Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mrs. Mary Moll: Selling Whiskey with “Wonderful Business Tact”


 In 1902, the Pennsburg, Pennsylvania “Town and Country” newspaper, under the headline “Woman Successfully Conducts Liquor Business,”  made the following comment:  “The history connected with this lady's business career is most interesting. Mrs. Moll, when she took possession of the business, had many obstacles to overcome but, being a woman of wonderful business tact, she bravely fought the many unpleasant features connected with the business and successfully built up a trade far superior to any in this country.”   That was Mary Moll, one of a handful of women who pursued the whiskey trade for an extended period and found success in her efforts.
Mary Moll’s story begins in the 1880s when Nathaniel B. Moll began a liquor business near Green Lane, a tiny hamlet in the northern regions of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  Shown above, despite its rural appearance, Green Lane was a reasonable location for a liquor dealership. It had road and rail access to markets, including the nearby Philadelphia metropolitan area.  

Nathaniel was a native Pennsylvanian, born about 1834.  My surmise is that early on he worked in agriculture, perhaps pursuing the tradition of the farmer-distiller, so common in that day.  His first wife was Sarah, like him a Pennsylvanian by birth. They married when he was about 26 and she was 20.  In quick succession, they had three daughters,  Alice, Mary Agnes, and Sarah.  Perhaps as a result of childbirth, Sarah died in February, 1866, age 25 years, one month and twelve days.

Perhaps looking for a mother for his three young girls,  Nathaniel married a second time.  This bride was Mary.  She too was a native Pennsylvanian, born in 1848, and twelve years younger than her husband.  Perhaps they had met through the Friedens Union Church, shown here.  The Friedens Church had been organized in 1858 by German-speaking Christians living in Montgomery County.  It was a “union” church, serving both Lutheran and German Reformed congregations.  Unlike some Protestant denominations, neither group frowned on the consumption of alcohol.  

The 1880 federal census found the couple living in Green Lane together. Mary’s occupation was given as “keeping house; Nathaniel’s as “liquor dealer.”  He carried on the business successfully for more than another decade, along the way bringing his wife increasingly into the business.  Out of his prosperity in the liquor business he built his family a splendid five story house.  It is shown here with, I believe, the Molls’ three grown daughters on the balcony at left and Mary, the stepmother, at right.  

In September 1891, Nathaniel died and was buried in the Frieden Church Cemetery.  His grave marker is shown here.  Some wives might have looked to sell her husband’s business to the first bidder.  Not so Mary.  She set out not only to run the liquor dealership, but also to expand it.   

With the Moll girls now grown, Mary was free to travel.  Her first instinct was to go on the road as a “drummer,”  and give customers and potential customers her personal attention to make sales.  The strategy worked and she was credited with ultimately tripling the business.   After three years, however, Mary tired of being on the road.  Looking at the costs-benefits she concluded she could build her trade more effectively by staying home.  She advertised widely that she had no agents or traveling men, and never went out herself.  By cutting sales expenses and paying no commissions, she contended, she could passing the savings on to her customers.  According to the local press:  “She now sells her liquors 50 cents a gallon cheaper than when on the road.”
Mrs. Moll did not skimp on things she though were essential to her marketing efforts.  Shown below is a clear flask that has her name embossed on it, an added expense for a bottle.  She also issued trade cards that depicted a bucolic rural environment, with a stream and a herd of sheep in the background.  It likely replicated scenes around Green Lane.  These were given out to customers with her advertising on the back.

Mary also believed in selling high grade liquor.  According to press accounts, in 1901 she received a shipment of five barrels of whiskey reputed to be twenty years old.  After sampling it, she found the quality high and immediately ordered twenty-five more barrels.  The product was Pennsylvania rye, made in 1881 that had been sent on a ocean journey to Bremen, Germany in 1894.  Not only was the trip — salt air and the rolling motion of the ship — claimed to increase whiskey quality, the move also avoided some federal taxes.  Her shipment remained in Germany for six years and then returned by sea to the United States.  The local paper reported: “Of the five barrels received by Mrs. Moll when first filled each contained 44 1/2 gallons. When Mrs. Moll received them the barrels contained from 14 to 20 gallons a piece.”  The result was reputed to be among the choicest and rarest liquors.

