Thursday, October 8, 2015

George W. Swearingen Was the “Mellwood” Man

For years “Mellwood” was a nationally known and favored brand of whiskey.  It might never have been possible, however, if a talented and energetic Kentucky entrepreneur had not left his hardscrabble farm after the Civil War, moved to Louisville, and started a small distillery.  Shown right, his name was George Washington Swearingen, one of the pioneers of Kentucky whiskey.
The Swearingen family were early settlers in America.  Their founding ancestor was Gerrit Van Swearingen, a Dutch sea captain.  When his ship foundered off the Atlantic coast, Captain Van Swearingen abandoned the foaming main, marrying a Maryland woman and settling on the East Coast.  Toward the close of the 17th Century the family abandoned the “Van” and became simply “Swearingen.  In 1804 some of the family migrated west to Kentucky, settling in Bullitt County in the far western bluegrass region.  There George’s father, William Swearingen, grew up and in time became a wealthy farmer and slaveholder.  He married Julia F. Crist, the daughter of Henry Crist, a Kentucky pioneer, Indian fighter and member of the state legislature.  

Their son, George, was born in Bullitt County in 1837.   With a rich farmer for a father, he was able to get a good education for the times, attending the Washington Academy and at the age of sixteen entering Centre College in Danville, Kentucky,  perhaps the most prestigious academic institution in the state.  During his career there Swearingen, it has been reported, “commanded the respect and good will of faculty and students.”  After graduation, he taught school for a year and then returned to the farm to assist his father.

Within a year, at the age of 20, he took no time in finding a bride.  She was Mary Embry, 18 years old, and likewise from a distinguished family.  She was the daughter of Samuel Embry, a veteran of the War of 1812, and the granddaughter of Henry Embry, a Virginian by birth who had settled in Green County, Kentucky, in 1790.  As one observer has put it, “this was an instance in which an early marriage proved fortunate as well as happy.”   The timing may have been particularly fortunate given the impending onset of the Civil War.  By now running a farm and with a daughter born in 1858 and sons in 1863 and 1864,  Swearingen was able to avoid military service during the conflict.

After the war, with his slaves freed and Kentucky’s agricultural economy in a shambles, he uprooted his young family and moved the twenty miles or so to Louisville.  There he is said to have had a brief experience in the grocery business before he decided his future lay in building a distillery there.  My speculation is that he previously had been running a small whiskey-making operation on his farm and understood how lucrative the liquor trade could be.  Although exact dates vary, it was in the latter part of the 1860s when he constructed a facility on Reservoir Road, later known as Mellwood Road, on Bear Grass Creek in Louisville.  He called it Mellwood Distillery.

Above is a map of Swearingen’s original plant.  The distillery itself sits in the center, surrounded by warehouses, one rather detached.  As a farmer, he also is feeding the spent mash to cattle in two sheds adjacent to the works.  Given the distillery placement at the edge of the city, the odors from those sheds, as well as those from the distilling whiskey, obviously floated over the surrounding landscape.  
In time, Swearingen would expand these facilities. As one observer said:  “Beginning on a small scale it came one of the largest and most successful institutions in the state.” Shown here as expanded, insurance documents record a distillery that is built of brick and equipped with a fire-proof roof.  The property contains seven warehouse, one a “free (no federal regulation) that stood 70 feet southwest of the still and six “bottled in bond” warehouses, all within 300 feet of the still.  One cattle barn was left standing.  This distillery could mash 1,200 bushels of grain daily and the capacity to hold 65,000 barrels of aging whiskey.  Later the warehouses would be expanded slightly to 70,000 barrels.  Swearingens’ had become a big, big operation.

With this kind of whiskey production, Swearingen could offer a wide variety of brands.  They would include:  "Dundee Club,” "G. W. S. Old Watermill,” "Marble Brook,” "Montpelier Rye,”"Normandy Club,” "Normandy Pure Rye", “Rubicon,” "Runnymede Club Bourbon,” "Runnymede Club Pure Rye,” and "Runnymede Club Whiskey.”   The featured, flagship brand would always be Mellwood Whiskey.   Sold at retail in quart bottles and pint flasks, the Mellwood label soon became a familiar sight on the liquor shelves all over America.  Or as one publication stated: “…Being known far and wide as the equal of any in the market.

