Friday, June 29, 2018

Lauriston Durkee: Boston’s Blind Whiskey Man


There was a subtle irony in the motto used by the liquor house of Durkee, Davis & Drake. It read:  “Every time we drink, things look different.” Lauriston C. Durkee, one of the principals, was not looking.  He had gone blind years earlier but continued to be a major player in the whiskey trade of Boston.

This story of a sightless man in a business where seeing was an important part of success, began in 1840 when Lauriston C. Durkee was born in the bucolic town of Montague, Mass., 95 miles east of Boston, the son of Jeremiah and Susan C. Durkee.   Born sighted, Lauriston was but three years old, when his mother died.  The 1850 census found the remaining family living in Montague.   The household contained Jeremiah’s mother, Susannah, Jeremiah, now 41 years old, and a second wife, Mahaley, 25, with her child Charles, a one year old, and four sons from the first marriage.  The boys included Lauriston, at seven the youngest. 

Durkee may be assumed to have had a basic education in the local Massachusetts school and, like many others, in his mid-teens to have sought employment.  He gravitated east toward Boston, settling in Somerville.  His choice of a city was an inspired one — Somerville was booming. Within a few years the population increased from 15,000 to 90,000.  Brickmaking had taken a hold in the area after the railroads first arrived and the city’s brickyards boomed through the 1860s. In the 1870s meatpacking displaced them as the primary industry in the Somerville, called by some "The Chicago of New England.”  

Recognizing the customer base for alcohol in a boom town, by 1865 Lauriston was recorded as a partner in a Somerville liquor house called “Burrows and Durkee.”  By 1869, Burrows had exited the scene and Durkee was listed as a sole proprietor of a saloon and liquor store.

In 1869 Lauriston married.  Unusual for those times, his wife, Martha L. Dane, was six years older than he, 34 years old at their marriage.  Born and raised in Massachusetts, she was from nearby Medford, the daughter of Herman and Hannah Dane.  The couple was married in Reading, Massachusetts.  There is no indication of children from their union.  Whether it was a desire for a wider market or the draw of a major city, by 1871 the couple had pulled up stakes in Somerville and moved to Boston.  

Durkee found success there, opening a liquor emporium at 99 Causeway and later a second outlet at 7 &1/2 Bowdoin Square, the area shown here.  In May 1873 his Causeway store was damaged when flames spread from an adjoining lumber mill  spread to the building in which he was operating.  The fire caused $5,000 damage (equivalent today circa $125,000) but quickly was repaired.

Durkee operated both stores alone until about 1885 when he was struck by blindness — the cause unexplained.  This misfortune and the additional burden it placed on his ability to effectively manage his business seemingly moved Durkee to merge his efforts with two Boston locals with credentials in the whiskey trade.  They were W. L. Davis, described as a resident of Boston from his boyhood and “thoroughly conversant with the business” and M. W. Drake who had twenty years experience working for a liquor house.  They called their firm “Durkee, Davis, and Drake, Liquors.”

Their headquarters at the intersection of Causeway and Lancaster Streets was a five story building, forty by fifty feet, located almost opposite the Boston & Lowell Railroad depot, shown here.  The first floor held the partners’ business offices, described as “elegantly furnished” where customers were received.  Upper floors were used to store their liquor supplies and imported wines and brandies.  Fifteen employees looked after a trade that was said to extend throughout New England.  Despite his blindness, Durkee had become a wealthy man.

To brand their company, the partners adopted a distinctive monogram of interlocking “D’s.”  They featured the mark on their advertising shot glasses, given to saloons and restaurants using their products.  The opposite side contained a favorite slogan:  “Every time we drink, things look different.”  Given Durkee’s blindness, this language seems ironic.  


Despite having ample space, the company does not appear to have “recified” (blended) whiskey and sold it under their own label.  Instead they sold “Owl” rye and bourbon, a brand name originating with another Boston whiskey man, John Walsh. [See my post on Walsh, August 30, 2016.]  An 1892 directory of Boston commerce commented that Durkee, Davis and Drake had sold thousands of cases of Owl Whiskey and “have yet to hear of an instance in which the goods did not give the best satisfaction.”  The same directory lauded the firm as one “whose success and enterprise have rapidly advanced them to general favor in business circles.”

