Thursday, August 22, 2019

Frisco’s Ensign Saloon Anchored on a Ship

Nautically named, for more than 55 years the Ensign Saloon was a favorite watering hole for seafaring populations along San Francisco’s waterfront.  While the proprietors knew, few patrons likely were aware that the Ensign, on the ground floor of one of city’s then taller buildings, sat on top of a sunken ship.  Not even the 1906 earthquake and fire could shake the saloon from its moorings.

The Ensign story began when a Russian-made three masted sailing ship called the Rome, shown here, rounded the Horn and docked at San Francisco with a load of coal.  The vessel was stripped and purchased by Captain Fred Lawson for $1,000.  Known as the “hulk undertaker,” Lawson was engaged in scuttling abandoned ships in the shallows of San Francisco Bay to create landfill platforms for developers.

In 1890, Capt. Lawson told the San Francisco Examiner the story of the Rome.  In 1852 he was approached by a developer who urgently needed to claim title on an underwater lot at the wharf at what would become the southwest corner of Market Street and the Embarcadero.  According to Lawson:  “One morning he came running up to me and excitedly asked if I had a ship.  I told him, yes, that I had the Rome.  He told me…that if I could have the ship scuttled before 1 o’clock, he would be all right.  Before 1 o’clock my tow-boat took the Rome into where he wanted it and down she went.  I got $5,000 for that job.”  Shown here at #42 is the location of the Rome, one of 47 ships scuttled in San Francisco Bay to facilitate landfills. Note how far inland it is today.

Over the next few years the wharf area gradually was filled in and the Rome disappeared underground.  A 1895 drawing of the dock area above shows the extent of the fill area on which a number of structures had been built, including the ferry dock and the Southern Pacific Railroad station.  The Ensign Saloon looms large on the landscape as the ground floor of a three story building.  The upper two floors held a boarding residence called the C.P. (Central Pacific) House. 

Shown here enlarged, the Ensign was well placed to do brisk business.  The saloon could count on steady traffic coming and going to the ferry and railroad station.  Most of all, the area was a seafarer’s hangout.  An old ships’ captain in 1909 recalled those early days at the wharf:  “If you walked into the Ensign Saloon and called ‘Captain,’ he recalled, “Half the men in the place would look up.”  He also recalled the free lunch offered there and in other nearby saloons:  “If it was wasn’t for the free lunch, I don’t think we would have survived.”  

The Ensign was not only providing alcohol over the bar but also selling liquor at retail.   The assumption is that the proprietors were buying whiskey by the barrel from distilleries;  “rectifying,”  that is blending it, decanting it into glass bottles and selling at retail.  Shown here are two flasks that bear the Ensign Saloon name and address.  Each is of interest for color and shape:  a pint “shoo fly” strap sided flask in a beautiful amethyst and an elegantly designed pint in a light amber.  Given the longevity of the Ensign it is difficult to date these bottles any closer than from 1860 to about 1918.

Despite its favorable location the Ensign also had to compete with the saloons and other drinking establishments that abounded in San Francisco.  One method of keeping customers coming back was to issue tokens good for redemption at the bar or later, as shown below, for a telephone call.  In those days a seaman would not likely have had his own personal telephone.

During its history the saloon knew multiple owners.  The first proprietor was Charles Osmer who operated as George Osmer & Company.  Charles and George were brothers, both immigrants from Achim, Germany.  They  appear to have lived in New York City for a time before relocating to San Francisco.  There, according to the 1860 census,  George opened a liquor dealership.  When his health faltered leading to his death in 1866, Charles took over management of the Ensign, living at the same address, perhaps at the C. P. boarding house.  Osmer and partners also managed other San Francisco saloons.

About 1869, after nine years of ownership Charles Osmer and his partners sold the Ensign Saloon and Osmer subsequently moved back to Germany.  The new owners were Claus Schwartz and Rathy Husing, publicans who already operated a drinking establishment on the southeast corner of Mission and Sixteenth Street.  Schwartz was an immigrant from Hanover, Germany.  According to the 1880 census, he was married to a woman from Hanover and had four children, all born in California.