By this time, according to the press, Mary Moll was selling three hundred barrels of whiskey a year.  Although not a rectifier, that is a dealer mixing and blending her own brands, she was decanting the barrels into her own embossed glass containers, shown here.  That number of barrels would have resulted in 53,400 quarts of whiskey to be sold.  Her offerings were almost entirely Pennsylvania distilled rye.  A 1900 news story said she had just received in the past two weeks, 211 barrels, “of very pure rye whiskey that was made at three of the best distilleries in the State.”  Because she had contracted for this output, the story indicated, she had paid $6,803.32 in federal revenues on those barrels, equivalent to about $170,000 today.  

Mrs. Moll’s access to rail lines was a major advantage.  Her barrels of whiskey were shipped to her in large lots,  reputedly saving her money and allowing her to undersell competitors.   She also was able to market her whiskey by rail in crate lots to customers in other parts of Pennsylvania and on the East Coast.  The press reported that representatives of the Star Union Railroad Company had visited her at her home and tried to get her to agree to ship her whiskeys exclusively over their line. 

Mary Moll died in Green Lane in 1910 while still running her liquor business. She was 64.  That appears to have been the end of the Moll company, there being no one else to take over for her.  She was buried in the Friedens Union Church Cemetery, not far from the burial places of Nathaniel Moll and his first wife, Sarah.  Her grave marker is shown here.

Fred Minnick has written an interesting book on “Whiskey Women,” detailing the effects that women, past and present, have had on the American liquor trade.  Somehow, he overlooked Mary Moll in his otherwise comprehensive treatment of the subject.   It was a significant oversight.  As one Pennsylvania news outlet commented in 1901:  Mrs. Moll is considered to be the most successful liquor dealer in the vicinity,”










Saturday, October 24, 2015

J.C. Wilmerding Went from Riches to Rags to Riches

 A secondary school in San Francisco is named for J.C. Wilmerding, a philanthropist who left his affluent New York home at the age of sixteen to make his fortune in the West.  He initially found only poverty but despite his lack of education, his intelligence and energy in the liquor trade ultimately brought him fame, fortune, and the resources to help other young boys.

Jellis (sometimes given as Jillis) Clute Wilmerding was born in Moscow (now Leicester), a village in western New York in 1833.  He would be known throughout his life as “Clute.” His father was Henry Augustus Wilmerding, a well-off commission merchant and auctioneer with a reputation as “enterprising in business, of unquestioned integrity, and a very affable and pleasant gentleman.”  His mother was Nancy Clute who bore four Wilmerding children.

Clute’s life changed forever when he was 13 years old.  His mother, with whom he was very close, died and two years later his father married again, this time to Harriet Kellogg.  Henry Augustus would have six more children by this second wife.  Whether Clute did not get along with his stepmother or other reasons stemming from the changed situation at home, he determined to end his education early and seek his fortune in the West.  In 1850, when he was barely sixteen, he borrowed $5,000 from his father, and with his cousins, Edward and Felix Tracy, chartered a schooner, the Samuel M. Fox.  Built in a Manhattan shipyard, it was a brand new vessel.  The young adventurers filled it with merchandise, their goal California where the “Gold Rush” was at its height.

Wilmerding’s New York passport application for the trip contained no photograph but the document provided a physical description of the young man.  Clute was five feet, eight inches, tall, likely almost fully grown. His Dutch ancestry was evident.  He had blue eyes and brown hair.  His face was described as oval, with a high forehead, a “stout” nose, a large mouth, a round chin and an overall florid complexion.  Further identifying him was a scar on his right temple and a crippled hand.

With his cousins, Wilmerding sailed on the schooner from New York City, around Cape Horn, and reached San Francisco in September, 1849.  They pitched a tent on a beach about the spot where the Bank of California now stands at California and Sansome Streets and began to sell their wares.  The enterprise not successful, however, and Clute found himself virtually penniless far from home and owing his father a large sum of money.  In addition he had caught the gold fever sweeping the state and for the next year went prospecting.  That too failed to pan out and he returned to San Francisco determined to get a job and earn enough money to repay his father.  By dint of hard work over ensuing months he succeeded in paying off that debt.
Then his fortunes brightened.  As a 1928 biography tells it: “In addition to the amount which he had paid his father, he had saved a few thousand dollars and intended to go back to the mines and start a store. He missed the boat, which was to have taken him to Sacramento, and as there was but one boat a week, he was going back from the wharf to his lodging wondering what he would do next, when he changed to meet a Mr. Fargo, whom he knew slightly and who offered him a position as a salesman.”  What this account leaves out is that Fargo & Company was a liquor business.