This vigorous marketing was assisted by frequent advertising in a wide range of publications across the Nation.  Swearingen also was aware of the merchandising power of giveaway items to the saloons, bars, restaurants and hotels carrying his brands of liquor.  Among his gifts were an etched back of the bar bottle advertising Mellwood Whiskey and a shot glass.  Another advertising item given to favor customers  was a serving tray prominently advertising Mellwood Whiskey.  
Swearingen also was branching out in his distilling interests.  One author says he also was owner of the Deatsville Distillery from the late 1870s until the early 1880s.  From 1884 until 1887 he also was listed in Louisville directories as president of the Springwater Distillery.  This was a small operation with a mashing capacity of only 120 bushels a day, yielding 15 barrels of whiskey.   The primary brand was “Spring Water Whiskey” and merchandised by a New York State distributor.  In 1880 Swearingen was one the distillers who met to form the Kentucky Distillers Association, an organization devoted initially to obtaining fairer tax treatment from the Federal Government and later to offset prohibitionary forces.
Mellwood and Swearingen’s other brands had made him very rich.  With his wealth, George turned to other pursuits.   A 1889 Louisville directory listed him as president of the Kentucky Public Elevator Company.  Given the quantities of corn, rye and wheat his whiskey-making was using annually, the move to own an elevator may have been a natural step.  Swearingen’s elevator had the capacity to hold a million bushels of grain. He also led other Louisville businessmen in the organization of the Kentucky Title Company,  a financial organization, and became its president. About the same time, with  local investors, he created the Union National Bank, shown below.

 According to Swearingen’s obituary in the Louisville Courier-Journal: “Under his administration…Union National Bank promptly became one of the strongest and most popular banks in the city of Louisville,” In fact, the impress of Mr. Swearingen’s character and methods remain today a marked factor in the character and management of that institution.”  He remained president of the bank until the time of his death.  

Some accounts indicate that Swearingen sold out his liquor interests when he moved to banking.  Louisville business directories tell a different story.  In 1890, a year after founding Union National Bank, he still was listed as president of Mellwood Distillery.  The 1891-1892 directories indicate a shift.  R. F. Balke was now the president of Mellwood Distillery and Swearingen listed as the vice president.  His continued relationship with the company indicates that while he may have sold some of his stock, he remained invested in Mellwood.  As late as 1895 directories continued to show Swearingen participating in Mellwood management as a vice president. 

For the distillery this was a period of continued expansion.  The company opened a branch office in Chicago in 1892, likely a sales office.  It was located at Suite 1119 of the Monadock Building, subsequently to move to a suite at 135 Dearborn Avenue.  This office disappeared from Chicago directories after 1896.  Moreover, in 1895, the original Mellwood Distillery building was replaced by a six story building constructed of brick, stone and steel, according to insurance records.

Sometime after 1896, dates differ, Mellwood Distillery was sold to the Whiskey Trust.  Both Swearingen and Balke’s names disappeared from Mellwood listings replaced by a management team inserted by the Trust.   Those executives lost no time in trademarking some of the company brands, a step that Swearingen had neglected.  Among them were Mellwood Whiskey, Runnymede Club, Runny Rye, Normandy Pure Rye and Old Water Mill Whiskey.

Now able to concentrate full-time on his other enterprises or, as his obituary noted, “in the expectation and hope of a grand development of his plans,” Swearingen at the age of 62 in 1898 was stricken by illness, likely a stroke.  A second stroke followed, and then a third in August 1901.   He never recovered from this paralysis and declined throughout the fall of that year and into the winter, dying in December.
George Swearingen’s funeral was held at his home at 218 West Broadway in Louisville.  He was interred in Section A, Plot 201, of Cave Hill Cemetery,, a burying ground where many influential Kentucky whiskey men lie. Note above the verse on his gravestone.  Sadly, he had only his widow, Mary, and eldest son, Embry, at his graveside.  His other three children had preceded him in death.  Margaret died in childbirth at 29 in 1889, leaving a daughter of eight and an infant of two days   Mary followed in 1898 and William died six months before his father.  Embry would go on to assume the presidency of the financial institutions his father had founded.

Swearingen's demise did not signal the end of Mellwood Distillery.  In 1909 it opened a sales office in Cincinnati in the First National Bank Building. The Trust continued to operate the facility and market Mellwood Whiskey until the advent of National Prohibition. Even then the offices continued in use until 1924.   After Repeal in 1934 the distillery was renovated and put back into production under the auspices of the General Distillers of Kentucky Corp.  The bottling house was used through the 1960s but the distillery was closed for good in 1974, according to accounts.