By 1882 a third partner, Alfred Meyer, joined the partnership of Schwartz & Husing.  At some point, Husing left the company.  After Claus’s death about 1898, the Ensign Saloon continued on under Meyer and a Schwartz relative named Henry.  This management team was in charge of the establishment when the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire devastated the city.  The Ensign Saloon appears to have been among many structures destroyed.   Shown here is just one of several photos showing the virtually complete devastation on the waterfront.  Like many local businessmen,  Schwartz & Meyer quickly rebuilt.  Shown here in the San Francisco Call  is a 1908 ad for the Ensign Saloon at the usual 1 Market Street address.

By 1910, the Ensign Saloon was sold for a third time.  The new owner was M. Theodore Reinke.  He like previous owners was an immigrant from Germany. The 1910 census found him living in San Francisco with his wife, Clara, two sons and his mother.   Reinke operated the saloon for the next seven years, apparently closing down in 1919 with the coming of National Prohibition, never to reopen after Repeal.  Despite its ending, the Ensign Saloon had an amazing run of 58 years through multiple ownerships, the Civil War, World War One, several financial “panics” and the 1906 cataclysm in San Francisco.  

But the story does not end there.  Although the Ensign Saloon had sat on top of a sunken ship for decades, when the building was torn down and the site subsequently turned into a civic plaza, San Francisco had forgotten the vessel was down there.  In 1994, however, while the city was excavating a subway tunnel from the Embarcadero Station to Folsom Street, construction crews ran smack dab into the Rome, where it had laid undisturbed for 144 years.  It was too large to be excavated so the tunnel was bored right through the ship, as shown on the illustration here.  Remnants of the ship are now in a local museum.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Frank Zaitz: The Midas Touch in Leadville

Between 1860 and World War I as many as 300,000 individuals are estimated to have left areas than now are part of Slovenia for the United States.  Early waves of migrants from that Balkan country were predominantly single men, many of them miners by occupation.  Among them was a six foot, two inch, 250 pound future saloonkeeper and liquor dealer destined to impact a Colorado mining town in multiple ways.  His name was Frank Zaitz. 

Zaitz was born in 1868 in a small village in the Gorica District of Central Slovenia, shown above.  His family appears to have been fairly prosperous, one brother becoming a doctor, another a priest.  At the age of 17, whether to avoid compulsory military service or a sheer sense of adventure, he left home for America, stopping first in Cleveland where some 30,000 to 40,000 Slovenians lived and worked.  Within a few months, hearing of a booming mining business in Colorado, in 1886 Zaitz headed west.

In 1875 two miners had discovered that black lead carbonate sand common in that area of Colorado was full of silver, triggering a human stampede that created a new town, eventually called Leadville.  By spring 1879 people were arriving by the hundreds every day and within months Leadville had a population of more than 10,000.  By the late 1880s the town held twenty-one smelters, separating silver from sand.  Zaitz found employment in one, working for ten years at a paltry $2.50 a day as mine owners became millionaires.

In 1894 Zaitz had saved enough money to marry.  His wife was Mary Bradach, also an immigrant from Slovenia.  By that time more than 1,500 Slovenian immigrants were living in Leadville and had their own Catholic parish church called St. Joseph’s, shown here.  There Frank and Mary wed.  The couple would have three children, Frank Jr., Mary and Angelina.  

Perhaps it was the impetus of his marriage and growing family that impelled Zaitz to quit the smelters and look for other opportunities.  Reckoning that the burgeoning population in town would need supplies, with a partner, H.W. Hart, in 1896 he founded the Hart-Zeitz Mercantile Company.  Zaitz was president. The “cash cow” of this enterprise was liquor.  The jug shown here would have been filled from whiskey barrels for sales to Leadville’s estimated 120 saloons, 31 restaurants, and its thirsty population.

Hart-Zelitz Mercantile seems to have been successful from the outset.  It opened outlets in nearby Colorado hamlets, Stringtown and Red Cliff.  It advertised widely and provided customers with colorful pictures, some on glass, to be hung on the walls of their homes.  As shown above, among subjects were herds of elks and a tender family portrait,

A second demand in Leadville was housing for single Slovenian men working in the smelters, as Zeitz had earlier. With his wife Mary listed as the housekeeper, Frank opened a boarding house similar to the one shown here.  He would sponsor his countrymen to come to the U.S. and give them jobs, most generated by contracts he secured for unloading coal, coke and other materials at the smelters and the Colorado Midland Railroad.  The Slovenians lived in his boarding house.  