Despite his handicap, throughout this period, Durkee also was operating a retail liquor dealership on his own in a one and one-half story building at 259 Friend Street in Boston.  In addition, he had bought a small farm on the Connecticut River in Northfield, Massachusetts, and settled his half-brother, Oscar and Oscar’s wife, Nettie, on the property.  As he aged and his health declined, he spent increasing time in a highly picturesque landscape on the farm.


In August 1894, after being blind almost a decade, Lauriston Durkee died at the relatively young age of 53.  After a Masonic ritual funeral he was buried on a tiny family graveyard on his farm, now an undeveloped unit of the Connecticut River Greenway Park.  A single large granite monument, shown here, facing upriver, memorializes Lauriston, Oscar and Nettie.  Though surrounded by woods, with underbrush heavy with barberry and briars, the plot itself has been kept clear. Someone cares for it.  Durkee’s wife, Martha, is not buried there.

Durkee had accrued a substantial estate from his liquor business and in his will left a generous bequest for a home to provide affordable room and board for older women without other means of support.  A committee of local residents used the money to buy a large Victorian home at 24 Church St. in Greenfield, Mass., shown here.  When the home was sold in 2015 it was reported  that the housing program initiated with Durkee’s money had helped hundreds of elderly women and others through the years. 

With Lauriston’s death, the liquor house became Davis & Drake, with one fewer “D” in the monogram.  Apparently Durkee’s sighted partners were not as canny at business as he was.  In January 1900 came the news that Davis & Drake, characterized as one of the largest liquor firms in Boston, had filed for bankruptcy.  Its liabilities were placed at $93,105 and assets at $18,328.  Among the firm’s creditors was Paris, Allen & Company of New York, the force behind one manifestation of the Whiskey Trust.

Note:  Although the information in this post is from multiple sources, key information about the Durkee, Davis and Drake Co. came from the 1892 publication “Boston: Its Commerce, Finance and Literature” from the A. F. Parsons Publishing Co., New York.















Monday, June 25, 2018

Whiskey Men Abetting the Whiskey Trust



Foreword:  Founded in May 1887, the Whiskey Trust was an attempt to corner the market in U.S. whiskey production, severely limit competition, and thereby drive up prices.  Organized in Chicago as the Distilling and Cattle Feeding Company, within a year after its formation the Trust had absorbed 81 distilling companies across America and is said to have controlled 75% of total U.S. whiskey production.  This post describes briefly four whiskey men who were not among the founders of the Trust but found it advantageous, for a variety of reasons, to play along.  A subsequent post will profile whiskey men who opposed the Trust and helped bring it down.

An immigrant from Northern Ireland as a child with his family,John Beggs early moved into making whiskey, operating distilleries in Ohio and Indiana before settling in Terre Haute, Indiana.  There he purchased a major interest in the Wabash Distilling Company, serving as treasurer.  Still only 50 years old, John Beggs was ready for new ventures and when the Distilling and Cattle Feeding Company was being formed, he was an eager participant, closing down one of his own distilleries and working vigorously to increase whiskey prices by shutting down other small distilleries.

As the Trust took over supervision and operation of a number of Midwest distilleries, Beggs was tapped for an executive position.  In 1894 he resigned his position with the Wabash Distilling Company and moved to Peoria, Illinois, where he became a vice president for that monopolistic enterprise.  He spent much of the remainder of his working career in its employ.

From their base in Lexington, Stoll family members at various times owned part or all of five Kentucky distilleries, bought and sold them frequently, and played cozy with the Whiskey Trust.  Their gambits in the liquor trade did not bring them lasting fame but in their own time earned them grudging respect as canny businessmen.  The eldest, born in 1851, was Richard P. Stoll, shown here, whose jutting chin and stern demeanor give some hint of his determination to succeed. 

