager to handle day to day operations.  Charles Jr.,who had been a clerk in his father’s store from the age of 18, also was working in the organization.  Shown below are two whiskey jugs from that era, ceramics of one and a three gallons.

In the wake of the passage of the Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Feahney interests ran into trouble.  In December 1908 the Davis & Atkins Co. of Richmond shipped eleven barrels of whiskey to Feahney Company; five barrels were marked “Feahney’s Chief,” two were “Feahney’s AAAA” and four were “Original O. J. Martin Whiskey.”  Seized by U.S. authorities and tested they proved to be “rectified” products, compounded with “grain distillate” (pure alcohol) and thus, according to the Department of Agriculture, “misbranded.”  The family’s manager showed up in a Louisiana federal court to claim the goods, pay a fine, and was allowed to take the barrels under the condition that the whiskey inside be sold with accurate branding.

It is unclear whether this event or other circumstances caused the Feahneys to shut down their liquor operations about 1916.  Many of the Southern states outside Louisiana had gone “dry” in the early years of the 20th Century and mail order sales were curtailed by Congress in 1913.  Even though his liquor brands have disappeared, Charles Feahney has continued to be remembered in “The Big Easy” for his pioneering with coffee containing chicory, a tradition that is carried on in New Orleans and the Cafe Du Monde to this very day.  If you happen in there someday, be sure to hoist a cup his memory.

























Monday, July 18, 2016

George Wissemann in Sacramento,”City of Saloons”

        
In an 1866 letter, Mark Twain called Sacramento the “City of Saloons,” claiming they were so numerous that you can just shut your eyes, march into the first door you come to and call for a drink, and the chances are that you will get it.”  George Wissemann ran one of those establishments and also sold whiskey to others saloons with significant  success — until his untimely end.  

Wissemann was born in September 1857 in southern Germany, the son of George and Mary (Wolf) Wissemann.  He received his early education in the local German public schools but quilt formal education at the age of 14 to work on his father’s farm.  A biographer noted:  “He was thus engaged until 1877, when he had determined to try his fortune in America, having heard favorable reports concerning its business opportunities and advantages.”

His initial employment was not in business, however, but running a stationary engine in a stone quarry near Cleveland, Ohio, where he settled after arriving by ship in New York City.  After three years of digging rocks, now age 23 and seeing more opportunity in the West, Wissemann headed to California in 1880 where he located in Sacramento.  There he found employment in a saloon located at 1020 Fourth Street, operated by two other German immigrants, Edward Klebitz and Robert Green, for whom he worked as a bartender.  In 1884 the owners sold the building lease and fixtures to him and the establishment became the Wissemann Saloon.
Before long George decided that selling liquor over the bar was less advantageous than wholesaling it to the hundreds of other saloons located in and around Sacramento.  His first venture about 1900 was with a local whiskey man, Michael Cronan.  They located  their business at 230 K Street in a two-story structure known as the Apollo Building.  Shown here as it looks today, the location provided them with sufficient storage for their wholesale trade.  After about two years of their partnership at each man went his own way.  Wissemann stayed at the K Street address.

Wissemann contracted with a variety of distillers for his signature brands, “California Favorite,” and “O.K. Kentucky Standard,” never bothering to trademark either label.  He likely was contracting with area distillers for his products and rectifying (blending) the whiskeys to meet standards of taste and color.  He packaged his liquor in clear glass bottles with embossing, including a monogram of his initials. 

While prospering in the liquor trade, George also was having a personal life.  In 1889, at the age of 32, he wed Mary Harms-Bower, like him born in Germany.  She had come to California with her parents as a child, settling in Sacramento.  They would have a family of three children, George, Ruth and Walter.  The family made its home at 817 O Street in Sacramento.