George Swearingen, a pioneer Kentucky whiskey man who left off tilling the land to found a major distillery and other prosperous enterprises in his adopted city, deserves a final word.  My choice is a quote from a newspaper obituary that offered an observation about what the “Mellwood Man” had meant to Louisville:  “Here his sound judgment, broad intellect and high character shone conspicuously.” 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

“Mannie" Doran Literally Came Up “By the Bootstraps”

It is common for observers of a young man who rises in wealth and esteem from a modest beginning to be said to have “come up by the bootstraps,”  that is, by his own strenuous effort.  Maurice J. “Mannie” Doran of Rochester, New York, did that literally.  Beginning as a shoemaker and intimately familiar with bootstraps,  Doran, shown right, according to a biographer, “…determined to exert himself in a different direction.  He accordingly became a wholesale liquor dealer and has shown remarkable business ability, transacting a large and lucrative business and maintaining a high class of trade.”

Born in Rochester in 1862, Mannie was the son of Edward and Margaret Doran and the eldest of seven children.   His father was born in Dublin, Ireland, and brought to the United States by his family at the age of six. Shown left in his uniform of a Union soldier, Edward joined Company E of the 140th New York Volunteer Infantry in August 1862.  Edward’s wartime service was short-lived, however, and he was discharged four months later, the reason being “disability prior to enlistment” and he was not eligible for a pension. For most of his life the father made his living as a “molder,” that is, working in a factory creating mechanical parts from a mold.

Known as Mannie to friends and family, Doran received his early education in the public schools then was sent to a Catholic secondary school until he was 17.  He left off education to learn the cobbler’s trade, working with several local shoemakers.  The 1880 census found him living at home with his parents and siblings, his occupation given as “works in shoe shop.”

When Doran founded his liquor business is unclear, but he likely was given an impetus for abandoning the shoe trade by the demands of a growing family.  In 1889, Mannie at age 36 married Anna Loretta Corcoran, a woman five years his junior and like himself the offspring of Irish immigrants.   They subsequently had five children, four sons and one daughter:  Edward, who died in infancy, Maurice Jr.,  Henry, Anna, and Theobold.  
By 1895 Doran was advertising in local media for his liquor business,  offering a quart of Kentucky whiskey for 50 cents and a gallon of California wine for $1.00.  The dollar included the jug, the container, as the one shown here, that he used for wholesale amounts of his wine and whiskey.   For the retail trade he issued his whiskey in quarts and pint sized flasks.  Shown here are a labeled flask for his Kentucky Rye Whiskey and an embossed bottle that Doran “warranted” to hold a quart of liquor.   

Doran was a “rectifier”  that is, blending whiskey received from multiple sources in order to achieve a particular taste and color.  After the mixing process, he would bottle the results and provide proprietary labels for their marketing.  Among his house brands were “Myrtle Valley,"   "Kentucky," “Diploma," and "Lynbrook,"  all rye whiskeys.

Like many liquor wholesalers, Doran saw the wisdom of providing his customers with giveaway items.  He appears to have concentrated on mini-jugs, each with a swallow or two of liquid.   So far I have identified three of these, each distinctive.  One was a square jug with a pouring lip, a second presented an Bristol glaze round body with a Albany slip top, and a third, advertised Lynbrook Whiskey and featured a cobalt blue label on a cream body.

Over the life of his liquor business, Doran moved several times.  An early address was 354 State Street in Rochester.   Several years later, in 1898, his company moved to 92 West Front Street.  His next and likely final location was 128 West Main Street.  Doran was there in 1909 when he petitioned the Common Council of the City of Rochester to allow him to dig out beneath the public sidewalk to construct an “areaway and cellar” there, expanding his store.  The structure was approximately 20 feet in length and 17 in width.  Because it was below a public walkway the construction was ordered to be supervised by the Commissioner of Public Works.  Doran also was required to post bond with that office of $5,000 (equivalent to $125,000 today) to indemnify the city against any damage claims. 

Throughout this period, Doran was keeping socially active.  An independent in politics, he was a member of the Elks lodge and an active parishioner in Immaculate Conception Church.  Although his father had been a staunch Democrat,  Maurice claimed to be independent in politics.  Like several other whiskey men profiled in this blog,  Doran also was an inventor.  Patented in October 1898, one invention was for  a “chainless bicycle.”  With the mechanism illustrated here, Doran aimed at improving the propelling gear. Bicycle parts were arranged to bring the pedals directly below the seat post and saddle, reputedly to avoid lost motion and “enable the rider to apply power directly to the cranks and to the best advantage.”  There is no evidence that  Doran’s improvements were ever put into production. The chain seemingly has remained an integral part of the bicycle. 

