Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Henry Laub Blazed a Whiskey Trail from KY to CA

Shown right in a 1922 passport photo, Henry Laub was steeped in Kentucky whiskey merchandising when about 1905 he pulled up stakes in Louisville and headed to Los Angeles where he founded the Old Plantation Distilling Co.,  There he sold what he claimed were “pure” Kentucky whiskeys and offered an iconic “Souvenir from Sunny California” carafe from which to pour them.

The son of Isaac and Hannah Abraham Laub, immigrants from Germany, Henry was born in Louisville in November 1858.  His father was a local grocer with a store at 991/2 Market Street between Floyd and Preston.  Liquor was a major part of its sales.  The family initially lived over the store.  As his sons matured, Isaac took them into the business, Henry included.  He would work for his father until 1884, absorbing information about merchandizing whiskey.

In 1882, at the age of 24, Henry married a 18-year-old woman named Hannah, a native of Kentucky whose parent both were native Kentuckians.  They would have one daughter, Florence, born in 1883, and a second daughter who died at six months.  The marriage launched Laub into another career.  Hannah’s sister Fanny had married Benjamin Stromberg and her sister Mollie had wed Leo Kraus.  With these brothers-in-law, in 1884 Henry co-founded a company that manufactured trunks, suitcases and other traveling bags.  The business was successful but after six years, Laub sold out his interest to Stromberg and Kraus who moved the plant to St. Louis.   The money and opportunity sent Henry’s mind westward.

“Realizing the future in store for Los Angeles,” wrote the LA Herald, Laub headed to California with a partner named Edward Mansbach and opened a liquor house. The Herald commented:  “Backed by sufficient capital to meet every emergency
…and possessed of the experience which is necessary in dealing with a discriminating public, the firm entered the Los Angeles liquor field prepared to make a successful bid for a large patronage.”

Calling their enterprise The Old Plantation Distilling Co., the partners found rapid success. Located initially at 108 South Broadway, the company within a month had outgrown their space and expanded to an adjoining storefront.  A 1906 company ad touted the reason for growth:  “No hypocrisy but actual facts—no misrepresentation but the truth—no vile substitute but purity.  No business such as our could be built up so quickly if we swerved an inch from these principles.” 

Despite these protestations of truth-telling, Laub and his partner claimed in ads to be distillers, citing as theirs Distillery No. 401, 5th District, located near Claremont, Bullitt County, Kentucky.  While Old Plantation Distilling might have been buying its whiskey from that distillery, it did not own it.  That facility had been built in 1880 by a trio of partners and was known as the Murphy, Barber Distillery.  A review of bonded warehouse transactions from this distillery from 1898 to 1918 nowhere indicates direct participation by Laub or his company.

The company featured a limited number of proprietary brands, with “Old Platonic” as the flagship.  It was sold as Kentucky bourbon “for family and medical purposes.”  Its label contained a line from Stephen Foster’s song:  “My old Kentucky home…good night.”  Other brands were “Old Plantation” “Old Huckster Whiskey,” “White Corn Whiskey,” “and “White Rye Whiskey.”  Laub bothered to trademark none of them.  He marketed those products in glass, from gallon bottles to quarts and flasks.  They bore paper labels but underneath were embossed with the company name and “Los Angeles.”

In a 1906 ad, Laub’s company touted its prompt service delivery carried out on bicycles.   But he was increasingly aware of the utility of motor vehicles for such purposes.  In 1911 Laub and Old Plantation made front page news in Los Angeles with a story about the company having purchased three two-ton trucks to assist with deliveries.  They promptly ceased using horses and possibly bicycles.  The paper reported:  “…In the short time the trucks have been in use Mr. Loeb [sic] says that they have reduced his delivery expenses half and he is serving a third larger territory.”   Laub was also talking about ordering a fourth truck, a five-ton vehicle.