Wissemann often acted as his own salesman, traveling over large areas of Northern California promoting his proprietary brands.  As many whiskey wholesalers did, he also merchandised by using advertising giveaways to customers and prospective clients.  He specialized in a wide range of shot glasses that marketed his "O.K. Kentucky Standard" and "California Favorite" brands.  Examples are shown throughout this post.   

Within a decade, Wissemann had expanded his proprietorship of the saloon and the wholesale house into an operation that included owning the “Restaurant de France” at 427-429 K Street in Sacramento, a second saloon, and a minority share in two other drinking establishments. He also had been awarded the distributorship for Pabst Beer in Northern California and Nevada.  

A biographer commented:  “He found the in the business conditions of the New World the opportunities he sought for…and in his trade interests he has prospered, being now the possessor of a comfortable competence.”  Financial success brought him social recognition as an member of the local Masons and Elks Lodge.  He was a active Republican, engaged in both local and state politics although never seeking office himself.

George also was finding that the liquor business had certain hazards. In March 1892, a man who had been drinking heavily elsewhere walked into the Wissemann’s saloon with a revolver in his pocket, apparently looking for someone he considered an enemy.  That gent was sitting in a corner reading a newspaper when the drunk fired two shots and apparently missed.  The target tried to run but three more shots brought him down.  The shooter was arrested inside Wissemann’s saloon and charged with murder.

Two years later came another calamity.  Wissemann was a member of the Canvasback Gun Club, about 12 miles from Sacramento.  In early November 1909 he decided to ride out to the club with his son for some duck shooting.  His wife Mary advised against it, worried that their son was ill;  George thought the fresh air would do the boy good.  They hitched up the horse and buggy and set off.  Somewhere on or near the club grounds, their rig was struck by an automobile.  Wissemann may have been killed instantly.   His body, badly bruised and cut, was taken to the club headquarters where, at the age of 52, he formally was declared to be dead.  George Jr. apparently was only slightly injured in the crash.

Despite the father’s untimely passing, the family pressed on with the liquor business, operating for a time as the “Estate of George Wissemann.”  Mary Wissemann, as her husband’s heir, subsequently became president of the wholesale wine and liquor business with George Jr., as vice president in charge of day to day operations.  In 1919, the Wissemann’s, anticipating National Prohibition, closed down the business that George Sr. had built.

A final word on this whiskey man comes from the accident story in the Sacramento Union daily:  “Mr. Wissemann…is credited with having amassed a fortune without having made an enemy or stained his reputation for integrity and liberality.”   Presuming the validity of those sentiments, we are left with another  heartening story of an immigrant boy who did very, very well in America despite dying much too early in the "City of Saloons."




















Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pete Strader’s Good Life: “Women, Horses, Whiskey” — and Assault?


As the proprietor of R. S. Strader & Son (he was the son), Wilson Peter Strader of Lexington cheerfully told prospective customers that Germans might favor “wine, women and song,”  but a Kentuckian knew that nothing could be better than “women, horses and whiskey” and illustrated it with ads like the one above.  Omitted from this view of the good life was Strader’s run-ins with other Kentuckians, including his own relatives.

Born in Lexington in 1866,  Strader, known as “Pete” throughout his life,  grew up knowing a lot about horses.  His father, Colonel Robert S. Strader, was a successful trotting horse breeder and manager of the Kentucky Trotting Horse Association.  He maintained a large farm near Lexington where he bred and trained his race horses.  Accustomed to dealing with the wealthy men who dabbled in the sport, the Colonel was a particular friend of Leland Stanford, the California railroad tycoon.
Although some of his siblings followed their father’s interest in horses, Pete early on was enthralled by another key Kentucky industry, whiskey.  After serving an apprenticeship in the trade, at the age of 24 he was able to convince his father in 1890 to finance their own wholesale liquor house in Lexington.  The Colonel’s money made it possible to locate R. S. Strader & Son in a building on East Main Street that provided sales space and a four story warehouse.  My surmise is that management from the beginning was in Pete’s hands.  The Colonel’s health was declining and a year later he was dead.  By 1892 the young Strader was the sole owner. 