Although New York never enacted a state prohibition law, Doran would have been forced toshut down his prosperous liquor business in 1919 with the imposition of National Prohibition.  The 1920 U.S. Census found him living on Atkinson Street in Rochester as a 56-year-old widower with three adult children, Henry, Anna, and Theobald.   None of the family was recorded with having an occupation.  Doran’s wife, Anna, had died the year before.   Maurice/Mannie would live another twenty years, seeing the 1934 end of Prohibition.   At the age of 78, he died in 1940 and was interred next to his wife in Section SO-2, Lot 9, Grave 5W-N of Rochester’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.  Shown here is the Doran monument.
For a last word on a man who literally came up by his bootstraps, I leave it to his 1908 biographer who defined Maurice Duran’s character by offering this observation:  “Personally he is sociable, ever willing to accord to anyone his courtesy and his time.”

Note:  The biographical sketch on Doran was published in the “History of Rochester and Monroe County New York From the Earliest Historic Times to the Beginning of 1907” by William F. Peck, Pioneer Publishing Company, New York and Chicago, 1908.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cincinnati’s Rosenthals Decorated Along the Bar

The Rosenthals, father and sons, were among dozens of whiskey wholesalers and retailers who called Cincinnati home during the pre-Prohibition era.   Every outfit in the town’s liquor trade was scrambling to find a business formula that would make the company successful in spite of the fierce competition.  The Rosenthals succeeded by providing a variety of brands and advertising giveaways to decorate the bars of their customers.
Beginning in 1871, the Rosenthals gave America a rich mixture of whiskey labels, including "1881 Rock Castle Rye,” "Fern Hill Rye,” "Forest Grove,” ”Lion Head Rye,” "Meadow Brook,” "Mephisto Rye,” "Montreal Club,” "O' Hare Malt,” "Red Letter Rye,”  “Rosedale, and "Wm. Berkele.”   Shown here are a number of Rosenthal brands with colorful labels lined up as they might have looked on a bar during the heyday of that organization.
The founding father of this liquor trade was known throughout his life — even to the census taker — as “H. Rosenthal.”  Only one source indicates that his full name was Hyer (possibly Hyman) S. Rosenthal.  He had been born in the German state of Baden-Wurtemburg about 1820.  I have found no record of when and where he initially immigrated to to United States, but as a young man he settled in Cincinnati, a city with strong German roots.   He entered business directories initially in 1871 as a partner in the liquor firm of Rosenthal & Levison, located at 17 West Front Street.  Within two years Levison had departed the scene and the company now was H. Rosenthal & Son,  Rosenthal’s son, Meyer (or Myer), having joined his father.
The 1880 census found the family residing at 302 Bass Street in Cincinnati.  The senior Rosenthal, now 60 years old, was with his wife, Theresa, who was 53, and three of their children, including Charles.  The father’s occupation was given as “wholesale whiskey.”  When Charles, grew to adulthood, he too was taken into the business and the name was changed once again to H. Rosenthal & Sons.  By this time their store had moved to several addresses on East Second Street and soon would move to 341 Main Street and then on to East Third Street, the headquarters shown here.

The Rosenthals were not content to provide saloons, restaurants and bars with just their whiskeys.  Like many of their competitors in Cincinnati, they lavished advertising gifts upon their customers.  One staple of the trade was the shot glass.  They would be provided to bartenders for pouring drinks along the brass rail in the belief that customers would order the liquor thereon advertised.   The Rosenthal’s shot glasses were elegantly etched offerings, advertising, among other whiskeys,  Wm. Berkele, Fern Hill, and Forest Grove.

At the same time the Rosenthals were helping decorating the bars of their clients with an array of glass decanters known popularly as “back-the-bar bottles.”   Displayed in this post are four examples of their generosity.   One William Berkele bottle has etched lettering with inlaid gold, as does a Fern Hill decanter. Both were sure eye-catchers behind the bar.  A second Berkele decanter has a white glass label embossed on it and a third bottle a simple etched message.  All four have interesting stoppers.  While these items were relatively expensive to produce, the Rosenthals knew their value to their “bar-centric” marketing strategy.