As the march to Nation Prohibition proceeded, Laub was recognized for his leadership as a whiskey man and in 1915 unanimously elected president of the Allied Industries of Southern California, an organization organizing the campaign against prohibition in the lower half of the state.  The Wine & Spirits Journal  quoted Laub as saying that “…Los Angeles is to be the background in the coming fight and a majority of 50,000 votes against the dry amendments will have to be raised in that county.”

Although the prohibitionary referendum seems to have been defeated, Laub apparently could see the end of the liquor trade.  In 1916 the Western Canner & Packer reported that Laub was organizing a cannery for fruits and vegetables to be called the California Sanitary Canning Company with headquarters in Los Angeles.   The owner said that the new enterprise would give employment to 200 persons.  The following year Laub, now 58, closed out the Old Plantation Distilling Company together with a second enterprise called the Napa Wine Company. Instead, he was operating his canning factory from a concrete building at Industrial and Mill Streets, Los Angeles, initially concentrating on tomatoes. “The uncertainty of the wholesale liquor business caused the change,” reported The Grocer’s Advocate trade paper.

Both articles referred to him as “Colonel” Henry Laub.  Since he had not been involved in the military at any time in his life, this title must have been the honorary “Kentucky colonel,” a distinction awarded by the state’s governor to  individuals who had benefited the Kentucky economically, socially or culturally.   My assumption is that Laub’s strong exertions to bring Kentucky whiskey to Southern California had been recognized in his native state.

Throughout his life, travel abroad had been a passion of Laub’s.  He left the U.S. on trips, according to passport and ship records, in 1908, 1919, 1920, 1923 and 1925.  The most unusual jaunt was his 1920 trip to China, Japan and Hong Kong aboard the ship “Empress of Russia,” embarking from Vancouver, Canada.  In his passport application Laub said he was going as a “missionary.”  Since the Jewish faith does not evangelize, either he was spoofing or had converted to another religion.

By the 1920 census, Laub at 61 was a widower.  He was living alone with a single male servant, a Chinese named Seth Wong.  Laub had retired from business entirely.  He lived another six years, dying at the age of 68 in 1926 and was buried with other family members in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles. His wife Hannah does not appear to be interred with him.

When Henry Laub first settled in Los Angeles and opened his liquor house, the population had just exceeded 100,000.  When forced to shut down in 1918, the city had passed the half-million mark and was heading toward a million.  Not only had his foresight picked a city on the move, Henry Laub had brought California’s drinking public the riches of blue grass bourbon, an achievement that had earned him the title of  "Colonel," even to his tombstone.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

William C. Whipps Was “Czar” of Kalispell, Montana

After an adventurous youth spent on the Western frontier, William Carvoso Whipps settled into Kalispell, a town in northwest Montana.  As a prominent businessman and owner of the Kalispell Liquor & Tobacco Co., Whipps, shown here, served four terms as mayor and became known as the “Czar” for his forceful advocacy of public improvements and for the creation of Glacier National Park.

Of English ancestry, Whipps’ great-grandfather, Benjamin Whipps was a Maryland slaveholder and and early settler in Ohio.  William’s father, Lloyd, a farmer, had served with an Ohio regiment in the Civil War.  His mother, Louise Grant Whipps, was from a Virginia family and distantly related to General Grant.  In rapid succession the couple would have nine children, of whom William, born in 1856, was the fourth.  Several months after the birth of her last child in 1865, Louise Whipps died.

William was educated in the one room school house common to rural Ohio and then sent for secondary education to Oberlin, Ohio, where he received a general commercial education and trained in telegraphy.   That skill would propel the restless young man westward.  In 1972 at the age of sixteen, Whipps found a job on the Nebraska frontier at McPherson as an telegraph operator for the Union Pacific Railway.  That town was the home of W. F. “Buffalo Bill” and other noted Westerners, whom the boy got to know well.  According to Whipps’ biographer:  “…Many of its white characters were gamblers, horse thieves and murderers…He shared in the excitement and romance of the time.”