R. S. Strader & Son soon became known as a major wholesale broker for high grade Kentucky whiskeys, fine wines from Leland Stanford’s famed Palto Alto vineyards, European brandies, mineral waters and imported cigars and tobacco.  Strader developed several proprietary brands, including “Red Heart,” “Kentucky Belle,” and “Old Kentucky Home.”  He also purchased the rights to “Old Pugh,” a brand originally distilled at the Gus Pugh Distillery in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and “Old Barton,” another Bourbon county whiskey previously distilled by Joshua Burton at Blocks Crossroads.  Strader trademarked Red Heart, Old Pugh, and Old Barton in 1907, Kentucky Belle in 1908.

From 1891 to 1897 Strader’s whiskeys were produced by the Ashland Distillery, owned by William Tarr, a family friend. [See my post on Tarr, February 2015].  Later the James E. Pepper Distillery in Lexington produced his brands. Pete also became the exclusive agent in Kentucky for Pepper’s “Old Pepper” and “Old Henry Clay” whiskeys. [My post on Pepper appeared in September 2012].  At shown below, Strader began putting an illustration of the Pepper Distillery on his letterhead.  He established a saloon and retail sales in the lobby of Lexington’s Phoenix Hotel and in 1902 opened a branch office in Cincinnati, not far from the railroad depot.  Another Strader, Joseph N., managed the Ohio outlet.
In addition to being knowledgeable about horses and whiskey Pete Strader seems to have known something about women.  In 1895 he married Daisy Lee, eight years his junior.  She came from a Kentucky family of means and when she wed, her father gave her $1,500, equivalent today to more than $35,000.  She promptly turned it over to her new husband “to take and use in his business.”  Daisy apparently had good mercantile instincts and later was a director in a separate corporation set up by her husband.  The 1910 census found the couple living in Lexington’s second ward with two children, Mary Lee, 7, and Theodore, 5.
Like many Kentucky wholesalers of the time Strader was generous in his advertising giving away items.  These would have been provided to saloon owners and bartenders featuring his brands.  They included corkscrews advertising Old Barton and shot glasses, shown throughout this post.  Of note was a trade card he issued to celebrate the U.S. victory of the Spanish-American War.  It shows a youth draped in the American flag with his dukes up.  This pugnacious image takes us to the downside of Pete’s life in Lexington.

The trouble began in May 1902 when Strader decided to expand his operation into a two story warehouse down Main Street from his headquarters.  For payment he needed $4,000 in gold coins that he obtained from the Lexington City National Bank by exchanging $4,000 in greenbacks and bank notes.  After closing, while counting the money, bank personnel discovered that the amount Strader had given them was $500 short.  The teller and bank president, J. Will Stoll, a member of a well-known Kentucky whiskey clan, soon called on Strader and accused him of shortchanging the bank.  As reported by the Lexington History Museum, the following ensued:

After words were exchanged, Strader knocked down Stoll.  Stoll ended up with a broken leg and cut forehead.  Strader was arrested for assault and battery….At a preliminary hearing Strader testified that Stoll had threatened him with a gun, while Stoll denied having a gun with him.  Strader was released on $300 bond.….Stoll was represented by his brother Charles H. Stoll (attorney for the Whiskey Trust.)  In July 1902 all charges were dropped.”

The Stolls may have had indirect revenge.  The same year Strader had been sitting in his parked liquor delivery wagon on Lexington’s Main Street when a streetcar crashed into his van and he sustained a broken kneecap.  The streetcar was owned by the Stolls who controlled the Lexington Railway Line.  After these events, notes the museum narrative, “Stoll and Strader avoided each other.”

Strader had continuing problems with money.  After a series of convoluted financial dealings involving Lexington drinking establishments, his  brother, Stewart, with whom Strader had been partners in a saloon, sued Daisy Lee, claiming that he was owed $1,000 that he gave Pete that Pete had used illicitly to pay off his creditors.  Instead of suing his brother, possibly considering him insolvent, Stewart sued Daisy Lee with her independent wealth.  Two courts turn down the brother’s claim.