Meanwhile,  Charles and Meyer were having personal lives. Meyer had married a woman known as Mamie who was seven years his junior.  They would have a family of at least three daughters and one son, Henry, who later would join H. Rosenthal & Sons.  Charles married a Cincinnati girl in 1886.  His wife, Rose, was the daughter of German immigrants.   The 1900 Census found them living with their three children,  Charles Jr., 7;  Terese, 5, and Margaret, 3, in the 3lst Ward of Cincinnati. 

Under the management of the Rosenthals, the liquor business flourished. As “rectifiers” and blenders of whiskey, however, the family likely was hampered frequently by a lack of supplies.  Forced to rely on suppliers in Kentucky and elsewhere, made even more problematic by the manipulations of the several “Whiskey Trusts,” the Rosenthals required a more steady supply of product.  One solution was to buy their own distillery.  In 1907 an opportunity was presented.   A man named W. H. Head during the 1870s had built a whiskey plant about two miles south of Raywick, a small village on the Rolling Fork River in central Kentucky.

The Head Distillery initially was a small operation.  Designated by the federal government as Distillery #9 of the Fifth Kentucky District, it was operating at a mashing capacity of 80 bushels a day, resulting in eight barrels of whiskey.   The property included two bonded warehouses with a total aging capacity of 2,500 barrels.  After purchasing it, the Rosenthals lost no time in expanding the infrastructure.  By 1908 warehouse capacity had been enlarged to 7,000 barrels and the name was changed to the “Wm. Berkele Distillery.”  In 1910 the family tore down the distillery building and rebuilt it, generating a capacity of 200 bushels a day and supplying three warehouses.

The Rosenthals were not without their problems.  One of their products was a alcohol-based “medicinal” tonic they called “Rock Candy Drips and Whiskey.”  In 1909, three years after the passage of the Food and Drugs Act, the Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture, the agency enforcing the law, filed a “criminal information” against the Rosenthals is the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio.  After testing the “drips” product, officials alleged misbranding because the labels and packaging failed to state of the proportion of alcohol.  Turned out it was 27.2 percent.  The Rosenthals pled guilty and paid a $10 fine and court costs.

By 1912, the father and founder seems to have exited the scene.  The annual report of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce that year reported only Charles and Meyer Rosenthal associated with the company.   They made a final move to 212-214 East Third Street in 1913 and were forced to shut down their activities in 1918 when Ohio voted statewide prohibition.  I have only scanty information about the subsequent lives of any of the Rosenthals, a “hole” in the narrative that perhaps a descendant, seeing this post, will help me fill.  In the meantime, a concluding word of appreciation for H. Rosenthal & Sons:   They did their best to decorate the bars of America.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tom Megibben Was a Man of Many Distilleries

An American distillery owner most usually was engaged in just one such whiskey-making operation, although occasionally a proprietor might have two plants under management at one time.  An exception was Thomas Jefferson (T.J. or “Tom”) Megibben who controlled multiple Kentucky distilleries and at his death was said to have “an interest” in at least six.  Shown right,  Megibben is a whiskey man whose story can be told through a list of distilleries.
Findley & Foley Distillery.   Megibben was born in 1831 in the Ohio river town of Neville, Clermont County, Ohio, the son of William and Emily (Galvin) Megibben.  Educated in the Neville schools until the age of 16, he left school to make his own living, finding employment as an employee in a local distillery.   He quickly learned the whiskey-making trade and after two year, relocated to Cynthiana, Kentucky, a town in the north central part of the state and the seat of Harrison County,  located about half way between Cincinnati and Lexington.  There in January 1849 Megibben took a job with Findley & Foley Distillery.

These partners had established a distillery near Broadwell, Kentucky, several years earlier.  They hired Megibben initially as their assistant chief distiller.   After spending a year working in that capacity he so impressed the proprietors that they made him the chief distiller.   He stayed in that job until about 1854 when a severe drought hit that region of Kentucky and the corn failure halted any distilling.  One biography says Megibben then “engaged in [unnnamed] agricultural pursuits.”

Megibben had strong incentives to keep working.  In June 1853 he had married Elizabeth J. David, the daughter of Simon and Nancy (Brown) David of Harrison County.  Elizabeth has been  described as “a lady of most exemplary character, pleasing address, and good judgment, and well worthy to be the life companion…”  The Megibben’s first child, Mary Loraine, was born a year later.  In time there would seven other children, a total of four sons and four daughters.