Located on West Chestnut Street. the quarters contained a kitchen with a long table and a second story dormitory room over the saloon.  According to a descendant, new arrivals would be charged $20.00 a month for room and board, which was much of their earnings.  If they learned to speak English, he gave them an additional $5 a month.  If they learned to read and write, another $5. He has been described as a “generous and kind man, always creating goals for his fellow [Slovenian] immigrants.” Zaitz himself could speak English but never learned to read or write it.

Regardless of his lack of literacy Ziatz quickly proved to his fellow townsman, that he had “the Midas touch.”  In a town devoted to silver,  his endeavors seemed inevitably to turn to gold.  He acquired an entire block of Chestnut Street for his enterprises that included, in addition to his grocery and liquor outlet,  a drug store, butcher shop, bakery, sausage maker, ladies’ and mens’ wear, shoe emporium, hardware and furniture stores.  Shown here is one of Zaitz’s original buildings as it looks today in Leadville.

Other properties included a ranch outside of town where Zaitz produced dairy products and other items for his grocery, the Emmett Mine in Leadville, the St. Louis Gold Mining Company, and the Small Hope Mine in LaPlata County.  Additionally he was a major stockholder in the First National Bank of Glenwood Springs, the Coors beer distributor from Leadville to the Utah line, and co-owned the Colorado Hotel in Glenwood Springs, shown below.   When the state went “dry,” in 1916, the loss of the liquor profits that had fueled his enterprises no longer was critical to Zaitz’s economic success.  He branched out into the automotive field owning a Nash car dealership and a service garage.

After his son, Frank Jr., was killed in a mountain auto accident while on family business in 1934, Zaitz was reported to have lost interest in his businesses.  His health declined and after a two week illness in May 1936 he died at the age of 68.  He was given a Requiem Mass from St. Joseph Church and buried in Leadville’s Holy Cross Cemetery.  The Zeitz family plot is shown here.  

Accounted a multi-millionaire at his passing, the Colorado commercial and mining empire Zaitz had created was inherited by his daughter, Angelina, and her husband.  They proved to be inadequate managers and within a few years Zaitz’s holdings largely had been dissipated.

Nonetheless, during the fifty years Zaitz had lived in Leadville, he had touched and often transformed the lives of thousands.  A tribute to his memory that appeared in the Leadville Herald Democrat on June 1, 1936, encapsulated his story:  “The career of Frank Zaitz shows America was a land of opportunity in a fight against the odds.  He progressed from the hardest manual labor and unfavorable environment to material success with a position of importance in the community.”

Note:  The appearance of the Zaitz jug shown here on an online auction site led me to try to discover more about the whiskey dealer behind it.  That resulted in my finding online a four page essay by Ms. Nancy Carter entitled “Frank Zaitz & Zaitz Merchantile.”  The article appears without any reference to its original publication.   It was the principal source of the information provided here. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Whiskey Men and the Automotive Age

Foreword:  By dating the dawning of the automotive age as 1908 when Ford made its first Model T, the next 12 years before the imposition of National Prohibition allowed those involved in the liquor business to engage themselves in varying degees with the on-rush of the “horseless carriage.”  Each of the four "whiskey men" profiled here had his own special experience with the motor car. 

Dodge City, Kansas, above, was known as the roughest, toughest, most lawless town in the West.  It was, that is, until Chalkley “Chalk” Beeson, shown here, came to run the famous Long Branch Saloon, stayed to help bring law and order, and in the process organize a highly celebrated cowboy band that played at a Presidential inaugural. 

Beeson has been seen as a transitional figure, living long enough to see the wild West tamed or, as the Kansas City Star put it:  “One may now walk the streets of Dodge City and Abilene, and by exercising reasonable control of his mouth, may get back to the hotel without being carried on a screen door.”  The photo below, showing Beeson, center, standing as repairs are made to an early automobile, epitomizes the changing times. The age of horse transportation was ending. 

For Beeson, however, perhaps not soon enough.  In August 1912, he was sitting on a horse at his ranch watching a nearby construction crew.  A sudden noise spooked the animal.  It bucked and Chalk was thrown hard against the saddle horn causing internal rupturing. The man who had survived for years amidst the constant dangers of Dodge City could not be saved.  Three days later, Beeson died at the age 64.  