In May 1897 the assets of Kentucky’s Ashland Distillery, shown here, were assigned to Richard and his brother James S. Stoll, as receivers.  The major asset was 10,000 bottles of  quality whiskey in bond.  Two years later the distillery was sold at auction for $61,000 to a “straw bidder” for the Kentucky Distillery & Warehouse Company, a subsequent iteration of the Whiskey Trust. The cartel was now a major force in Kentucky distilling and Charles H. Stoll was the Trust’s attorney who engineered the deal.  

As the Stolls' relationship with the Trust ripened they deeded another of their Kentucky distilleries to the Trust and promptly were allowed to expand production.  Returning the several favors the Stolls had bestowed on it, the Trust reciprocated in 1902 by ceding the family the Bond & Lilliard Distillery located in Anderson County.  In March 1905, once more with Trust assistance, the Stolls acquired the Belle of Nelson and the E. L. Miles distilleries, both located in New Hope, Kentucky.  With those acquisitions the Stolls now were running the largest whiskey-making operation in Kentucky.  

Their new unified corporation featured James Stoll as the president and George J. Stoll III and Richard’s son, John G. Stoll, as vice presidents.  Suggesting the Stolls' continued relationship with the Whiskey Trust, the cartel’s man, Samuel Stofer, was secretary and treasurer.   That arrangement was in place only one year when James Stoll died in May, 1908.  With James’ death the Stoll liquor empire rapidly came to an end.  Stoll distilling interests were ceded in their entirety to the Trust, the organization that all along had controlled much of the family’s whiskey.  

In failing health and only three years from his death, Charles Corning Clarke, seen here in his late 30s, was summoned in 1899 from his Peoria, Illinois, home to testify to an elite Washington, D.C., Commission investigating the Whiskey Trust.  He knew a lot about the organization. While not a founding member, Clarke early brought his distillery into its fold. When asked why, he replied: “I went into the first Trust because I was glamoured with the pictures that were painted of fancy profits, and also because of the intimations that, if I did not go in, the Trust would get after my customers and make life a burden to me....After some time I agreed to do it. I regretted it from the day I went in, although I secured very good profits for a long time.”  

The Trust shut down the Clarke Bros. distillery, gave the Clarkes $100,000 in stock, and put Charles and his brother each on the payroll for $5,000 a year, a substantial salary in those days. When the stipend ended as the Trust fell into financial difficulties, Charles broke out of the monopoly in 1885 and began distilling again as independent operator. He continued to be harassed by Trust forces but persisted. 

In his testimony to the Commission Clarke was cautious. He revealed nothing very new, restating only the obvious. The Trust was, Clarke testified, “bound to fall of its own weight”  because of poor management.  He argued against passing new antitrust laws. The Commission, however, did not agree and in concluding its work in 1902 recommended stronger legislation. President Theodore Roosevelt agreed, ushering in the “Trust Busting Era” in American history.

The Commission was particularly focussed on the Trust’s use of violence to get its way.   On December 11,1888, at 6:15 a.m., a tremendous explosion had rocked Chicago’s Shufeldt distillery, smashing windows for blocks around and creating panic in the neighborhood.  Someone had thrown two packages of dynamite, containing seven sticks each, onto the roof of the distillery storeroom.  There were no other clues.  But Thomas Lynch knew the culprits all too well.

Beginning about 1871, Lynch was running the Henry H. Shufeldt distillery in Chicago and was outspoken about the Trust.  “How such an organization as the ‘Trust’ is allowed to exist, I cannot understand.  It has issued $35,000,000 of certificates and I can prove that it is not in possession of more than $4,000.000 worth of property,” he said.  A lawyer for the Trust complained that Lynch’s company was making money while the Trust was losing it by paying big salaries to former owners, carrying closed down plants in its capital accounts and shouldering other expenses.   He suggested:  “The Trust might easily put up the price of spirits but it cannot do so as long as Shufeldt holds out and it would be a mighty good thing for the Trust if Shufeldt is out of the way.” 

