It should come as no surprise that Paul Jones (Jr.) one of America’s most famous whiskey men, should be buried in a large mausoleum, pictured above, fashioned after a Southern pre-Civil War mansion in Louisville’s historic Cave Cemetery. A former Confederate soldier, Jones and the liquor business he founded constantly looked backward with deep nostalgia for “The Old South” of memory.
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1840, into a affluent family, Jones, depicted here in middle age, knew the easy and bucolic life of Southern living as he was growing up, when plantation owners and their families were buffered from back-breaking toil and many tasks of everyday life by the existence of slavery. Below is an illustration taken from an advertising booklet issued by the liquor firm he founded. The caption reads “—When Paul Jones was young.” It shows an elderly black man, certainly a slave, making his way up a road past slave shacks. The picture creates a tranquil, nostalgic, antebellum mood.
However realistic the image, tranquility would be a thing of the past for Paul Jones at age 21 with the outbreak of the Civil War. His older brother, Warner, had helped form a Confederate company of infantry from Western Tennessee and was elected a captain in what became the 33rd Tennessee Regiment. Paul Jones joined a Virginia regiment and received the rank of lieutenant. When General Sherman threatened Atlanta, both Jones brothers’ units were ordered by General Lee to defend the Georgia city. In the ensuing battle Warner was killed.
After the Southern surrender, Paul Jones, according to one account, “returned home to find his home in ruins and the family destitute. His family’s wealth which before the war had been considerable had been invested in Confederate bonds and was gone.” Paul Jr., joined by his father, subsequently relocated to Atlanta. There the histories differ. Some say the Joneses began producing whiskey and cigars; others that Paul Jr. went to work as a salesman for Rufus Rose, a Georgia distiller. (See my post on Rose, September 30, 2011.)
This divergence is part of an ongoing and unresolved controversy about how the famous “Four Roses” brand got its name. Seagram’s, the current owner of the label, has perpetuated myths by spinning a tale of Deep South romance: “It began when Paul Jones, Jr., the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, became smitten by the beauty of a Southern belle. It is said that he sent a proposal to her, and she replied that if her answer were ‘Yes,’ she would wear a corsage of roses on her gown to the upcoming grand ball. Paul Jones waited for her answer excitedly on that night of the grand ball…when she arrived in her beautiful gown, she wore a corsage of four red roses. He later named his Bourbon ‘Four Roses’ as a symbol of his devout passion for the lovely belle….”
This is pure romantic nonsense. Paul Jones remained a bachelor for all of his days. What can be documented is that Jones was successful in the liquor trade in Georgia and that when its state legislature passed a law banning alcohol sales, he relocated about 1884 to Louisville, Kentucky. He quickly was able to obtain a prime location on Louisville’s “Whiskey Row” on Main Street where he began “rectifying” whiskey and selling at wholesale. With the “Whiskey Trust” controlling the price of whiskey stocks, Jones soon looked for a distillery of his own. The opportunity came when the J. G. Mattingly distillery ran into financial difficulties. This facility had been built by the Mattingly family in Louisville in 1874, located between High and Rudd Avenues and 39th and 40th Streets, and run successfully by them until 1889. In September of that year they ceased operation and the distillery went up for auction. Jones bought it for $125,000 — equivalent to about $3 million today.
For his money, according to insurance records, Jones obtained a mill and fermenting house, a boiler house, a distillery spirits building and a cattle barn. The property also held five warehouses, all of them brick with slate or metal roofs. With an assumed supply of whiskey the Paul Jones Company was on its way to becoming one of America’s largest distilling organizations. It used the brand names, “Paul Jones,” ”Four Roses,” "Jones Four Star,” "Old Cabinet,” "Old Cabinet Rye,” "Small Grain,” "West End,” and “Swastika,” In those pre-Nazi days the swastika was an Native American good luck sign.
Jones advertised from coast to coast including a giant lighted sign in New York’s Madison Square. The Paul Jones brand quickly found a national audience, packaged in glass bottles from quarts down to mini size. He often merchandised with “Old South” themes, including images he put on saloon signs and bar trays. Conjuring up a number of stereotypes about African-Americans, one showed a black mammy with a slice of watermelon and a black man with a bottle of Paul Jones whiskey. In the center is a boy torn between the two treats. It is entitled “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” a reference to a Medieval saint who was tempted by demons in the desert. Another rural image used in merchandising Paul Jones whiskey was of a grinning farmer pouring himself a glass. Used on saloon signs, it also graced shot glasses and back-of-the-bar bottles.
Throughout this period Jones was expanding his operations, taking over an adjacent building in which paper labels for bottles were stocked and stored. Curiously, Sanborn insurance maps show no areas set aside for offices in either structure. It has been suggested that Jones, living a presumably Spartan bachelor life, conducted all his business in the hotel room in which he resided for years. It was at the Galt House, shown below, just down the street from the Paul Jones Company.
As his business thrived, Jones made investments in Louisville, becoming a director and vice president of the American National Bank and president of the Louisville Fair and Driving Association. Throughout the early 1900s Jones suffered from a kidney ailment known as “Bright’s Disease” and died of its complications in 1905. He left money in his will for the building of the Southern mansion mausoleum shown at the top of this post.
After Paul’s death, Warner Jones’ son with other family members carried on the company. During National Prohibition in 1922 they bought the Frankfort Distillery, one of the few outfits that had been granted the right to sell “medicinal” whiskey during the dry period. That purchase kept their brands alive and when Repeal came the family added a third Louisville based distillery to supply them with spirits. The Joneses continuing fixation with the Old South was evident in a brochure they issued in 1934 that talks lovingly about “…The plunk of the banjo and the melancholy throatiness of some Afric chant drifting from a whitewashed log-cabin across damasked tobacco-patch….” Accompanying illustrations carried the same theme of black slaves happy to be serving white men.
In 1943, the family sold its liquor interests to Seagrams, a Canadian company that maintained the nostalgic (and sometimes racist) images that had characterized Paul Jones advertising for generations. Note the ad below with the happy black waiter and his fractured English. The Paul Jones brand eventually disappeared from liquor store shelves, although Four Roses has survived. Meanwhile, the original Paul Jones lies alone in his massive mausoleum, possibly dreaming still of his Old South.