Deemed by some a “historic figure” of the American West, Warren Richardson Jr. , shown here arrived in  newly founded Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a toddler and stayed there for the rest of his life, devoting himself to the advancement of that frontier town. Richardson’s efforts included meeting the needs of the populace for alcohol and other pleasures he called the Tivoli Saloon.  

During the early 1900s Richardson developed a new passion:  Fast cars.  Described as “an enthusiastic member of the Cheyenne Motor Club, he threw several thousand dollars and his abundant energies into creating a four mile race track outside of town.  A 1917 issue of Automobile Dealer and Repairer magazine reported:  “Mr. Richardson worked unceasingly, and it was not long before what had been a stretch of prairie was transformed into a hard packed level race track.”   

Barney Oldfield, the celebrated early race driver, was enticed by Richardson to Cheyenne in his 200 H.P. Benz and created two new world records.  A photo exists of Oldfield sitting behind the wheel of his machine.  Richardson is standing coatless at the left of Oldfield.  

When John Withers, shown here in maturity, was growing up in a distilling family,  he may have  thought there were better ways to make a living and so he became a jeweler.   After working about 23 years at that trade he apparently decided that the real “gold ring” was captured by making whiskey.  And so created the Withers Distillery in Allenville, Missouri.  

With the coming of the motor car,  Withers became obsessed.  With the profits from his distillery, he bought an expensive convertible machine, one in which he could seat his entire family of eight.  According to one account, the family “takes delight in taking a spin in the high-powered car that Mr. Withers owns and operates.”  There is a marvelous 1913 photograph of the Withers clan in their automobile. 

Sitting proudly in the front seat is Distiller John, his wife and baby Opal.  In the back seat, seemingly somewhat crowded are Roy, Adam, Eddie, Myrtle and Waldo.  Note that the steering wheel is on the right side. 

“It will pay you to meet me,” claimed Abraham Freemanpictured here, the flamboyant proprietor of a “cut price” liquor business in Atlantic City, New Jersey.   Men named Brown, Fleming and Sooy would have taken issue with that assertion.  They probably would have been much happier had they never met Freeman.  

The three men figured in a bizarre episode in Freeman’s life:  While automobiles were not an entirely new conveyance, they were expensive and many people, including Abe, did not own one but he liked “joy riding” with friends around town and the countryside.   In 1913 Freeman engaged a vehicle from one William Brown who rented out his open touring car for $4 an hour (almost $100 in present currency) and provided a chauffeur, in this case Mr. Fleming.   

Loading the automobile with friends,  Freeman jumped into the front seat beside driver and they took off.  Enroute, a gust of wind blew Fleming’s hat in the air and in an effort to catch it he let go of the steering wheel momentarily.  Seizing the opportunity to drive, Freeman grabbed the wheel.  The car swerved to the side of the road and crashed into a ditch.  According to an account given in court:  “All the occupants of the car were more or less injured and Fleming sustained a dislocated shoulder.”  

Freeman’s troubles had just begun. The car was left where it had been ditched and Abe hied off to the nearest inhabited place where he met, likely for the first time, Mr. Sooy.  He hired Sooy and some bystanders on the spot to remove Brown’s damaged car from the ditch.  By the time the party returned to the scene of the accident, it had turned dark. 

They carried a gas lantern to assist their work, sitting it on the ground to light the scene.  As they began to remove the vehicle an odor of gasoline was detected where it apparently had leaked from the gas tank and soaked into the earth.  In an instant the flame from the lantern touched off the fumes and the ground caught fire, spreading quickly to Brown’s expensive automobile.  The vehicle swiftly was consumed by flames and rendered a total loss.   

When Brown sued Freeman for damages, the liquor dealer contended that it was Sooy’s fault and he himself bore no responsibility.  The court of first jurisdiction disagreed and told him to pay up.  Continuing to object, Freeman appealed the verdict to the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals. There the result was the same.  Sooy was found to be in the employ of Freeman and as the employer Freeman was liable.  He paid.  It is doubtful that Abe ever went “joy riding” again.