Megilbben & Bramble “Excelsior” Distillery.  In the early 1850s with a partner, C. Bramble, Megibben struck out on is own, building a distillery near his home in Cynthiana at a place called Lair’s Station.  The flagship brand was “Excelsior Whiskey” and the distillery became known by that name.  Tom took his brother, James, into the business with him at this facility.  By the early 1800s, Megibben’s plant had a mashing capacity of 700 bushels and three warehouses with a capacity of 17,500 barrels.  A on-premises cooperage shop could turn out fifty barrels a day and at peak the distillery employed forty hands.  Annual production of Excelsior and other company brands was 8,000 barrels while an additional 11,000 barrels were aging in bond.  In 1868 this extensive operation was turned over to a Megibben nephew.
The Edgewater Distillery.  Not content with running only a single distillery Megibben during the 1850s purchased an existing plant that had been established in 1836, owned and operated Benjamin Brandon as part of a a grist mill and whiskey-making complex.  After passing through several proprietorships, about 1855 it was leased for three years to Megibben and two partners.  The lease included twenty-five acres of farm land on which cattle could be kept to feed spent mash.  The venture proved very profitable and before the end of the three years, Megibben, after buying out his partners, purchased the entire property.  It included the distillery, “all the appurtenances thereto belonging,” and a 200 acre farm.
As sole owner, Megibben lost no time in improving and expanding the distillery.   As shown above, it was expanded over time into a large complex, featuring five warehouses with the capacity to hold 25,000 barrels of aging whiskey.  According to insurance records, the distillery itself was of frame construction with a metal or slate roof.  The warehouses included three adjoining bonded buildings constructed of brick with metal roofs, a separated iron-clad bonded stone warehouse located 250 feet southwest of the still, and a “free” (non-bonded) stone warehouse with a shingle roof, located 120 feet east of the still.

According to an 1893 report on Megibben’s Edgewater distillery:   “The warehouses…are constructed after the most approved plans for the maturing of the product and are lighted by immense skylights which give a perfect flood of light and safe so arranged that the reflected rays of the sun are thrown upon the entire space.  The whiskey is still further matured by the use of steam-heat which is forced by steel blowers to all parts of the houses.”

His flagship brands became “Edgewater Sour Mash Whiskey” and “Edgewater Rye.”  Megibben put his own portrait on the labels, perhaps as an indication in his pride in the product. He merchandised these whiskeys vigorously throughout the country, finding a ready customer base because of their quality.  It was one of the Kentucky brands specially featured at the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago.  A Kentucky publication boasted that Edgewater Whiskey “is to be found in nearly every first-class hotel and bar in this country.

Over time Megibben continued to add parcels to his holdings until he had accrued some 3,000 acres.  Shown below is a line drawing of the estate he created for himself and his large family not far from the distillery complex.  These holdings allowed him during the 1860s to become known as a breeder of fine cattle. Willing to pay big money for prize bulls, Megibben assembled a herd that was said to be one of the finest in the United States.  He also was breeding high-grade sheep.
The Ashland Distillery.  His lust to own distilleries not yet satisfied, Megibben early in the 1870s became a partner in the Ashland Distillery, located on Manchester Street (Frankfort Pike) immediately in Lexington, Kentucky.  Shown below, this plant on eleven acres had been established in 1865, produced the “Ashland Whiskey,” brand, and had gone through several ownerships before closing.  Dates differ, but about 1871 Megibben, with well-known whiskey entrepreneur, William Tarr, acquired the distillery and restarted production.  [See my post on William Tarr, February 2015.]  The partners continued to produce the Ashland brand and introduced “Wm. Tarr Whiskey.”   Both brands came in bourbon and rye versions.
In May 1879, a fire destroyed the distillery, one that largely had been constructed of wood.  This disaster forced the city fathers of Lexington to establish a waterworks to provide a year around supply of water to fight fires and thereby lower insurance rates.  With this safeguard the distillery was reorganized during which Megibben became a director, owning 40%, and his son-in-law, Joseph M.  Kimbrough the plant manager.  Shown here, the plant was rebuilt at a cost of $75,000 (almost $2 million today).  By 1882 the output was approximately 45 barrels a day with 18,000 barrels in bonded storage in two warehouses, both adjacent to a railroad spur.

