How the Colonel came by his rank, whether as a traditional “Kentucky” Colonel or as an officer in the Civil War is unclear. Nor is, if the latter was true, was his allegiance evident. Kentucky did not join the Confederacy but some residents held slave and its young men fought for both sides. The family appears to have been longtime residents of the Blue Grass State and at least one or two early Applegate settlers were involved in the whiskey business.
The Colonel first forges onto the scene in 1876 when he and a brother, Edward, purchased land in the small town of Yelvington, Daviess County, Kentucky, from a pioneer Kentuckian named Sam Taylor Hawes. The site was located on the road between Maceo and Yelvington. There about 1878 they constructed a distillery, pictured here. Information from insurance underwriter records compiled in 1892 suggest that the Applegate property included a two frame warehouses, both with metal or slate roofs. Warehouse "A" was 115 ft north of the still house, warehouse "B" was 107 ft south. The distillery itself was constructed similarly. The property also included cattle and a barn. The owner was recorded as being C. L. Applegate & Co.
The plant had a mashing capacity of nearly 250 bushels a day, making it a major whiskey-making plant. The company made bourbon using the brand names “Rosebud” and “Beechwood,” shown here on shot glasses. The distillery prospered until 1890 when the Applegate brothers were forced to shut it down for lack of a reliable water source. They continued to age whiskey in their Yelvington warehouses for another decade or more. Those structures and their bourbon escaped a fire that raged through the town in the late 1900s, destroying most of the businesses.
Meanwhile back in Louisville, another Applegate, William E. by name, was running separate whiskey enterprise. Born in 1851 according to passport records, William was a rectifier (blender) and distributor. His firm appears in business directories in 1872 at several addresses but by 1908 it had settled on locations in or near Louisville’s “Whiskey Row.” William called his firm Applegate and Sons. The sons were William E. Jr., born in 1875, and Hamilton C., born in 1879.
The record does not establish the exact relationship between the Colonel and William Applegate although the evidence is strong that there were familial ties. My speculation is that they were brothers and business allies. Evidence is an Applegate & Sons trade card advertising the Colonel’s brands of bourbon.
Meanwhile the Colonel with brother Edward were planning a new facility for rectifying, bottling and wholesaling whiskey. With financing from Henry Vogt of the Vogt Machine Company in Louisville, the Vogt-Applegate Co. was founded and began operation. The Colonel was a vice president and the company pitchman for the whiskey. The business was located at 236 Fourth Street but eventually moved onto Whiskey Row at 102-104 E. Main Street, not far from Applegate & Sons. An early 1900s photograph shows the location. As Vogt-Applegate met with success, the company opened branch offices in Kansas City and Chattanooga.
The Colonel’s firm bought product from the state’s distillers, with a principal supplier being Tom Moore’s at Bardstown, Kentucky. Vogt-Applegate bottled and sold liquor largely by mail directly to consumers. The company featured a wide range of brands, including, "Blue and Gray", "Dr. Cannon's Celebrated Medical Gin", "Old Ben Vogt", "R. F. V. Special", "Shaw's Malt", "Stork Overproof", and "Vogt - Applegate Co.'s White Corn.” “Old Beechwood” was its flagship label, advertised widely both regionally and nationally. Among giveaways to favored customers was a plate-sized paperweight. The arm seen on the glass weight, dated 1905, is that of the Colonel, whose face and figure were frequently in company ads.
The Colonel was also a spokesman for the whiskey rectifiers of Kentucky. When the state’s governor in 1906 called a special session of the legislature to tax rectifiers 1 1/2 cents additionally per gallon over he camped at the Lackman Hotel in Frankfort, the state capitol, to lobby and speak against the tax. He charged that the tax would drive out the whiskey blenders and the state would lose $30 million annually and potentially leave thousands of workers unemployed. Although the tax was reduced to 1 1/4 cents, it was enacted by the legislature and later upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, William E. Applegate was being recognized as a leading Louisville businessman and a horse racing enthusiast. He became a member of the board of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. In 1914, a horse owned by his son Hamilton won the Derby. The name of the horse was “Rosebud,” after the Applegates’ whiskey. While some authors have suggest that the horse was owned by the Colonel, racing historians more accurately credit Hamilton Applegate. The latter trademarked “Old Rosebud” in 1907 and issued a back of the bar bottle depicting the horse.
Sam Cecil, a historian of Kentucky whiskey, claims that when the Vancleave & Hardesty distillery near Raywick in Marion County went bankrupt that it was bought by the Colonel. Federal warehouse records tell a different story. They indicate that the individual responsible for whiskey transactions from those tax district warehouses was Hamilton Applegate, whose affiliation was with Applegate and Sons. To compound the confusion, William E. Junior appears to have had an interest in the Pepsin Whiskey Company, which appeared for a short time in Louisville directories.
My efforts to fix more firmly the relationships among the Applegates through death notices, obituaries and other records so far has been unsuccessful. One thing that is clear is that the William Applegates had a family mansion on Louisville’s fashionable Third Street. Built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, at various times from 1894 until 1938 it was owned or inhabited by William Senior, William Junior and Hamilton. Shown here, the house, now owned by others, continues as a residence.
Note: Although this article may have straightened out one or two mistaken ideas about Colonel and the other Applegates, it is far from definitive. Many loose ends remain. I am hopeful that Applegate descendants and others will see this post, provide me with more complete and accurate information, and at long last help me get the story straight.