Note:  Each of these whiskey men has been treated in a longer biography elsewhere on this blog. Chalk Beeson, August 17, 2014;  Warren Richardson, March 12, 1914; John Withers, April 3, 2013; and Abe Freeman, July 10, 2014.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Gottsteins Challenged “Dry” Washington

“Dry” forces had been gaining strength in the State of Washington for years.  In 1909 under pressure from the Anti-Saloon League, voters passed a “local option” law and followed it in 1914 with a referendum that banned the manufacture and sale of liquor statewide.  While most Washington whiskey men simply shut down, the Gottsteins, Meyer and Kassel, owners of a large Seattle liquor house, refused to give up without a fight. 

The Gottsteins likely were cousins, not brothers.  Meyer was the eldest, born in April 1848, in what was a part of Poland then ruled by Russia, son of Joseph and Augusta (Maroussen) Gottstein.  Kassel was born in 1854, the son of Aaron and Esther Gottstein.  His birthplace is variously given as Germany or Russia.  Meyer at age 17 was the first to emigrate, sailing from Hamberg, Germany in July 1865, accord to a passport application.  He settled initially in Burlington, Iowa, where he became a citizen in 1871, and then moved to Seattle.  Kassel followed in 1879, attaining citizenship in Seattle in 1892.

While Washington was still a territory in 1884, accounted as pioneers, the Gottsteins opened their first liquor house in Seattle.  As Kassel later told a reporter:  “We came across the plains in 1883, before the Northern Pacific was completed, and opened the first wholesale liquor store in Seattle.  We came to Seattle when the town was small and grew up with the people.”  Dealing in liquor, wine and cigars, the company, called “M. & K. Gottstein,” first located at 720 Front Street.  Within ensuing years during which Washington became a state, the partners moved to 205 Commercial Street.

Although Kassel commented to the press that the Gottsteins had gone through some “hard times.” the frequent moves of the firm seem to indicate continuous growth and the need for additional space.  In the 1890s they moved to 610 First Avenue.  Shown above is one of those early Gottstein stores.  My hunch is that among the six men standing in the entrance are Meyer and Kassel.

Meanwhile each man was having a personal life.  In 1889 in Multnomah, Oregon, Meyer at 41 married Rosa Wolf, a woman seventeen years younger than he.  She had been born in California, the child of German immigrants.  In quick succession they would have two children, Gertrude and Joseph. Earlier, in 1873, Kassel had married Rose Morgenstern in Seattle, of a similar age, who had been born in Germany.  They would have five children.

By 1900, apparently needing still more space, M. & K. Gottstein Co., now considered “one of the very considerable wholesale houses in the Northwest,” moved to 108 Yesher Way.  This building, shown above, allowed for considerable advertising, including a large sign depicting a man on horseback, presumably Theodore Roosevelt, advertising “Rough Rider Roosevelt Rye,” a clear effort to profit by the President’s popularity.  The sign was visible for blocks.

The partners reported growing by 25 percent annually and now were accounted the largest liquor dealers in the state. Their sales area included all of Washington and Alaska, and they were beginning to develop customers in Japan.  “They believe thoroughly in expansion,” said a promotional brochure, “and think that with a few years Seattle will be doing a very large trade with all of the principal points in the Orient.”

Continuous expansion caused the partners in 1903 to decide to erect their own building in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square, that once had been the center of the city.  They constructed a five story brick structure known as the Gottstein Building at the corner of Jackson Street and First Avenue South.  It boasted brick walls with a sandstone veneer. They would remain in that building until shut down by prohibition. The Gottstein Building currently is a candidate for the National Registry of Historic Places.

The Gottsteins had more than a dozen employees at headquarters and at least three salesmen on the road.  Among them were several of their sons.  Directories list Harry and Louis Gottstein as clerks and Jacob and Moses Gottstein, a cousin, as managers.  All were involved in selling the company flagship brand “Pacific Club, trademarked in 1905, as well as other labels, including “Gold Bar Whiskey” and “Monogram Maryland Rye.  

The company was “rectifying,” i.e. blending, many of these whiskeys on premises and packaging them in cylinder bottles holding 4/5ths of a quart and in flasks.  The bottles are shown here in a photograph and in illustrations from “Whisky Bottles and Liquor Containers from the State of Washington” by John L. Thomas (1998). Thomas identifies many variations of M. & K. Gottstein bottles, now avidly sought by collectors of Western whiskeys.  From examples found from time to time, it is evident that most if not all originally bore paper labels.  The embossed Native American in a canoe, shown here, likely was replicated in a colorful drawing.