The firm had been founded in San Francisco about 1865 by Earl and Jerome Fargo,  located at 214-216 Front Street.   Wilmerding was an immediate success in the whiskey trade.  Within a few years he was given an interest in the Fargo enterprise.  He was joined as a co-worker by Calvin W. Kellogg, possibly a relative of his mother.  About 1860, Wilmerding and Kellogg bought the firm, ultimately changing the name to Wilmerding, Kellogg & Company.

The company featured a limited number of brands.  One of them, “Days of 49.” was illustrated by a giveaway saloon sign with an attractive Western scene featuring Indians, cowboys and cattle.  It may have reminded Wilmerding of his own arrival in California that year.  A second label was a riff on his partner’s name showing up as “Kellogg,” “Kellogg’s,” and “Kellogg’s AA.”  He trademarked those brands in 1906.

Kellogg AA Old Bourbon was the flagship whiskey. Likely a blend and not bourbon, it sold with a striking gold and red label in quarts and flasks.  Under the paper label the bottle was embossed with the company name , the brand name, and San Francisco.  The Kellogg bottle also boasted a fancy silver cork closure held in place by a foil wrapper.  Like many local whiskey outfits, Wilmerding, Kellogg also gave away etched shot glasses with advertising.  

During this period, Wilmerding was increasingly recognized as a leading business and community leader, his success attributed by a biographer to his “genial and sympathetic nature.”  He is was accounted one of the most influential members of famous but controversial 1856 San Francisco Committee of Vigilance. These were groups of leading citizens who banded together to fight lawlessness and corruption in the Western tradition.  Together with an earlier committee,  these vigilantes were responsible for hanging eight presumed criminals and forcing a number of corrupt officials to resign.  In operation for only three months, the committee issued numbered medallions, shown here, to its members like Wilmerding.  Note the “All-Seeing Eye,” connoting vigilance.

Wilmerding also was active in more benign organizations.  The 1871-1872 records of the Society of California Pioneers listed him as one of its directors.  He was active in The Mercantile Library, the Academy of Sciences, a member of the Pacific Union Club of San Francisco and, with periodic visits there, of New York’s Union Club.  At the Republican National Convention of 1880 he was a California delegate.

In 1877 Calvin Kellogg departed the company.  Wilmerding continued to run the liquor business by himself for the next nineteen years, but for a time is recorded as having a silent partner named John Haviland.  Wilmerding introduced a new whiskey to the line of liquors, calling it “Larry’s Rye Whiskey.”  Shown here is a labeled quart bottle, front and back.  Note that embossed on the front is “32 ounces,”  emphasizing a full quart.  The back is embossed with the elaborate company logo and “Larry’s Whiskey.” One writer has speculated that this brand may not have been a good seller since it was never trademarked.

Clute Wilmerding never married but amassed a considerable fortune from his whiskey trade, as well as from important banking interests.   His generosity to a range of San Francisco charities was well known, many of them to assist children, in whom he is said to have had a special interest.  His contributions ranged from the Protestant Orphan Asylum, to the Hospital for Children, to the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association.  But his dream was to create a school “to teach boys trades, fitting them them to make a living with their hands, with little study and plenty of work.”

Some have traced Wilmerding’s passion for a vocational school back to having left home so early, with no opportunity to acquire a trade.  It has been suggested he felt the lack of one when he recalled his own grinding poverty in San Francisco as his early attempts to earn a living largely failed.  One biographer has speculated:  “Perhaps his early hardships in California, coming on him so suddenly, made him look with greater fondness of his interrupted boyhood.” 