That excitement led Whipps to give up his telegraphy employment and join a small party that on June 26, 1875, embarked on a hazardous expedition to “off-limits” Indian country to prospect illegally in the Black Hills, part of a gold rush to the area.  Because of the dangers from hostile Pawnee, Sioux and Cheyenne, the group traveled principally by night, taking twenty days to reach their destination.

Arriving in the Black Hills on July 16th,  Whipps and his companions soon were at work prospecting and developing their claims.  President Grant, however, had sent General George Crook, called by the Apache “Chief Wolf,” to the Black Hills to clear them of gold miners.  Thirteen days after Whipps’ arrival, Crook, shown right, ordered all prospectors to leave the Indian territory by August 10 or be arrested and taken as prisoners to Fort Laramie.  With no choice but to obey, Whipps returned to Nebraska, almost starving on the return, and went back to working for the railroad.  

A series of jobs ensued that ultimately took him further west to Montana where he ran a freight forwarding business.  That led to his becoming the manager of a bank in Helena, the state capitol.  While in Helena he met  Annie E. Osterhout, a Pennsylvania-born woman who had come west as a girl with her parents.  They married there in October 1886; he was 30, she was 29.  They would have two children, William O., born in 1888, and Carole Louise, 1896.

Whipps then moved to Demersville, Montana,  organizing a bank there, and finally, circa 1892, relocated to Kalispell, shown above, founding The First National Bank and erecting the first brick building in the town to house it.  He was manager and cashier of that bank until 1898 when he received a five-year federal appointment to run the United States Land Office.   Ending his term in 1903, Whipps immediately established a mercantile firm and brought in his now mature son, William, as a partner.  They called it W. C. Whipps & Son and erected the Whipps Block, then the largest and most modern building in Kalispell.  

It was there Whipps located his liquor house, naming it the “Kalispell Liquor and Tobacco Company.”  The photo below shows his establishment.  He sold his liquor both at wholesale and retail in ceramic jugs, now highly prized by collectors.  The jug below, a half gallon, recently sold at auction for $2,402.00.  

Throughout this period, Whipps also was pursuing a political career.  He became Kalispell’s first elected mayor in 1893 and served three consecutive two-year terms.  During this tenure, he was instrumental in installing a complete sewer system, paving the principal streets, and lining city thoroughfares with trees. In 1910, public clamor was for Whipps to run again.  He did and, without opposition, won a fourth two-year term. 

During that second administration he pushed for and achieved the reclamation of some 43 acres of marsh lands and transformed it into public green space known as Woodland Park.  Whipps also oversaw the installation of cement sidewalks, a system of lighting for the business district, and new municipal finance auditing systems.  He also able to obtain lower consumer water and electricity rates.  “Most of what was accomplished by him had to be fought through against strong opposition,” according to a biographer.  To both his adversaries and friends, Whipps became known as the “Czar” of Kalispell.

Whipps also was active socially.  He is credited with being one of the prime movers in building the Masonic Temple.  He was a Knight’s Templar and 32nd Degree Mason, a Mystic Shriner, and a member of several fraternal organization, including Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and the Elks.  He and his wife were members of the Episcopalian Church.

Under the management of Whipps and his son, the Kalispell Liquor & Tobacco Co. prospered.  Like other local merchants, he gave out tokens good in exchange for goods.  One shown here could be exchanged for a drink at the bar in his establishment or for a cigar.  The ample profits from his liquor business Whipps invested in land, owning ranches near Kalispell and acres of fruit orchards near Flathead Lake, shown below.

He also had a summer home at what was then the Glacier National Forest Reserve in Montana.  When the Forestry Department was considering the sale of timber from the reserve from a site near Lake McDonald, shown here, Whipps “showed himself an aggressive friend of conservation and took up the matter directly with President Roosevelt, describing its wondrous beauty….”  His was among a number of voices calling for the Glacier region to be made a national park, a process begun by Roosevelt and completed by his successor, President Taft.