Accordingly, in 1888 the Trust decided on concerted action against Lynch and Shufeldt.  In September a valve on a vat was found to have been tampered with to the extent that it might have caused an explosion.  Only by luck was a worker able to spot the sabotage. Three months later the distillery was dynamited. The Trust denied all knowledge of the incident.  Eventually, however, the secretary of the Trust, a man named Gibson, was arrested and indicted by Federal authorities for attempting to sabotage the Shufeldt plant.  Acquitted, Gibson resigned from the Trust and with a $290,000  “gift” from the cabal fled to Cuba and later died there.  

The “big bang” worked a change of attitude on Thomas Lynch.  He sold out to the Trust for a reported $1.75 million but would not admit that he was capitulating“Mr. Lynch insisted to the last that he was not aware he was selling out to the Trust….”  It was, nevertheless, the Trust that owned H.H. Shufeldt Co. from 1891 on. It closed down the Chicago distilling and rectifying operation, shown here, and moved its equipment to Pekin, Illinois. 


















Thursday, June 21, 2018

Fleeing Hate, Max Idelman Found a Home in the Wild West


Said to have been escaping religious persecution as a Jew in Russian-dominated Poland, Max (called “Mox”) Idelman in October 1867 at Hamburg Germany boarded the Steamer Tripoli, shown below, not knowing what he might discover in America.   A sense of adventure eventually took him West where Idelman found prosperity and acclaim in Cheyenne, Wyoming, all the while selling whiskey.

Like many refugees Idelman’s beginnings are sketchy.  For his birthplace he listed several locations.  One of them, Mariampol, is the name of at least eight Polish towns.  His date of birth also was variously given.  If we go by the date on his tombstone he was born in 1844.  That would make him 23 years old at the time of his crossing.

Although he likely landed at New York or another East Coast city, young Max’s compass took him almost immediately to St. Joseph, Missouri.  This town was considered a “jumping off” point for pioneers going west.  Shown here in maturity, Idelman daily would have seen the covered wagons rolling through town.  He likely was working for one of the many liquor houses in St. Joseph that helped stock those wagons with whiskey.

By the time he left Poland, Max had married and in 1863 fathered a son, Samuel.  The identity of his wife is shrouded in history.  By one account she died; in another she disliked living in America and went back to Poland, leaving Sam with Max.  In the 1880 Census he referred to himself as a “widower” and was raising his 13-year-old son.

In 1875, after some eight years serving as a clerk in a St. Joseph liquor emporium, Idelman headed west to Evanston, Wyoming, a town that had its origins when the first Continental Railroad arrived in November 1868 and made Evanston, its headquarters.  Idelman saw opportunity there at one of the western-most points in Wyoming and opened a liquor store.

Apparently Evanston failed to meet his expectations because two years later in 1877 Idelman moved 320 miles back across Wyoming to Cheyenne, a town that was growing rapidly and had become known as “The Magic City of the Plains.”  It also was the state capital.  There Idelman was joined by his younger half-brother, Abraham, shown here.  Together they founded an company they called the Yellowstone Tobacco and Liquor Distributorship and later Adelman Bros. Liquor and Cigars. 


Together the brothers built the Idelman Building at the corner of Ferguson (later Carey) and 16th Streets, shown here.  Considered the finest commercial structure in Cheyenne, it held a hotel, a saloon and the Idelmans’ liquor house.  The main entrance of the building was situated on the southwest corner.  The drawing here indicates that the entrance originally was framed by a pair of semicircular arches supported at the corner by a turned stone column.

Inside the Idelmans’ establishment, as shown below, one wall side was completely filled with barrels of whiskey.  Some have speculated that the hoses hanging over the barrels were there to allow customers to taste the products.  Perhaps, but my assessment is that the hoses served a more functional purpose in allowing whiskey to be siphoned off into small containers as it was being sold. 

A report from the Wyoming state agency assessing liquor quality indicates that the brothers featured some of the best whiskey Kentucky produced, including Mellwood, Belle of Anderson, Old Taylor, Kentucky Club, and Old Crow, as well as Eastern brands like Hannisville and Guckenheimer.  They also stocked cheaper brands that the authorities charged had been illicitly colored with caramel and labeled “imitation whiskey.”