As his health deteriorated in 1893, Wilmerding made elaborate legal arrangements to provide money for a educational institution that would be called  “The Wilmerding School of Industrial Arts” by willing it to the Regents of the University of California who were to create the school.  For the purpose, he left $400,000, the equivalent of $10 million today.  In February 1984, Wilmerding died.  
After his death the California Board, respecting his wishes, established the Wilmerding School, beginning its operations in buildings located next to the California School of Mechanical Arts, also known as the Lick School after its founder.  Over time the Wilmerding School merged with the Lick School and later with a training school for girls.  The main building is shown above as it looked in the 1930s.  Today it is known as the Lick-Wilmerding School and considered a prestige educational institution from which many students go on to college.
After Wilmerding’s passing, his company was bought by Louis Loewe.   Loewe had been part of a San Francisco liquor dealership known as Loewe Bros. that apparently had terminated operations the previous year.  Given the prestige associated with the founder’s name, the new owner called the revamped business the Wilmerding, Loewe Company and continued its popular whiskey brands.  This firm moved several times, once as the result of the San Francisco earthquake and fire.  National Prohibition forced it to close in 1919.

In death, Wilmerding’s left San Francisco, the city where he had made his fortune.  His body was carried back by train to New York and the Moscow cemetery where members of his family had been interred.  Earlier he had donated $10,000 to be used for maintaining and improving that graveyard, with an emphasis on preserving the burial place of his beloved mother, Nancy.  The devoted son was buried very near her.  Wilmerding’s “riches to rags to riches” life had come full circle.

Note:  Much has been written about the philanthropic efforts of Jellis Clute Wilmerding.  Virtually all of the articles, each praising his generosity, omit any reference to the source of his money — the whiskey trade.  It is as if the money dropped out of the sky on him, so sensitive has been the subject.  I hope this post will assist in correcting the record of Wilmerding’s life.






































Tuesday, October 20, 2015

John Nunan Knew the "Stings" of Prohibition

                           
John Nunan was a saloonkeeper in Winchester, Kentucky, downtown shown above. He ran an drinking establishment, shown below, at the corner of Washington and Marcie Street.   The photo indicates a business of some prominence and local prestige and is said to show John’s brother, Dennis, in the doorway at left.  Over the next few years Nunan was to take several “stings” from Prohibition zealots — at least one of them farcical — but in the end he was forced to succumb to them. Nunan’s was one story among thousands across America at the height of the so-called Temperance Movement.
Nunan’s travails began about 1906 when Professor H.K. Taylor, principal of a Louisville training school, was named president of the Kentucky Wesleyan College at Winchester.  This institution, shown below in a postcard view, had been founded in 1866 by the Methodist Church initially as a training academy for preachers.   Business and liberal arts courses later were added to the curriculum and in 1890 women were admitted for the first time.  Prof. Taylor was a well-known figure in church circles and an ardent foe of drinking.  In 1906, for example, he gave a well-publicized speech on how to “Improve the Standard of Civic Life” — presumably by banning drinking.
Early in his presidency of Kentucky Wesleyan, Prof. Taylor became highly affronted by the saloons in Winchester, apparently feeling they were hotbeds of temptation for his male students.  In 1908 Taylor plotted a “sting” he hoped would put Nunan and six other Winchester saloonkeepers either out of business or facing heavy fines and maybe jail time.   Apparently not trusting his older students, Taylor drafted a freshman named Roger Green, a minor, to go into Nunan’s and six other saloons to buy a bottle of beer.  The college president later said he took the step to get proof that could be used in court, including against the saloonkeepers, on selling alcohol to the underaged.

At each location, including Nunan’s, Green was successful in buying beer.  Taylor immediately whistled for the law and the seven saloonkeepers were arrested and hauled into court.  On the day of the trials, the crowd of onlookers was enormous.  The Winchester News reported:   “Nearly every attorney in the city is employed either on one side or the other, as each of the saloon men have a separate attorney.”  Counsels for the defense had a field day, making mincemeat of Prof. Taylor’s scheme.

Being of a theological rather than legal turn of mind, the don had failed to mount an airtight prosecution.  In the initial case brought against a saloon,  young Green said he was sure the proprietor had not sold the beer to him but could not positively identify either of the bartenders.   Other evidence that might have helped Prof. Taylor’s case were the bottles of beer that Green bought in each drink emporium.  Taylor had marked the each of the bottles to show what saloon it came from and had saved them as evidence.  The local newspaper told the rest of the story:  “…But the first night of the trial Prof. Taylor brought the bottles to the police court room and the trial was postponed.  Prof. Taylor left the bottles in the court room but they disappeared and therefore could not be produced.”