Even as the liquor house prospered, prohibition forces in Colorado were on the move.  By 1916, four years before National Prohibition, the state voted itself “dry,” forcing Whipps to shut the doors on the Kalispell Liquor & Tobacco Company.  He spared little time shifting into other occupations.  In addition to managing his own land, Whipps became a real estate agent and also sold insurance.   The 1920 census found him, age 63, living with his wife and daughter.  Son William D. at the time was serving in the U.S. Army.

Whipps lived long enough to see National Prohibition on the brink of Repeal, dying at the age of 77 in November, 1933.  He was buried in Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell.  His monument, shown here, was unique in having a base of boulders and stones, topped by a granite slab that holds a mental plaque bearing his name.  In death as in life he was honored as an outstanding citizen of Montana and his home town.  Said one tribute:  “It is the deliberate judgment of a large part of the citizenship of Kalispell that no one man has longer exemplified the strongest influence of his public spirit in behalf of all matters affecting the welfare of the community as William C. Whipps….”

Note:  Several biographical sketches have been written about William C. Whipps, during his lifetime and subsequently.  The basic information of each is from the book, “Montana:  Its Story and Biography,” edited by Thomas Stout and published in 1921, from which the quotes here have been taken.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Haunted Houses of Whiskey Men

Foreword:  Over the years I have profiled three pre-Prohibition whiskey men whose saloons in our time have achieved the reputation of being haunted.  According to the stories circulated, ghosts are regularly sensed or heard, if not seen, in those former drinking establishments, some incidents solemnly attested to by psychics and “licensed” ghost chasers.

The first paranormal venue is “The Bird Cage,” a variety theater and saloon in Tombstone,  Arizona.   Constructed of adobe over wood, the place was founded by Joe Bignon, an actor, dancer and “impresario” who operated a number of music hall saloons before settling down in Tombstone with his wife, Matilda Quigley.  She was a six foot tall, 230 pound dancer whom Joe called “Big Minnie.  She is said to have “dazzled” audiences by prancing around the stage in pink tights.  She doubled as a bouncer.  Both are shown here. 

In reality what Canadian Joe and Big Minnie were running, in addition to a theater and saloon, was a bordello.  A $25 Bird Cage token exists, reputedly from this era, that guarantees:  “Square and Honest Gambling, The Best Liquors and Wine, Always Many Lovely Fancy Women,  Acclaimed the Best Sporting House in the Southwest.”  The flip side of the coin promises that it is “Good in Trade Toward All Favors of the House.  Our Fancy Women Will Fulfill Any Wish.”  It is signed by Joe.

Because of changing economic times, Joe and Big Minnie in 1892 pulled up stakes and moved to Pearce, Arizona, where a gold strike had occurred.  Under other ownership, The Bird Cage survived until National Prohibition and then was shut for a period.  As Tombstone evolved into a major tourist destination, mainly featuring the gunfight at the OK Corral, the theater-saloon was revived — but now reputed to hold ghostly inhabitants.   

Guests report seeing prostitutes in the bar, shown below, wearing elaborate dresses and cowboys who are glimpsed and then disappear.  One of the most famous is a “man in black” wearing heavy boots who is said to stomp back and forth on the stage.  At night sounds of laughter, yelling and music sometimes are heard from the saloon’s interior, shown here.  A psychic trying to enter the Bird Cage has reported being stabbed repeatedly in the chest by a ghost, causing her shortness of breath (nothing fatal).

These phenomena may have their explanation in Tombstone’s strong interest in the tourist trade.  The Bird Cage offers “Ghost Tours” daily starting at 6:15 p.m., tickets available at the box office.  The brochure suggests:  “Bring your camera and sense of adventure.”  The heritage of showman Joe Bignon lives on.

The Holyoke, Massachusetts, Tourist Bureau may be overlooking a prime opportunity by not exploiting the derelict building at 30 John Street, shown here.  Once it held a drinking establishment owned by Patrick “P. J.” Murray that opened about 1913.  Called the Murray Saloon, it was popularly known as the “Bud,” possibly because Murray was Holyoke’s first distributor of Budweiser beer and president of the Bud Wine Liquor Company.