The Van Hook Distillery.  Not long after acquiring the Ashland Distillery, Megibben struck again, purchasing the Van Hook Distillery in Harrison County, shown below.  Although scholars disagree on the origins of this facility, they agree that it was destroyed by fire in 1869 and rebuilt the same year.  At the time of McGibben’s purchase, during the early 1880s, the distillery had a mashing capacity of 300 bushels per day and produced 3,000 barrels of whiskey annually, with 6,000 barrels held in bond. The size of the distillery was 35 x 55 feet and rose three floors. Three brick warehouses with a capacity of 7,500 barrels could be found on the grounds, containing L. Van Hook Pure Bourbon.  A cooper’s shop attached to the still turned out 4,000 barrels.  Waste from the mash fed 150 cattle and 400 hogs. Shipments from the warehouses were made via the Kentucky Central Railroad from Cynthiana.

After operating the Van Hook Distillery for a few years with continuing success, Megibben sold the property to another son-in-law, Felix S. Ashbrook.  By this time he had become the largest landowner in Harrison County.  His abundant energies included horse racing.  In 1872 he bought his first thoroughbred horse and eventually ran a stable of fifty thoroughbreds and a hundred trotters and pacers.  His horses competed in the Kentucky Derby in 1882 and again in 1884.  Neither won.
The Paris Distillery.  Shown above, this whiskey manufactory had been built in 1860, located about half mile from Paris, Kentucky, on the Kentucky Central Railroad. It had been operated under at least two ownerships by the 1880s when Megibben got involved.  This facility produced a whiskey called “Paris Distillery Hand Made Sour Mash.”   The daily mashing capacity was 412 barrels per day and boasted a warehouse storage capacity of 15,000 barrels.  The warehouses were five, four bonded of brick construction and one free, iron clad.  The distillery was frame and the property included a frame cattle shed 225 feet west of the still.  By 1884 Megibben also was in charge of managing this distillery.
While just keeping track of these many business activities might have been too much for an ordinary man,  Megibben also found time for politics.  He first was elected to the Kentucky State House of Representatives from Harrison County in 1871.  According to a biographer:  “By being always vigilant and watchful, regarding the best interests his constituency and singularly prompt in devising measures best adapted to their wants…,” he was elected to a second term.  In 1879 he was elected to the State Senate, serving one term.  A delegate to a Democratic convention that nominated Grover Cleveland, Megibben was a familiar figure in Kentucky Democratic circles and his mansion home, shown here, a frequent political gathering place. 

Megibben also fulfilled the old adage, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”  In addition to his many business and political interests, he often was tapped for other leadership roles.   He founded the Latonia Track and Jockey Club, was president of the Shorthorn Cattle Breeders Association of Chicago, and president of the Kentucky Trotting Horse Breeders Association from 1873 until 1882. McGibben was elected the first president of the Kentucky Distillers Association at its 1880 initial meeting in Louisville.  He continued to be active in the organization until his death.  

At the End.  When T. J. McGibben died in January 1890 at the age of 59, his obituaries noted, seemingly in awe, that he continued to have an interest in six Kentucky distilleries.  Extra trains were run to Cynthiana from both Cincinnati and Lexington to bring some 300 mourners to his funeral services.  A lengthy procession led from the church to the Battle Grove Cemetery where he was laid to rest in Section G, Lot 4.  A tall stone pillar marks the place.

McGibben was the object of many tributes after his death.  Among them, is one from the Frankfort Capitol that captured the man rather than the titan of Kentucky whiskey.  In part it read:  “Modest as a woman, gentle as a child, ‘Tom’ McGibben, as those who loved him loved best to call him, never betrayed a trust, never faltered in his devotion to a friend or forgot to keep his plighted faith to any man.”

Note:  T.J. McGibben was given considerable biographical attention after his death, the information on which much of this post is drawn.  Most important was the 1882 volume, History of Bourbon, Scott, Harrison and Nicholas Counties, by William H. Perrin. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The “Silver Wedding” Three and a D.C. Mystery

Three proprietors dealing in liquor sales in the Nation’s Capital — John Keyworth, Harry H. Meyerstein, and Alonzo Bunch — had one attribute in common.  They each claimed to be the source for a D.C.-based whiskey called “Silver Wedding.”  The truth behind these assertions is not easily uncovered, the facts are scanty, and some details remain a mystery.
John Keyworth was the first on the “Silver Wedding” scene.  According to records, he was born in District of Columbia in 1838, the son of Robert Keyworth, an immigrant from England who became a “citizen of prominence” in Washington.  Robert was a watchmaker and jeweler, doing business on Pennsylvania Avenue, west of Ninth Street.  He also was a major in the First Regiment, D.C. Volunteer Militia.