The judge summarily dismissed the case on the grounds that not only was there no physical evidence of purchases, Green could not identify who had sold him the beer.  The decision applied to Nunan and the other saloonkeepers, who walked out of court seemingly vindicated.  Prof. Taylor became a laughing stock in Winchester.  Within several months, he resigned as president of Kentucky Wesleyan and his resignation was accepted, seemingly with alacrity, by the Methodist Educational Board.  

John Nunan went back to living a more normal existence.  He had been born in Ireland about 1865, the son of Thomas Nunan,  and immigrated to the United States about 1888.  His older brother, Thomas, had preceded him and was living in Kentucky.  The 1900 census showed the brothers, both bachelors, living together and running a saloon in Winchester.  The 1910 census found John Nunan, still living the bachelor life and recorded his occupation as the proprietor of a saloon.   Nunan’s life would changed in 1917, when he married Elizabeth DeBoor, daughter of Irvin J.  and Julia Shea DeBoor of Lexington, Kentucky.   John was 52 at the time of their nuptials and Elizabeth was 32, an age when many in her time would have considered her a spinster.  There is no record of children from this union. 

Nunan’s saloon seems to have been flourishing.  In addition to selling whiskey over the bar,  the proprietor was decanting barrels of product into gallon and other sized ceramic containers and selling them both to wholesale and retail customers.  He affected a fancy underglaze black label that involved a frame around his name and address.  Examples shown here indicate that the pottery firms creating these containers had limited ability and the labels often were uneven in their  application.   On those shown here Nunan advertised two whiskeys, “Old Anderson” and “Blakemore,” the latter the product of J. N. Blakemore distillery of Frankfort, Kentucky. 

Meanwhile, new prohibitionary stings for Nunan and saloons were building in Kentucky.  This time the antagonist was a woman and a Presbyterian.  Her name was Frances Estill Beauchamp, shown right.  She had moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1880 and began forming chapters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union all across Kentucky.  Mrs. Beauchamp summed up her views in a 1911 editorial published by the Prohibition National Committee:    “We mean death to the distillery and the brewery, and on the ways to the end we will lend a hand to put out of commission all their retail agents.”   She had John Nunan in the cross-hairs.

Through Mrs. Beauchamp's strenuous efforts, despite Kentucky being America’s major producer of whiskey, county after county through local options laws voted to ban alcohol sales.   Shown here is a picture of a woman at a Kentucky anti-drink rally with a sign reading “Dry” pinned to her shoulder and accompanied by her two sons.   She held a sign over the kids that said: ”Don’t let the Saloon have a chance at us.”   In 1915 Clark County, of which Winchester is the county seat, an election was held under local option authority that resulted in turning the city from “wet” territory into “dry.”   The result was immediately challenged and an electoral board declared the vote void, only to have that decision set aside by the Circuit Court.  Then on appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals the entire matter initially was held in abeyance.  

That did Nunan little good.  While he could continue to operate for a while, his saloon license was due to run out and the Winchester City Council would not issue him or his fellow publicans another.  In a case known as Nunan et al vs. City of Winchester, he took the matter to the local court.  After it ruled against him, he raised the issue to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.  Despite its prior decision, that court refused to overrule the decision of the City Council.  Nunan was out of business.

Having lost his livelihood, and perhaps angered at his treatment by the pious folks of Clark County,  Nunan subsequently moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in “wet” Fayette County.  Just 48 years old, he apparently found employment, likely in the liquor business.  That was not to last.  Mrs. Beauchamp was still on the warpath, declaring her goal to be: “…Total abstinence for the individual and total prohibition for the State.”  She is credited for having a 1919 prohibition amendment adopted to the Kentucky constitution.  The entire state went “dry.”  She and her cohort had successfully killed the distilleries and breweries of Kentucky, as well as its remaining saloons.  National Prohibition followed a year later.   
Nunan died at the age of 64 in Lexington.  He may have been in ill health for some time.  His death certificate indicated the cause was a cerebral hemorrhage and that he was retired.  He was buried in Lexington’s Calvary Cemetery on December 9, 1929.  His marker shown above.  His widow Elizabeth would join him in 1945.   

