Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Gunters Gave A Helping Hand to Jack Daniels

When Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, Tennessee, needed assistance in developing a market for his whiskey,  brothers in Nashville, William Thomas and Charles David Gunter, recognized the quality and appeal of Daniels’ product and helped make the distiller’s “No. 7” a widely recognized brand.  Relatively isolated in Lynchburg, a small town with one traffic light about seventy miles south of Nashville, Daniels needed the “big city” resources the Gunters could provide from their wholesale liquor house.

The Gunters bottled whiskey for Daniels. They had the staff and equipment to decant the barrels from his distillery into ceramic jugs that they ordered from area potteries and glass bottles bought from local glass houses.  Shown here are examples of the jugs that the brothers used for Daniel’s “No. 7.”  Early jugs have a primitive look to them with the labels in cobalt and black.  In time the presentation improved with more legible and professional-looking stenciled labels.  These jugs varied from quart size to one and two gallons. 

The Gunters advertised for Daniels.  In Nashville the brothers had access to a number of publications to run ads for “Jack Daniel No. 7” and his Old Time Distillery.  In the ad shown below that they proclaim themselves “sole agents” for the Lynchburg whiskey.  The Gunters also had access to modern printing techniques and specialists to design attractive labels for the glass bottles and flasks they merchandised under Daniels’ name.

The Gunters assisted distribution for Daniels. Nashville was a hub for roads and, more important, rail lines.  Nashville had good access to the North through the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) railroad, incorporated in Kentucky in 1850.  Several other Middle Tennessee railroads also provided Nashville connections. The Nashville and Decatur (N&D) ran from Nashville through Columbia to Tennessee's southern border, where it connected with the M&C and an Alabama railroad to Decatur.  The Edgefield and Kentucky (E&K), completed in 1860, ran from the Nashville suburb of Edgefield to Guthrie on the Kentucky boundary where it connected with other lines.  Shipment of Jack Daniels whiskey was possible to all points of the U.S.

Assistance from the Nashville brothers became particularly important after 1904 when Daniels’ No. 7 received a surge in popularity after receiving a gold medal for the finest whiskey at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.  The resulting demand required marketing capacities considerably beyond the capacity of the Lynchburg distillery — and over the next five years the Gunter brothers did their best to provide it.

The Gunters could not, however, hold off the “dry” forces that were sweeping the state.  In 1909 Tennessee passed a statewide prohibition law, banning the production and sale of alcohol, effectively ending the legal distillation of Jack Daniels whiskey.  The distillery, now under Lem Motlow, challenged the law in a test case ultimately appealed to the state supreme court where it was upheld as constitutional.   

The ban also shut down the W.T. & C.D. Gunter’s Nashville liquor business. That blow must have seemed particularly stinging since the Gunter family had deep ties to Tennessee.  Shown here, the progenitor was W. T. Gunter, born there in 1830, who served in the Tennessee militia during the Civil War.  He married Mary Elizabeth Ramsey and the couple had six children.  Among them were William, born in May 1855,  and Charles, born in December 1857.

When Tennessee went “dry,”, both men were married with families.  William, wed to Mary Reese of Moore County, Tennessee, had six children;  Charles, married to Delia Belle Newton, had three.   They were firmly rooted in Tennessee soil — and now their livelihood had been taken from them.  The brothers quickly decided to move their liquor house and chose Evansville, Indiana, as their new home, 150 miles north of Nashville.  That state seemed determined to remain “wet” despite prohibitionary forces.  By 1910 W.T. & C.D. Gunter Wholesale Liquors was recorded in local directories at 108 Main Street in Evansville, a major commercial avenue shown here on a postcard.

Although William appeared in Evansville business directories as co-owner of the firm, he continued to make Shelbyville, Tennessee, his home.  Charles, in contrast, had moved Delia Belle and his family to Evansville where they lived at 414 Chandler Avenue.   Two of William’s sons, Clyde and Herbert, also relocated to Evansville, working for the Gunter firm and listed as living at the business address.  Clyde was a salesman and Herbert a clerk.

Without Jack Daniels whiskey to sell, in Indiana the brothers turned to blending and bottling their own brands. using the names “Gunter’s IXL,” “Gunter’s IXL No. 7,” and “Gunter’s Landing.”  As shown here, they issued a series of shot glasses for their brands.  Those giveaway items would have been provided to restaurants, saloons and bars featuring the Gunter brands. 

The Gunter family appears to have prospered in their transplanted liquor house, in 1911 moving to new quarters at 23 Main Street.   Clyde married about the same time, his wife listed as Nana R.  In August 1913, Charles Gunter died in Evansville at  the age of 56 and his body was returned to Shelbyville, where he was buried in the Willow Mount Cemetery, not far from where his father and mother lay.  Delia Belle would follow him to the grave seven months later.

Although William continued to be linked to the liquor house in Evansville after his brother’s death, his son Clyde actually was managing the day to day operations of W.T. & C.D. Gunter Co., assisted by Herbert.   They continued in that mode until forced to shut down with the coming of National Prohibition.   William lived long enough to see “The Great Experiment” widely disparaged and on the brink of Repeal.  He died in November 1932 at the age of 80, twenty years after his wife, Mary, had passed.  They too are buried in Willow Mount Cemetery.

Today the Gunters are best remember in Tennessee — not Indiana — because of the many artifacts that remind collectors and others of the contribution that the brothers made to the ultimate success of Jack Daniels’ Tennessee whiskey.   At a time when No. 7 was just getting a start, William and Charles had provided crucial assistance that Daniels’ distillery needed to achieve an expanded customer base and national attention.