Robert’s son, John, eschewing his father’s profession, but not a commercial life, ran a grocery store and liquor shop at the corner of Ninth and D Streets, N.W.,   From a fuzzy photo of Keyworth’s establishment, right, can be noted multiple barrels, several of which likely held whiskey, including Silver Wedding.  In an unusual step for the time — trademark laws were generally not respected — Keyworth registered the brand name in 1876 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  The label is shown below as it appeared in government documents and later on a shot glass. Calling his establishment “Wholesale and Retail Dealer in Fine Groceries, Liquors and General Merchandise,” Keyworth advertised himself in 1881 as the “sole proprietor” of Silver Wedding Rye.
He also was a family man. In the 1870 and 1880 census reports, Keyworth was living in the District with his wife, Mary, and their five children, four boys and one girl, ranging in age from 18 to 11.  I have been unable to find a definitive date of his death but a John Keyworth, occupation listed as a grocer, died in April 1897 and is buried in Washington’s Congressional Cemetery.   Keyworth’s downtown store eventually was torn down to make way for the large FBI Building.
Enter Harry H. Meyerstein.   Business directories for 1900 show him working in Baltimore for L. Strauss, a grocery outfit.  The following year he is listed in D.C. directories and working for a Strauss outlet there.  By 1905 Meyerstein was operating a saloon at 417 Eleventh St. N.W.  In 1901 he had either purchased or by default obtained the trademark on Silver Wedding Whiskey.  Above is shown the official Patent Office approval. Note that Meyerstein asserted that the brand name had been used since September 1, 1874, obviously initiated by Keyworth.  Meyerstein may have been the source of a second Silver Wedding shot glass, shown right.

How Meyerstein fared in business is not recorded but at some point he may have sold or given up the rights to the Silver Wedding brand.  Now the brand was claimed by Colonial Wine Co., located (like Keyworth) at Ninth and D Streets N.W., and more particularly to Colonial’s flamboyant owner, Alonzo Bunch.  The 1910 census found Bunch, living on 9th Street, likely above his liquor store and saloon.  Age 33, he was Virginia born and married to a woman whose name — no kidding — was given to the census as Cuta Bunch.  No children were recorded in the household.

At least three shot glasses were issued by Colonial Wine, one involving the Silver Wedding Whiskey.   These would have been given to saloons, restaurants and bars featuring Bunch’s liquor.   Alonzo also was running a bar on the second floor of a building at 1213 Pennsylvania Avenue.   He had acquired the license after the previous owner was cited by First Precinct Lieutenant J. A. Sprinkle as follows:   “Under present conditions this place should not go on…I think it is the worst conducted place in the precinct, and unless the musical attractions and the woman trade is eliminated I recommend that this license not be granted.”   The license was denied and the saloon put in the hands of receivers, from which Bunch obtained it and, I trust, cleaned up the situation.  

Alonzo’s hands, however, were not altogether “clean.” He was the D.C. agent for Cincinnati Extract Works, selling vanilla, lemon and other extracts, all with a high alcoholic content.  In 1913, his extracts were found by Food and Drug officials to be “imitation products, artificially colored.”  The Feds confiscated Bunch’s stock and he was fined $15.

After the Congress in 1917 voted to make the District of Columbia “dry,” Bunch, who had continued with his liquor interests up until the end, made headlines in Washington D.C. papers during a Congressional hearing by accusing Justice Department officials of confiscating his liquor and then giving it away to friends.  It is not clear that his charges were ever confirmed.

Along the line,  Bunch sold Colonial Wine Company to a pair of Washington businessmen named Landmesser and Fox.  The circumstances of the change were somewhat mysterious.  The new owners announced in newspaper ad that the business would “hereafter be conducted in a first-class manner,”  seemingly implying something adverse about Bunch’s proprietorship.  Subsequent Colonial ads continued to advertise Silver Wedding Whiskey.  It cost $1.00 per quart; Colonial’s “better whiskies” cost $2.00.

The assumption must be that the sale of Silver Wedding brand rye ceased  with the coming of Prohibition.  No evidence exist of the brand being revived after Repeal.  The transfer of the name from Keyworth to Meyerstein to Bunch and beyond remains murky at best.  But 1917 was not the end of the saga.  Shown here is a 1932 “medicinal” prescription for Silver Wedding whiskey issued by a “Greens’ Eye Hospital” in San Francisco.  Was this whiskey from a usurper of the brand name or federally confiscated liquor from Washington, D.C. that had found its way to the West Coast?  Just another Silver Wedding mystery.