As the years advanced, Strader found his Col. Robert S. Strader, Wilson “Pete” Strader, Daisy Lee Strader, R. S. Strader & Son, Old Pugh Whiskey, Old Barton Whiskey, Ashland Distillery, J. Will Stollbusiness increasingly constrained by the emergence of the Whiskey Trust.  Not himself a distiller, he was reliant on obtaining supplies of raw product by contracting with independent distilleries.  Increasingly these were being swallowed up by the Trust.  Many were closed down and prices for whiskey to rectifiers like Strader were being hiked up.  Given the close association of the Stoll clan with the Trust, the animosities Pete had raised obviously did him no good.  In 1911 he shut down his liquor house and perhaps disgusted with the situation in Lexington, moved to Louisville,

By 1914 Strader had opened an insurance brokerage in Louisville and was involved in other enterprises.  He lived to see the imposition of National Prohibition that ended all whiskey making and sales, not only in Kentucky but throughout the Nation.  With Repeal in 1934, he returned to the whiskey trade opening a liquor brokerage in Louisville.  A year later, as he walking downtown, Strader was felled by a massive heart attack.  He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.  At the time Daisy Lee was in Owingsville, visiting her daughter who was ill.  She rushed to Louisville and arranged for Pete to be buried with other Strader family members in Lexington Cemetery.  His grave marker is shown here.  Daisy Lee would live to be 97 and is buried in Owningsville.
“What better could you want?”  Pete Strader asked in the ad that opens this post.  For him personally “the good life” was appreciating thoroughbred horses, selling quality whiskey, and marrying a true helpmate.  He seems to have accomplished them all.  None of them, however, were enough to keep him out of financial difficulties and trouble with the law.













Sunday, July 10, 2016

W. H. Renegar Made Carolina Corn at “Riverside”


Often a letterhead from a distillery or liquor company will send me on a search for the whiskey man or men it represented and thereby generate a vignette for  this blog.  None has intrigued me more, however, than the letterhead above from the Riverside Distilling & Feeding Company.   Teasing out its story led me to a panorama of North Carolina people, places and events, in which a Yadkin County distiller, William H. Renegar, figured prominently.

Renegar was born in September 1879, the son of William and Mary Bell Renegar, in the Piedmont region of west central North Carolina, an area marked by the Brushy Mountains, a greatly eroded spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  This area was marked in late 1800s by vigorous corn whiskey-making by the heavily Scotch-Irish population.  It is likely that William’s father himself was a farmer-distiller.

Among those in the region were two bearing the Renegar name, “Gough & Renegar" and “Renegar Liquor Company.”  William appears to have learned distilling at a young age. In 1903 North Carolina passed a law requiring all distilleries to be inside an incorporated community.   As a result, some went out of business, others consolidated, and still others incorporated into the township of Shore, Yadkin County, North Carolina, a town created specifically for making whiskey.  Among the four plants in Shore was one run by W. H. Renegar, a youth of 24.

By this time Renegar was married.  Described as being of medium build with black hair and gray eyes, in 1899 at the age of 21 William wed Lena  Harp, the 16-year-old daughter of Baschon and Frona Harpe,  native-born North Carolinians.   A year later the young couple had a baby son.  They would go on to have three more children over the next decade.  
Although on the letterhead above the firm was designated “The Riverside Distilling and Feeding Company,”  the name was changed in 1905 to the shorter "Riverside Manufacturing Co." The letter itself announced that a Ronda, N.C., distillery was consolidating with W. H. Renegar at Shore.  The president of the Ronda outfit, John Sowers, may have decided that Shore was more tolerant of the liquor trade than Wilkes County where he was located.