In addition to its Wyoming customer base the company sold liquor in neighboring Colorado and Nebraska.  In the process Max was amassing a fortune.  His life changed in 1881 when he married again, a woman that he had met in St. Joseph years earlier.  She was Fanny Kaufmann, eighteen years his junior, who has been described as “beautiful and cultured” and a gracious hostess.  They would have one daughter, Belle, born in 1883.  A family photo shows the trio.

For Fanny, Max used his riches to build a mansion on Cattle Baron Row, shown here.  It was directly across from the Wyoming Capitol on Ferguson Street.  Featuring castle-like turrets, tall chimneys, ample porches and a key hole entry way, it was truly a spectacular residence.  The man and woman shown in the photo may well be Max and Fanny, posing in front of their home.  It is reported that Theodore Roosevelt stayed a night with the Idelmans before appearing in a Cheyenne parade in his honor.  The former President is shown here as he rode in front of the Idelman Building.


Idelman’s success did not go unnoticed in Cheyenne.  Considered among the leading businessmen of the town, he was urged to run for local office, agreed, and was elected to a term on the Cheyenne City Council.  He was welcomed into the fraternity of Masons and the Knights of Pythias.  In his obituary, the Cheyenne Daily Leader wrote:  “Mr. Idelman gave liberally to all public benefactions and took an active part in all movements to uphold the city.”

In 1897 the Idelman family knew sorrow.  Max’s brother Abe had worked shoulder to shoulder with him in Cheyenne, helping to supervised the construction of the Idelman Building and developing their liquor house into one of the largest in the West.  While still a young man of 41 years Abe developed a serious illness and was taken to Denver for treatment, but died there.   Like Max he had achieved a reputation in Cheyenne as a public spirited and enterprising citizen.  The Cheyenne Daily Sun-Leader announcing Abe’s death headlined:  “Was One of the Pillars of Enterprise of  the State and City— His Sudden Demise a Severe Shock to the Entire Community.”

The trauma caused Max and other relatives by Abe’s death was compounded by the rift it caused inside the family.  The brother, who had never married, left his estate, equivalent to over $1 million today, to Max.  A sister and other relatives through their attorneys contested the will, resulting in a rift within the Idelmans.



Max continued to operate Idelman Bros. enterprises, assisted by his son, Samuel.   Accounted a “pioneer businessman” in Cheyenne, he died in March 1913 and was buried in the Mount Sinai Jewish Cemetery in grave adjacent to Abe’s.  Their monuments are above, Max’s on the right.  Fanny continued to live in their mansion home until 1916 when she moved to New York to live with her daughter.  When she died in 1937, her body was brought back to Cheyenne where she is interred next to Max.


Both the Idelman Building and mansion remain standing in Cheyenne to remind the populace of this extraordinary family.  Shown here, the building has been stripped of much of its original ornamentation but appropriately houses a drinking establishment on the ground floor.  The house was sold to a funeral director who modified it with an utilitarian addition to the front.  More recently the building housed the offices of Wyoming’s governor while his quarters were renovated.  A movement has begun in Cheyenne to remove the addition and restore the Idelman mansion — the only remaining reminder of Cattle Baron Row — to its former glory.


























Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Trenton Haunting of Warren Quinn

On August 17, 1912, the Trenton, New Jersey, Evening Times featured a story whose opening paragraph read:  “‘The House of Mysteries’ is the name given to the two-story brick building at 728 Cass St., owned by Warren A. Quinn, a well known liquor dealer at 703 Cass Street.  The house, it is said, has been infested with ‘ghosts’ for many years….”  Although Quinn laughed off such suggestions about the house, shown here, he could not avoid being haunted by the racketing “spirits” of prohibition that would prove to be much more troublesome.

The complaint about ghosts came from Quinn’s tenants, John Nickold and his family, who said they had been forced to move because of the nightly visitation of spirits who pulled the sheets from their beds and turned down lamps in the house.   Neighbors whispered to a reporter that the building had once been an illegal drinking establishment where a fight ended with a man being stabbed to death and the murderer fleeing.  “The superstitious declare that the ghost of the murdered man haunts the building and is responsible for all the ghostly outbreaks.”