Only after National Prohibition did Murray’s establishment merit attention as a potential hangout for ghosts.  He closed the first floor saloon, but a speakeasy, was stocked with Murray’s brands of liquor, including The Pee-Jay Rye Whiskey No. 6.  

This illegal drinking establishment was rigged with flashing lights to warn patrons of impending raids. There were escape routes through passageways behind fireplaces on each floor and apparently a tunnel leading from the basement of City Hall to Murray’s basement.  It is said that the mayor and police chief used to visit the speakeasy after hours using this tunnel.

The ghost of P.J. Murray is said to haunt the Bud. Ex-bartenders and regulars at the establishment talk of strange happenings over the years.  One patron reported encountering a ghost in the men’s restroom, a sighting written up in the Holyoke Transcript newspaper.  Others speculate that the ghost is Murray’s nephew, Joseph Murray,  who inherited the establishment.  The structure currently is on the local inventory of historic buildings and a candidate for rehabilitation and use.  Get busy Holyoke Tourist Bureau!

The final ghost story involves a family named Arbona that ran The Gulf Saloon in Pensacola, Florida, for thirty five years.   When the premises, shown left, later were being expanded, the skeleton of a man was found in the excavation.  Evidence indicated he had been stabbed in the chest.  Since then, the Arbona Building widely has been considered haunted. 

The family founder,  Eugenio Arbona, has fallen under suspicion as knowing something about the bones and how they got there.  Born in 1931 in Palma Mallorca, Spain, he emigrated to the United States while still in his twenties and settled in Mobile, Alabama, working as a bartender.  Eugenio and a friend subsequently were convicted of murdering a local cigar maker and sentenced to an Alabama prison.  When the Civil War broke out in 1961, Arbona was released after serving only ten years of his sentence, possibly on the expectation that he would join the Confederate Army.

Instead Arbona married, started a family, and moved to Pensacola, Florida, where he opened the Gulf Saloon.  Several years later he divorced and returned to Spain, leaving his ex-wife and an elder son to run the drinking establishment in what became known as the Arbona Building. 

When the Pensacola Historical Museum was moved to the Arbona Building in 1991, spooky things began to be noticed.  Museum volunteers have reported many paranormal experiences.  According to a book called “Pensacola Haunted,”  objects in one location in the museum in the evening were found in a different location the next morning.  Cigar smoke was smelled at times although smoking is forbidden.  Noises frequently were heard after hours on the second floor where the Arbonas had lived.  

Visitors have run down from the second floor in fright because of a strong feeling they were not alone. The elevator has been known to move between floors on its own.  In 2008 a young woman was touring the museum room shown below when she felt a sharp tug on her shoulder.  She thought it was her boyfriend, but when she quickly turned to complain, not a soul was standing there.  

In 2008 the Atlantic Paranormal Society came to Pensacola to film an episode of “Ghost Hunters” in the museum.  Members of the filming group were standing at the front desk talking about Eugenio Arbona and analyzing his criminal past.  As recounted:  “Suddenly, everyone present heard three rapping sounds coming from the back of the building.  They were the only ones in the Arbona Building at the time.  They concluded that someone did not want Mr. Arbona’s name slurred in his own house.”

Haunted?  Who can say authoritatively about any of these sites?  Although in each case the circumstances differ, these three former saloons have provided the venue for unexplained paranormal activities.  Perhaps even in the nether world, folks get thirsty for a shot of whiskey. 

Note:  Prior posts on this blog have featured longer descriptions of each of these whiskey men and their saloons:   Joe Bignon and the Bird Cage, January 8, 2014;  P. J. Murray and the Bud Saloon, September 7, 2017 (author, Ferdinand Meyer); and the Arbonas and the Gulf Saloon, October 6, 2014.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

W. C. Patterson: A Fortune Lost in Whiskey Flames

William Chamberlain Patterson for decades seemed to live a charmed life.  Brought to Philadelphia as a boy, he became prominent in military, business and political circles there, including presidency of the Pennsylvania Railroad, “amassing a handsome fortune,” according to an obituary.   Patterson’s life changed drastically, however, when he involved himself in the pre-Prohibition whiskey industry and a disastrous fire brought him to the brink of ruin.