Parsing the letterhead, a man is shown loading barrels on a covered wagon is a list of company brands. Several of the labels are North Carolina local references, among them a corn whiskey named “Bull of the Brushies,”  associated with a former congressman from the area named Romulus Zechariah Linney, shown below.  Wounded in the Civil War, Linney returned home to become a lawyer and a skilled orator, much beloved by his constituents with whom he close touch.  

According to a biographer,  “In debate concerning the internal revenue system, he represented the views of his mountain supporters; these people often tried to supplement their limited income by distilling brandy and whiskey ….They were hurt by the excise tax that the federal government placed in spirits, and throughout his career Linney tried to change this form of taxation.”  His aggressive style would earn him the sobriquet, “Bull of the Brushies.”  Although Linney died while William was still a child, Renegar obviously had heard of the politician’s advocacy for farmer-distillers.
Another corn whiskey label from Riverside was “Pilot Mountain.”  Shown here, this was a distinctive geological formation, a quartzite rock caping a peak 2,421 feet above sea level, a remnant of the ancient chain of the Sauratown Mountains of North Carolina. Later it would figure in the TV series “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Mayberry RFD.”   Another Tarheel landmark would figure as the name of one of Riverside’s few rye whiskeys.  It was named “Watauga” after a river in the Yadkin Valley river, shown here.  The stream runs almost 80 miles with its waters flowing into Tennessee.
Probably looking nothing like the letterhead illustration, the Riverside distillery may have had problems marketing these many brands of whiskey.  Transport would have been difficult and although Winston-Salem was not far, competition among whiskey-makers was fierce.  As a result, according to a Shore family descendant, most distillers sent their liquid products to the Winston-Salem based Casper Company, a large-scale distributor of whiskey.  They also began to rely on mail order sales, particularly to areas of North Carolina that already had gone dry.
That would account for the large stoneware jugs in which Renegar packaged his goods.  Shown here, they range from three gallon down to gallon size with an underglaze transfer label identifying them as from Riverside Manufacturing Co, Shore, N.C.  Customers could write them for a “confidential price list,” i.e. to be sent in a plain brown envelope.  Shipments of whiskey would also be in unmarked packages.

It did not take long for prohibitionary forces to find Yadkin County.  Local opposition to whiskey-making grew rapidly, particularly when it was as blatant as in the semi-mythical Town of Shore.  Distillers there began to look elsewhere for outlets.  Two established second plants in Rocky Mount, N.C.;  

Renegar chose to open an adjunct Riverside Manufacturing in Fremont, N.C., a hamlet in Wayne County, almost 200 miles east of Shore.  This area of the state largely remained “wet” and seemed likely to remain so.  As a result a number of Riverside jugs  bear a Fremont address on the label.

In the end all appeals to local and state pride and jockeying to avoid prohibition did little good.  In 1909 North Carolina voted a statewide ban on distilling and sales of alcoholic beverages.  Riverside Manufacturing went out of business, never to be revived.   Renegar seemingly had never given up farming as he pursued the whiskey trade.  The 1910 census found him, just turned 29, living on a farm in Eagle Mills Township in Iredell County.  Succeeding decades also found him engaged in agricultural pursuits.

William Renegar died in 1856 amid his beloved Brushy Mountains at the age of 77.   As his children and grandchildren mourned his passing at his gravesite, he was buried in Sandy Springs Baptist Church Cemetery next to his wife, Lena, who had passed in 1934.  His gravestone is shown here, is inscribed “GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.”
As I have said in past posts, each whiskey bottle or jug has a story, but often a letterhead can suggest an intriguing narrative, in this case one that encompassed a whiskey man, the political forces shaping his destiny, and his rootedness in the history and natural beauty of his surroundings.

Note:   A post about Shore, N.C., and specifically about I.C. Shore, the man behind the name, appeared on this blog in April 2012.  The Casper Company of Winston-Salem and its owner, John Casper, were profiled in June 2011.