Several recent books have emphasized the political and social importance of the saloon in the development of the United States.   John Nunan was just one of hundreds of publicans all across the country whose liquor business had to cope with constant challenges -- stings -- from prohibitionary forces.  Sadly, Nunan did not live long enough to witness Repeal, the return of alcohol sales to Clark County and Winchester, and a measure of vindication.    

Note:   Despite the end of National Prohibition 81 years ago, a majority of Kentucky counties are still totally or partially “dry.” The legacy of Frances Estill Beauchamp marches on.








Friday, October 16, 2015

Jeremiah Rohrer: Lancaster Leader in War, Peace — and Liquor

The unsmiling, almost angry, visage shown right is that of Jeremiah “Jere” Rohrer, an officer of a regiment in the Civil War, a post-war civic leader, and the leading liquor dealer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  A wartime biography of Rohrer noted that:  “While he sometimes assumed a stern look, he had a big and kind heart, which was always throbbing in unison with his command.”  Whether in battle or in booze, Jeremiah clearly was a force to be reckoned with.
Rohrer was born in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, in 1827 into a family with a distinguished military history.  His grandfather,  John Rohrer had picked up a musket and joined in George Washington’s army as part of a Pennsylvania battalion.  After suffering the cruelties of the winter at Valley Forge, John Rohrer was advanced from sergeant to lieutenant and fought to the British surrender.  Jeremiah’s parents, David and Mary (Parthemore) Rohrer inculcated in their children an intense pride in their Revolutionary War grandfather.

The 1860 census found Jeremiah at age 31 in Middletown, Dauphin County, married to Mary Ann (Redsecker) Rohrer and the father of three children, ages six to six months, the first of eight the couple would have.  He gave his occupation as “farmer” although a 1903 biography indicates that he also was working as a carpenter and builder.  Regardless of his familial and occupational responsibilities, when the Civil War broke out, Rohrer was stirred to action. 

A local dentist in Middletown had been trying, with poor results, to recruit men to fight for the Union by organizing a unit called the Susquehanna Rangers.  Rohrer arrived on the scene and in short order enlisted enough men to qualify as Company H of the 127th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, popularly known as the “Dauphin County Regiment.”  In turn Jere was named captain and Company H commander.  But Rohrer also had captured the attention of higher authorities who within days advanced him to the rank of major and assigned him to regimental headquarters.  In his diary Rohrer related how his leadership had inspired his recruits to enlist:  “They…expected that I would be their captain, and now I was going to leave them.  Had they known this they would not have joined the company.”  Rohrer reassured them:  “‘…I will act as a father should act for his children.’  This had a good effect and I never heard any complaint afterward..”

Major Rohrer and the 127th Pennsylvania would see plenty of hot action.  The regiment sustained multiple deaths and woundings.  Its first major battle was the December 1862 Fredericksburg campaign that proved disastrous for the men in blue.  In his diary,  Jeremiah spoke of “the tremendous and unavailing slaughter, with its frightful loss of brave Union solders….”  The next major conflict for the 127th was the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, once again a bloody Union defeat.  In this confrontation Rohrer was commended for rendering gallant service.  A month later, with his term of service ended, Rohrer was honorably discharged.  He did not re-enlist.
Rather than return to Middletown and his pursuits there, Rohrer almost immediately moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in April 1864 opened a liquor dealership there.  Initially he located the business at 35 North Queen Street but soon found his volume of sales required larger quarters and about 1881 moved to Centre Square, later renamed Penn Square.  Shown here, the square would be the home of his liquor business for the next 38 years.  It was a entirely fitting location for Rohrer; the square was the site of Lancaster’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a memorial dedicated in 1874 to pay tribute to the city’s Union soldiers killed during the Civil War.