Patterson neither made nor sold liquor.  His role was in providing storage for whiskey as it aged from Pennsylvania distilleries that entrusted their product to him for safe and sanitary keeping.  To that end, on Front Street, above Lombard, he had erected a structure known as Patterson’s bonded warehouse.   It was composed of eight buildings, all but one seven stories high and 220 by 135 feet.   The walls of each structure were 18 inches thick and solid from the cellar foundations to the roof.  The buildings were connected by stout iron doors, kept closed at all times.  

Said one observer:  “Each was supposed to be completely fireproof, and built without connection with each other, and therefore supposed to be perfectly safe for destruction by fire.”  During the Civil War the complex had held supplies of sugar, molasses and cotton, but afterward “vast amounts of whiskey” had been placed there by both the U.S. Government and some eleven individual distillers, among them some of Pennsylvania’s best known whiskey-manufacturers, including companies operated under the names of Hannis, Gibson and Young.

On the night of August 4, 1869, one wall of a building facing Lombard Street collapsed, reputedly because of excessive weight from 25,000 liquor barrels on the floors.  Stored whiskey went down with the ruins and in a few moments a violent explosion occurred, scattering timbers, bricks and flames.  Firemen appeared to have isolated the damage and it was thought other sections of the warehouse could be saved.  Then a second building exploded in fire and soon the entire complex was engulfed.  The front page of the Harpers Weekly of August 21, shown above, told the story.

Burning whiskey ran down the gutters and into the sewers, exploding and breaking open a section, but not impeding the flow through a sewer leading to a Philadelphia wharf, setting it ablaze.  The flames threatened a ship at the pier, but it was towed to safety.  Philadelphia folklore says that citizens could be seen scooping flaming whiskey from the gutters with every conceivable container — a story that is unconfirmed.  A photo above from the Heaven Hill Distillery fire in 1996 shows what a river of burning whiskey looks like.   The ruins of the huge warehouse  became a favorite of photographers, some of whom created stereopticon view for 3-D effects.  

Accounted one of the worst conflagrations in Philadelphia history, no direct casualties were laid to the disaster.  The largest loser among those with whiskey stored there was H.C. Hannis & Co.  

Founded by Henry Hannis in 1863, this distillery had experienced phenomenal growth almost from the outset. Establishing his headquarters in Philadelphia, Hannis bought the Mount Vernon Distillery in Baltimore, shown here, and changed the name to his own.  Although his Baltimore facility had four warehouses for aging whiskey, they proved inadequate to his needs, leading him to store 8,000 barrels in Patterson’s warehouse, almost one-third of the total lost.  Some of his prime whiskey was estimated to be worth $15 a gallon. [See my post on Hannis, Feb. 2, 2012].

Now all eyes turned to William C. Patterson, a man who up until that time had seemed “golden.”  Born in Tazewell, Clairborn County, Tennessee, in 1820 he had come to Philadelphia as a seven year old boy with his parents.  He was the brother of General Robert Patterson, a man 21 years his senior and already established in the Philadelphia banking community.  William’s career began by working for his brother.

The younger Patterson’s rise in business circles was swift, at the age of 34 elected as a director of the Pennyslvania Railroad and chosen as its president a year later.  The Pattersons also had political clout and William was elected to the Philadelphia City Council, later to the Pennsylvania legislature, and once was an unsuccessful Democratic Party candidate for mayor.

When the Civil War broke out, Robert Patterson, who had been a major general in the Mexican-American War, was called back to service.  Although he inflicted an early defeat on Stonewall Jackson, Robert was blamed for events that contributed to the Union debacle at the first Battle of Bull Run.  He was mustered out of the Army in July 1961.  William, holding the rank of colonel, had accompanied him to the front as his unpaid aide and the two returned to Philadelphia to resume their business careers, both amassing fortunes.