Quinn scoffed at the idea.  He refused to answer a letter from a Baltimore “spiritual medium” who offered to occupy the house, communicate with the spirits and see what the problem was.  Nevertheless, he soon tore the house down and on its ample lot built a row of houses.  Clearly of more concern to him was maintaining the prosperous liquor business he operated down Trenton’s Cass Street in a three-story building, shown below, that he had built and in which he and his family lived.


Warren Arthur Quinn was born in 1862 in Dryden, in upstate New York, the son of Northern Irish immigrants farmers, Henry Quinn from County Tyrone and Isabel Morrison from Donegal.  It would appear that two brothers died in infancy and Warren was an only child.  When he was still young the family moved ten miles north to Groton, New York, and subsequently to Harford, New York, another short distance.  

Details of his early education and employment are scant.  In the 1870 census he was seven years old, identified as “Arthur” and in school.  In the 1880 census he was still at home, called “Warren” and had no occupation.  Six years later city directories found him in Trenton working as a bartender.  About the same time Quinn met and married Helen Davids Enoch of New York City.  Warren was 25 and Helen was 24.  Their nuptials took place in August 1887 at the Hotel Stephens on Broadway, presided over by Alderman Fitzgerald.  The couple would have one daughter, Isabel, born in June 1889.

Quinn’s marriage appears to have triggered a significant change in his career.  Listed as a barkeep in 1886-1887, by 1895 in directories he already was a successful merchant, conducting a saloon and wholesale and retail liquor business in a building that still bears his name at 701-703 Cass.  Quinn’s letterhead declared he dealt in “bonded wines and liquors” and Bass dark and India pale ale. His flagship liquor brand was “State Seal Rye Whiskey.” 

For his wholesale trade he was receiving whiskey by the barrel and decanting it into ceramic containers, many of them attractive jugs of about gallon with his name in cobalt blue script.  As time went on Quinn chose less flamboyant ceramics for his whiskey, moving to all-white Albany slip containers and two toned jugs with stenciled cobalt labels.  The Irishman also issued blob-top bottles with metal closures that likely held beer or soft drinks.  Like the one shown below, they came in clear glass but also are found in amber.

Quinn advertised vigorously in local newspapers where he was not shy about making claims.  In the ad shown here he boasted of having the largest wine and liquor warehouse in New Jersey, and that he carried in stock “the finest selection of pure goods which the world can produce.”  Not satisfied with those assertions, Quinn added that his liquor house was the only one to have “the endorsement of each and every physician in the city of Trenton.”

The Irishman’s emphasis on physicians indicated the concern he shared with other whiskey dealers and saloon keepers:  the growing specter of National Prohibition.  He with others believed that emphasizing the medicinal benefits of alcohol would provide protection against the “zombies” of temperance. That proved to be an idle hope.   Although New Jersey stayed “wet” to the very end, National Prohibition was imposed in 1920 and Quinn was forced to shut down his liquor business.  Thoughtfully, the City of Trenton returned to him the $259.59 he had paid for his saloon license.

A national ban on alcohol sales, however, was not sufficiently discouraging to Quinn.  Although advertising that he had converted his establishment to soft drinks and cigars, stronger spirits continued to be available under his bar.  As this became more widely known, in December 1821 prohibitionists set a trap.  They sent 18-year-old Edmund Mason into the Cass Street establishment where bartender William Jones sold him a pint of whiskey.  Mason called the authorities who conducted a search of the premise where they found two quarts of what they declared was whiskey and one quart of gin.   They arrested Jones and Quinn on possessing liquor illegally.

In the resulting trial in Magistrate’s Court, Quinn pleaded “no contest” to the charges and was fined $250 (equivalent to more than $6,000 today).  Jones was ticketed for $100.  Chastened by the experience and subsequent bad publicity when he tried to keep the arrest secret from the press, Quinn appears to have stuck to sodas and stogies for a short time, shutting down his business totally in the mid-1920s.