His building encompassed four stories and boasted a sign announcing “J.Rohrer’s Wines and Liquors.”  The upper stories not only allowed him to store a considerable supply of beverages but also room to decant from barrels into bottles to be sold at retail with his own proprietary labels.  His flagship brand was “Rohrer’s “A” Whiskey.”  He marketed it in ceramic jugs and glass quarts and flasks, both with distinctive labels. With the proliferation of Pennsylvania distilleries he likely had no problem locating and contracting for raw product.  Rohrer made no pretense that his “A” whiskey was not a straight Monongahela rye, but openly sold it as “blended.”  He also carried a line of reputed “straight” whiskeys, including labels such as “Straight Old Rye Whiskey” and “Pennsylvania Bradford Old Rye.”  Seen below are examples of items that Rohrer gifted to favored customers, including a back-of-the-bar bottle advertising “Rohrer Whiskey” and shot glasses.  With his strong merchandising talent, Rohrer soon was the leading wine and liquor dealer in the Lancaster metropolitan area.

Additionally, as did many liquor dealers of his time, Jere featured a highly alcoholic medicinal remedy.  He called his “Rohrer’s Expectoral Wild Cherry Tonic” and advertised it as: “…For Diseases of the Chest, Liver, Kidneys, Lungs, Stomach and Bowels, Dyspepsia, Diarrhoea, Dysentery, Cholera-morbus, General Debility, etc.  A sure Preventative and Cure of Fever an Ague [Malaria], Intermittent and Billious Fevers.”   
Shown here, its bottle has become a favorite of both cure and bitters collectors.  It has a tapered rectangular shape with ornate detail including two embossed rope-like ovals and two sets of triangular three-part “cathedral” windows.   A few examples with intact labels have been found that make similar medical claims as above. As shown above, the label also featured a cartoon depiction of a race that finds Rohrer’s Wild Cherry Tonic, aka Rohrer Bitters, in a race of bottles and “winning in a (De)Canter.”  I fancy that is Jere himself riding the lead bottle.

Rohrer also was gaining prominence for his leadership in Lancaster community life.  Seeking political office, he was elected several times from his ward to both the town’s select and common councils.  He served from 1868 to 1871 as Lancaster County prison inspector and from 1872 to 1876 as register of wills.  Rohrer also was a commissioner charged with supervising the erection of a new local waterworks in 1885-1886.  His social activities were centered on several local Masonic chapters.   

Family members were also distinguishing the Rohrer name, as Jere’s wealth was able to give them good educations.  George Rohrer, the eldest son, entered the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania, became a doctor, and held distinguished posts as resident surgeon at Philadelphia Hospital and house surgeon in the Wills Eye Hospital, Philadelphia.  Eventually George set up a general practice in Lancaster and, a bachelor, lived with his parents.  Jacob Rohrer became a civil engineer and moved to Hawaii.  Grant Rohrer studied law and engineering to become a manager on the construction of Western railroads.  The youngest son, Howard, attended a pharmacy school but about 1897 joined his father in the liquor business.  As the elder Rohrer aged, the son increasingly took the reins of management.

Jeremiah died on October 23, 1910, at the age of 83.  The coroner reported the cause of death as “prostate hypertrophy,” a swelling of the prostate, possibly cancer.  As his family grieved by his graveside, he was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery.  His widow, Mary Ann, died two years later and was buried beside him.  The family monument is shown below.  Under Howard Rohrer, the company his father had founded continued to be successful until 1919 when shut by National Prohibition.

Because of the propaganda of the so-called Temperance forces, those who sold liquor at wholesale or retail often were pilloried and made social pariahs.  Very often an association with alcohol deliberately was omitted from a biography or obituary as if it were a black mark.  Jeremiah Rohrer stands in direct contrast to such prudery.  Yes, he sold liquor, but his story is of a leader in war for his country and in peace an important force in his community — in short, an American to be proud of.   
Note:  Much of the biographical information for this post was derived from the volume, “Biographical Annals, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,” J. H. Beers & Co., 1903.  Material on Maj. Rohrer’s Union Army service is from “History of the 127th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers,” 1893.



















Monday, October 12, 2015

The Sad Irony of Bristol’s Martin Lynch

 
Call it the ultimate irony:  A saloonkeeper killed by a drunken driver.  Sadly, that was the fate of Martin Lynch of Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee, shown left, a man who owned two saloons and was the source of regionally popular whiskey brands.
Born in May 1876, 1877, or 1878 —  sources differ — Lynch was the son of Eugene and Catherine Lyons Lynch.  His birthplace appears to have been a small Tennessee community about 170 miles west of Bristol.  It was called Deer Lodge, a mountain resort town with two hotels, a scattering of houses and a few businesses. Finding it to be too limiting for a young man with ambition, Lynch moved as a young man to Bristol, a city that straddles the state line between Tennessee and Virginia. 