William continued to aid the war effort by rendering services to the troops.  From one account:  “Day after day he forwarded to the hospitals and to the refreshment saloon supplies for the passing troops or delicacies for the sick and wounded, and many of the convalescent owed their returning strength largely to drives taken in the carriage he generously placed at their disposal.”  In these efforts he was assisted by his wife, Caroline Ellmaker Patterson.

As a result of the fire Patterson faced the greatest challenge of his life.  The loss of his warehouse and its contents was placed at $5,000,000 — more than 20 times that in today’s dollar.  Of that amount only $2,299,000 of the lost whiskey was covered by insurance.  No fewer than 54 insurers were involved, including five in England, all of them to be dealt with individually.  Typically insurers were slow to act, difficult to deal with, and often suspicious that whiskey-related fires had been set.  Patterson’s burned out buildings also were covered by multiple insurers.

The bottom line for Patterson was the personal responsibility to make good all uncovered losses.  The cost is said to have swept away most the wealth he had amassed earlier.  Said his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “From this blow his fortunes never entirely recovered, but as he had borne prosperity without being spoiled by it, so he met adversity with a calm front and an equal mind.”  

Patterson’s reputation as a businessman remained unaffected by the fire.  Opined his obituary:  “His business talents and his lofty integrity of character, illustrated by the grace of courtly manners and by natural kindness of heart, secured and retained the esteem of his old associates in mercantile and railroad circles…”  When a new Philadelphia bank, the Union Trust Company, was chartered in the early 1880s, Patterson was elected its president.  

He held that post for only a few months, however, before a fall on the ice fractured a leg.  The break was a serious one requiring a heavy cast and absolute bed rest.  The result, according to the medical terminology of the day was “ossification of the arteries.”  Patterson died on the morning of June 21, 1883, at the home of a son, William C. Patterson Jr. at the age of 70.  He was buried in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery where many of the city’s whiskey men are interred.  Shown here is his unusual monument, one shared with his brother, General Robert.

Despite all the precautions that Patterson and his architect had made to fireproof the whiskey warehouse, they had not calculated correctly the weight-bearing capacity of the structure.  Anxious to make sure that the interior space was fully occupied, Patterson had allowed the floors to become overloaded with heavy barrels of whiskey, leading to the second largest fire in Philadelphia history up to that time.  Thus, because of a single fatal error, the wealth Patterson’s ample talents had earned him over many years of effort virtually were wiped out overnight — a fortune lost in flaming whiskey.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Odd Couple of Natchitoches and Their Saloon

Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish) is a picturesque town in south central Louisiana founded by the French in 1714.  There Henry Hughes, an Irish Catholic, and Morris Aaron, a Jew, forged a friendship that led them to open the Phoenix Saloon in downtown Natchlitoches during the 1880s and run it successfully for  years until local residents in 1907 voted to shut them down.

The Phoenix Saloon building, located at the corner of Horn and Front streets, still stands.   It can be seen above as it looks today, overlooking Cane River Lake, on the left, just to the right of the tall yellow building.  Fortunately, a photo also exists of the Phoenix as it looked in its heyday.  The first floor housed a lobby, a segregated pair of barrooms for blacks and whites (a law in Louisiana) and a gambling room where men played poker and faro.

Built in the 1830s, the saloon also featured an ornate winding iron staircase, shown here, that rose to a rear veranda and the second floor.  The Phoenix Restaurant was located there providing Natchitoches residents with a good Cajun meal.  Second floor balustrades also featured decorative wrought iron.  Behind the building was a smaller structure where the partners stored whiskey and wine.

Hughes and Aaron were not just selling liquor over the bar, they were mixing, bottling and labeling their own brands of whiskey, retailing it through their saloon in pint and half-pint glass containers. Shown here is a magnificently preserved clear bottle embossed with their names and address.  The partners asked that it be returned to them for washing and refilling.  Two other Phoenix Saloon bottles are shown below, one in aqua and the other amber, likely found by bottle diggers.