Quinn lived long enough to see Prohibition repealed, dying in 1943 at the age of 81.  His substantial estate was willed to his daughter, Isabel, his only direct heir. He was interred in Trenton’s Riverview Cemetery next to his parents and his wife, Helen, who had died 31 years earlier in 1912.  The family monument is shown here.

Today in Trenton the Quinn Building on Cass St. still stands with the whiskey man’s name emblazoned on top.  At the site of the reputedly haunted dwelling, the row houses Quinn erected are themselves now are more than a century old and said to be in dire need of maintenance.  Apparently no sign of the ghost or ghosts who plagued 728 Cass St. has been detected around the neighborhood in ensuing years.





































Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Crawford Fairbanks: Distilling Made “Indiana’s Richest Man”


Although characterized as a poor boy with limited education who studied by candle light, Crawford Fairbanks, shown here as a young man, had the advantages of a distinguished ancestry and a father who was mayor of Terre Haute.  Cited as “Indiana’s greatest financial genius,” Fairbanks seized every opportunity, beginning with owning distilleries, to amass his fortune.

Crawford’s pedigree included an ancestor, Jonathan Fairbanks, who came from Sowerly in Yorkshire, England, to Boston and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts.  There Jonathan built the noted “old Fairbanks House” in 1636 that is still standing as the oldest dwelling house in New England, shown below. 


Crawford’s father, Henry, shown here, was born in Massachusetts and moved to Terre Haute in 1835, considered an early settler.  A farmer, the father eventually became “a strong factor in the political and general development in that part of the state,” according to a biography, serving as both Vigo County treasurer and mayor of Terre Haute.  

Crawford Fairbanks was born in 1843 near Terre Haute.  Despite his family’s prominence he was educated in local schools, said to have studied at night by candlelight after finishing farm chores.  He left school and home at the age of 17 to work as a clerk in town for $5.00 a week but soon was advanced to bookkeeper and given a raise.   

When the Civil War broke out, young Fairbanks answered the call and on March 1, 1864, at the age of 19, was mustered into the 129th Indiana Infantry Regiment and became a lieutenant.  His unit,  employed on Sherman’s march on Atlanta, saw some hot fighting along the way, including the Battles of Resaca, Decatur, and Franklin.  The last, shown below, was a crushing blow for the Confederacy resulting in devastating losses and 14 rebel generals either killed, wounded or captured.


At war’s end Fairbanks returned to Terre Haute to begin a business career, starting in the grain business, an enterprise that was a huge success.  When his partner left for the California gold rush, Fairbanks moved into making whiskey.  A major distillery in town had its beginnings about 1840, operated by a series of owners until Herman Hulman bought it in 1870.  [See my post on Hulman, June 23, 2012.]   Fairbanks became an associate of Hulman who, embarking on a long holiday trip to Europe, sold him the distillery.  When Hulman returned, having decided to re-enter distilling, Crawford sold him back a half interest.

The two men were partners in the distillery they now called “The Phoenix,” a name that might have been prophetic given the multiple times the facility had to come up from ashes.  In 1878 a fire destroyed a significant portion of the cattle pens and livestock on the property where cows were being fed the spent mash.  The cattle feeding operation had no sooner been re-established when in January, 1879, an explosion occurred that killed two employees and did considerable damage to the facility.  The partners quickly rebuilt.

Meanwhile Crawford Fairbanks was having a personal life.  In December 1872 at the age of 29 he had married Clara T. Collett, a local girl born in Indiana.  The 1880 census found them living in Terre Haute with a daughter, Sarah, and an Irish servant girl. 

Fairbanks and Hulman found themselves in legal trouble with a grand jury in Indianapolis in April 1879, accused of 1) illegally operating on Sunday; 2) hiding untaxed whiskey under a corn pile, and 3) owing the State of Indiana $57,000 for unpaid liquor taxes.  The partners either denied the charges or offered explanations, agreeing nonetheless to pay any delinquent taxes.  The grand jury dismissed the charges holding that the evidence presented did not prove fraud by Hulman & Fairbanks.