As indicated by photo below that shows a row of liquor establishments lining the main street —  Southern Wine & Liquor,  Rambis Saloon, Mail Order Liquor — Bristol was a town teeming with saloons, wholesale and retail liquor dealers, and restaurants and hotels selling alcohol.  Lynch likely served an apprenticeship working in some of the many.  He first surfaced with his own establishment about age 31, owning and operating a saloon on Front Street.  He subsequently opened a second drinking establishment on Bristol’s State Street. 
Lynch was also a “rectifier,” that is, blending raw whiskeys and perhaps other ingredients in a back room in order achieve desired taste, color and smoothness.  He bottled this liquor under his own labels and marketed it locally and regionally through mail order sales.   Among Lynch brands were “Green Spring Corn,” “Blue Diamond Corn,”  and Parkwood,”  the last sold as a bourbon but likely was a blend.  His flagship brand was “Cherokee Corn.”  He failed to register any of these names with the Patent and Trademark office.  Lynch used glass containers for his retail sales, ranging in size from gallon jugs to quarts and pint flasks.

Lynch was finding that running saloons could be problematic.  In May 1911 the local press reported that he had closed up his saloon on Front Street and was consolidating it with the State Street saloon.   In February 1913 the latter establishment was robbed four times, but each time only whiskey was reported stolen.  In 1914, as reported in the local press, Lynch re-opened the Front Street business with both he and his brother, Eugene, listed as managers on the license application.
About the same time Lynch applied for and got a beer license.  By this time prohibitionary forces in Bristol had jacked up the annual cost to $1,000 — equivalent to $25,000 today.  Saloonkeepers had no choice, either buy the licenses or go out of business.

A bachelor until the age of about 37, in 1915 Martin married a woman some sixteen years younger than he.  She was Rosemary M. Willett and their nuptials took place in the Virginia half of Bristol.   Accord to records, the couple had four children,  Catherine, Martin Jr., Joseph, and Mary, who died in infancy.  

Like many liquor dealers Lynch was a source of giveaway items to favored customers.  His were generally mini-jugs, as two the shown here.  There was nothing to be given away to appease the forces of Prohibition, however, and little by little avenues of sales closed down.  The final blow came in 1916 when Virginia voted statewide prohibition of alcohol.  Lynch attempted to make a go of the situation by selling “near beer.”  One was Reif’s Special, advertised as a “temperance drink” and “a pure liquid food.”  Reif’s boasted that it had the “snappy flavor and foaming goodness of the hops with the alcohol left out.”  Alcohol substitutes proved unprofitable and Lynch finally was forced to shut the doors of his business.

With his profits from the liquor trade, however, he earlier had purchased a large farm just off Highway US 11, near Bristol. He built a large home there for his family.  He also raised cattle and did some farming.  Thus it may have been natural for him to move from liquor to food.  Martin Lynch is listed in Bristol directories during the 1920s, under the heading: “Butter, Eggs, & Cheese” at No. 27 City Market House. He also appears to have started a dairy, listed as Lynch Dairy, located at several addresses from 1929 into the 1940s.  A 1944 directory lists the Martin Lynch Meat Market at 614 Cumberland Road on the Virginia side of Bristol.

By this time, as shown here, Lynch had been presented with a grandchild by his daughter, Catherine.  This photo of a proud grandparent may have been taken only shortly before his death.  He was killed in an automobile accident in August 1953.   Lynch, now about 75 years old, was turning onto the highway near his home when he was struck by a speeding drunken driver.  He was rushed to Bristol Memorial Hospital where he was declared dead, the cause a “concussion of the brain.”  The other driver was found to be intoxicated but records do not indicate he was charged with a homicide.

As his widow, Rosemary, three children and five grandchildren, and other relatives and friends looked on,  Martin Lynch was laid to rest — a sad and ironic end to the life of a notable whiskey man.   













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.”