As their business expanded, Meyer, Kassel, and other Gottsteins in their employ  must have been aware of the growing prohibitionary pressures building in Washington State.  Passage of the “local option” law in 1909 meant that wholesale and mail order sales to those areas were all but foreclosed.  They must have watched with acute interest as the state’s women after obtaining the right to vote in 1910 swelled the ranks of “dry” supporters.  Female voters in 1914 contributed to the 189,840 (against 171,208) majority for banning statewide all sales of liquor.  The initiative failed in Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma, rejected by city folks, but it made no difference.

While most liquor dealers and saloons meekly surrendered to the results, M. & K. Gottstein Co. would not.  Instead, the owners on January 12, 1914, filed suit in Superior Court in Olympia, the state capital.  There a judge, obviously no friend to the temperance movement, granted the company a request for a restraining order prohibiting the governor from issuing a proclamation declaring the alcohol ban to be enforceable state law.  The company also obtained restraining orders against other state officials responsible for certifying the vote result.

Kassel had died in 1912, age 57, leaving Meyer to carry on the liquor business with Kassel’s son, Jacob Gottstein, born in 1879.  The two men were the driving force behind the suit. They contended that having been lawfully engaged in the wholesale liquor business for many years, they had a large stock of liquor on hand and significant capital invested in their business.  If the state ban were put into place they claimed their financial losses would be the equivalent of $4.4 million in today’s dollars.  In effect, the Gottsteins had sufficient “standing” to sue.

Their legal argument was based on two technicalities.  First, the Gottstein’s contended that the wording of the initiative did not comply with the requirements of state law and thereby was not legally submitted to and adopted by voters, and second, that the bill in the state legislature authorizing the vote had been improperly entered into the journals of both houses and thus invalidated. In July 2015, a less sympathetic Superior Court judge dismissed the case against enforcing the referendum and Governor Earl Lister , shown here, announced it would be enforced.  Unsatisfied with the verdict, the Gottsteins took the case to the Washington State Supreme Court.  In a multi-page decision the nine jurists voted unanimously to uphold the earlier verdict.  M. & K. Gottstein after 31 years in business shut its doors forever.

Two years later in June 1917 Meyer Gottstein died.  Jacob and other family members who had worked for the wholesale liquor house moved on to other occupations.  At Gottstein family gatherings, however, I speculate that they recalled the determined, yea stubborn, efforts of Meyer and Kassel to succeed, including the latter’s explanation for the partners’ success:  “…We have built up our business by treating our customers honestly and fairly — giving them value received.”

Note:  In addition to the Thomas book already cited, a prime source of information for this vignette was a 1900 pamphlet entitled “Seattle and the Orient,” a souvenir edition edited and compiled by Alfred D. Bowen and published by the Seattle Daily Times.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Peebles’ Choice: Liquor and Groceries in Cincinnati

The Peebles family fashioned a Cincinnati business that not only advertised itself as the “largest distributor of pure food products in the Ohio Valley”  but boasted of being “largest handlers of pure, ripe, old, mellow whiskies in the United States.”  True claims or not, the Joseph R. Peebles Sons Company epitomized how liquor sales meant profits and success for a pre-Prohibition “fancy” grocery.

The Peebles claimed 1840 as the origins of their grocery.  Actually the store had been founded, as one author put it:  “Way back in the early days of Cincinnati, when forest trees and open country abounded.”  A trio of enterprising youths opened a grocery store downtown selling tea, coffee and sugar.  Within a year they sold out to William Sharp Peebles, who had migrated to southern Ohio from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  In 1840 William hired a younger brother to help him — Joseph Rusk Peebles who had been laboring for little money in a Cincinnati furniture factory.

Shown here, Joseph R. proved to have a genius for the mercantile trade.  After twelve years working with his brother, he purchased an entire interest in the firm.   Joseph R. had an eye for “fancy” groceries, buying pricey English and French goods, fine foreign wines, and stocking an array of whiskey and other liquor.  One of his mottos was:  “The remembrance of quality lingers long after price has been forgotten.”  