Again exiting the distilling trade, Hulman sold his half ownership to Robert S. Cox and the company became Cox & Fairbanks, in 1800 claimed to be “the world’s largest distillery.”  The four story main building was capable of mashing 5,600 bushels of grain daily and operated on an aging steam system.  One afternoon in October 1880 a boiler exploded and catapulted into the malt house, destroying the rear of the main building.  Although local firemen with the aid of citizens soon put out the fire, the blast killed seven employees, six immediately and one later died from burns.  An inspector from Cincinnati also was killed.  A similar number of people were severely injured.  The concussion was heard for miles around.

Reeling from the 1880 disaster, Cox sold his half interest to Louis Duenweg and the company became Fairbanks & Duenweg.  The disasters kept coming.  Although no human casualties occurred, in June 1884 the the original four-story distillery burned to the ground.  Three hundred hogs were roasted when the fire spread to a nearby barn.  At that point Duenweg sold out to Fairbanks who turned to John H. Beggs, a distillery executive from Peoria, for help. [See my  post on the Beggs family, Oct. 17, 2017.]  Together they organized the Terre Haute Distilling Co., reputed to have been the world’s largest at the time.

By now immensely wealthy, Fairbanks expanded his entrepreneurial abilities into other areas.  In 1889 with Beggs and other minor investors he purchased the Terre Haute Brewing Company, one of the Nation’s largest.  At about the same time, Crawford built a strawboard factory in Elgin, Ill., which later became part of the American Strawboard Co., a $6 million concern known as the “Strawboard Trust.”  Fairbanks was elected president of the company on Feb. 4, 1897.  In addition, he had investments in and served as an officer and director of Diamond Paper Co., of Anderson, Ind.; Haverhill Paper Co. of Massachusetts.; Chicago Paper Co. of Illinois; Piedmont Paper Co. of New York; and Southern Indiana Gas Co., of Greenfield and Shelbyville.  He also owned Terre Haute’s principal newspaper, The Tribune, shown left.


Fairbanks liked owning hotels, buying the Denison in Indianapolis, the Terre Haute House, shown above, and was co-owner of the French Lick Springs Hotel, a resort popular for its warm springs and reputed healing waters, shown left. At one time he also was the principal investor in Indiana Sonora Copper & Mining Co., and president of the Terre Haute Water Works and Terre Haute Street Railway Co.  At the time of his death Crawford was the principal owner of Standard Wheel Co. and president and major stockholder of Wabash Realty & Loan Co., which held title to most of his real estate, including several farms where he raised race horses. 


Along with his growing wealth, Fairbanks was generous to his home town.  After the Terre Haute Distillery was torn down, he gave the Henry Fairbanks Memorial Park to Terre Haute on the former site. To honor the memory of his mother, Crawford donated the Emeline Fairbanks Memorial Library to the city.  Both are shown here.  After his wife’s death in 1911 Crawford built the Clara Fairbanks Home for Aged Women in her honor.  A family history said of him:  “In his natural make up, the selfish and the small are absolutely left out, while all flash and extravagance…are as far removed from his nature and conduct as it is possible to have them.”


As he aged, Fairbanks’ health declined.  Described as “a man with few intimate friends,” he was close to his personal physician, Dr. Henry Jennings of Indianapolis, who apparently prescribed that the millionaire spend his winters in Florida.  When Fairbanks continued to worsen as he approached 81 years, Dr. Jennings accompanied him by train back to Terre Haute.  Crawford died in his suite at the Terre Haute House in May 1924.  After a private funeral he was interred in the family mausoleum with his late wife and daughter, Sara, who had died in 1915.

Obituaries of Fairbanks ran in newspapers throughout Indiana and beyond.  One state journal hailed him as “Indiana’s greatest financial genius.”  Another reporter declared him “Indiana’s Richest Man.”  What too frequently was ignored was the original driving source of Crawford’s wealth and entrepreneurship — making and selling whiskey.  

Note:  The information for this article came from two principal sources:  An article of March 15, 2014, by Mike McCormick to the Terre Haute Tribune-Star and a Vigo County Library Historical Biography by Dr. Dipa Sarkar.