One partner was Morris Aaron, born on October 12, 1866.  He was the son of Hysuaa and Emily Aaron, the father a Polish immigrant and mother a native born Louisianan.   Hysuaa was a reasonably affluent dealer in wholesale merchandise and apparently an ardent adherent of the Confederacy, even to naming a son “Jeff Davis” after the war.  The 1870 census found four-year-old Morris living in Natchitoches with his parents and three siblings.  By the age of 15 he was working as a clerk in his father’s store.

The other partner, Henry Hughes, was Louisiana born, on June 19, 1864.  His father, a native of New York whose parents had emigrated from Ireland, worked as a stone mason in and around Natchitoches.  At an early age it appears that Henry was headed for the construction trades, as were two older brothers.  The 1880 census found him at 17, having left school and working as a laborer.

What brought the two men from such different backgrounds together to open a saloon is unknown.  Both would have been very young at the time.  They likely had financial assistance from Aaron’s father.  Their partnership was a highly successful one for more than two decades until the a clamor arose among a segment of the Natchitoches population who opposed the sale of alcohol.  Although Louisiana never imposed statewide prohibition, it allowed towns to license saloons and by vote to deny them a license and put them out of business.

The vote was held on August 17, 1907.   The headline in the Natchitoches Times told the story:  “Prohibition Wins.”  The goodly people of the town had voted 658 to deny saloon licenses and 481 to grant them.  By a margin of 177 votes, “dry” forces had been the victor.  The Times, that had editorialized in favor of granting the licenses, waxed philosophical, publishing:  “Law is law, and all good citizens must unite in upholding the will of the majority….”

During the next six months Hughes and Aaron did their best to unload their stock of whiskey and wine, and to provide for their customers who were dreading the dawn of January 1, 1908.  The Times ruefully opined:  “The closing of the saloons will mean a readjustment of business conditions….Some of the proprietors [will] engage in other branches of business.  We would like to see them all remain residents of the old city…and help in the making of a better and more prosperous Natchitoches.”

Hughes and Aaron heeded that call.  Their partnership survived as the two turned to a trade that was well known to the Irishman and his family — bricks.  They opened a factory to manufacture bricks in Natchitoches, calling it H. and A. Brick Works.  A small picture of their plant was included on the company letterhead, shown above.  The partners named their bricks after the town:  “Nakatosh.”  The enterprise must have been reasonably successful because the partners after only several years in business sold the brick works to other interests.

With a wife, Catherine (nee Quinn) and a family of three children, Hughes continued to engage in local business, opening a dry goods store, according to the 1910 census.  Aaron meanwhile had used the wealth accrued from the Phoenix Saloon also to go into banking and agriculture, having bought farmland around Natchitoches.  With the dawn of the automotive age, he opened a Ford dealership.

Hughes was the first to die, passing in July 1932 at the age of 68.  He was buried in the American Cemetery on Second Street in Natchitoches, a site that had was located across from a Catholic church and originally held a French fort.  Aaron lived until May 1943, dying at the age of 77.  He was buried at the Jewish Cemetery of Natchitoches. Their gravestones are below.

During the prime of their lives, these two men had come together in an enterprise involving strong drink — something that neither of their religious heritages disapproved.  But unfortunately for them, their town had a majority who were Protestant and for whom alcohol was anathema. Local opposition ended the more than two decade run of a memorable saloon, the Phoenix.  Shown below, at the far left, the building now contains a Natchitoches store catering to tourists.

Note:  I visited Natchitoches several years ago and became enamored of the town.  Intrigued by the photo of the clear flask shown above, I was doing research on the Phoenix Saloon and its proprietors when I came across an article in the Natchitoches Times of November 14, 2017 that told the story of the saloon closing in 1907, thirteen years before National Prohibition.  It was written by local historian Henry “Buddy” Maggio and had appeared in the newspaper only three days before I began my search for information.  Mr. Maggio’s article made this post possible.