Joseph R. also originated the idea of delivering orders free of charge to customer homes with a horse and wagon, a first such service in Cincinnati.  The business flourished under the management of this Peebles.  The company marked its founding at 1840 when he went to work there.

In 1864, at only age 46, the health of Joseph R. began to falter and two sons, Joseph S. and Edwin C. Peebles, increasingly assumed management responsibilities.  When their father died two years later, the brothers carried on for three years while the estate was being adjudicated and then purchased the goodwill and stock, renaming the business the Joseph R. Peebles Sons Company.  In 1872, Joseph S. bought out his brother and became the sole proprietor.

As the business continued to grow under direction of Joseph S. a need was felt for more space and the company moved to the ground floor of the prestigious Pike’s Opera House building on Fourth Street, shown here.  The store was seen by the local press as “one of the handsomest establishments of its kind in the United States.  The space created by this move allowed Peebles to market his own brands of whiskey, likely bought from Kentucky distillers by the barrel and decanted into bottles and sold at wholesale and retail.  House brands included “Peebles Sweet Hickory” and “Peebles Old Cabinet.”  A company liquor department is illustrated below.

The company also claimed to be authorized bottlers for “Mellwood" and “Normandy” whiskeys.  These were two premium brands from the Louisville-based Mellwood Distilling Company, owned by George Swearingen. [See my post on this organization posted October 8, 2015.]  The illustration of Peebles’ wholesale operation below prominently features Mellwood Bourbon.  The organization also was distributing Hiram Walker & Sons well-regarded “Canadian Club.” 


The company also was selling a line of fine wines, many imported from Europe as well as native vintages. It trademarked its own brands of beer, ale, and cheese.  Imported and domestic cigars were refreshed weekly.  A special stogie, “Bouquet de Joseph R. Peebles Sons” was made for the store by a noted Key West manufacturer.  Additionally, according to an observer:  “Bissingers fine French confections and all the finer staples of the grocery trade are handled.”   Those included champagne, Russian caviar and pate de fois gras.

In Joseph S. also established branches of the main establishment on Cutter Street and in 1883 on the northeast corner of East McMillian Street and Gilbert Avenue in the Walnut Hills section of Cincinnati.  The location was a gateway to western Cincinnati neighborhoods and a crossroads for trolley routes.  Shown here, the site soon widely became known as “Peeble’s Corners.”  Word was that Joseph S. had bribed streetcar motormen with cigars and groceries to call out that name at his stop.

When the rents spiked at Pike’s Opera House, Joseph S. decided to move to Cincinnati’s Government Square.  He bought a lot on the south side, tore down a former grocery store and an adjacent building to constructed a six story building shown above at right. It included a basement wine cellar twenty feet deep.  This facility gave Peebles even more room to store liquor barrels and cases to supply a growing wholesale and mail order trade. The purchase of a full case of Peebles Old Cabinet whiskey would bring the buyer a dozen medal cork screws. For customers like saloons and restaurants the company provided advertising shot glasses.

Under the leadership of Joseph S., the business continued to grow.  It was the first mercantile house in Cincinnati to have a Bell telephone and among the first to introduce typewriters and other machines into the front office.  Joseph himself moved among the elite of the city, even befriending Grover Cleveland on the former President’s visits to Lake Erie on fishing trips.   As Joseph S. aged, however, his health declined and he died at the age of 71 in March 1916.  He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, in a plot not far from his father.  Their headstones are shown below.

The business carried on under the Peebles name until 1931 when the economic pressures of the National Depression are said to have forced the closing of the Government Square headquarters and two branches, including Peebles’ Corners.  Said one observer:  “The ‘fancy groceries’ that Peebles was noted for became luxuries that few could afford….”  

Just as important, I would contend, was the advent of National Prohibition that cut off all of Peebles’ highly profitable trade in alcohol.  Whiskey and wine had been the company’s life blood; termination after 91 years in business may have been inevitable after their sale was banned in 1921. 

Notes:  The information for this post was gathered from a number of sources, of which two were primary:  1) The publication “The Industries of Cincinnati:  Manufacturing, Establishments and Business Houses,”  The Metropolitan Publishing Co., 1886.  No author(s) given.  2) An informative website called Cincinnati Views authored by Don Prout from which I have used illustrations of the Peebles stores, inside and out.  My attempts to reach Mr. Prout by email on this use so far have been unavailing.