Festooned with patriotic red, white, and blue bunting from top to bottom, the Star Saloon appeared in a photograph bedecked for the 1911 inauguration in Frankfort of the incoming Governor of Kentucky, James McCray. Located at 222 St. Clair Street between Main and Broadway, the Star had long since become a favorite “watering hole” for the political and business elites of the state capital. Its amiable proprietor, Joseph Schroff, was a familiar local personality.
As he embarked from Le Harve about 1879 aboard the steamship San Germain, shown below, the German-born Schroff seems to have carefully planned his future in America. Upon arrival he wasted no time heading to Frankfort and engaging in the whisky trade. Described in a passport form as five feet, six inches tall, with hazel eyes, brown hair, and regular features, the 26-year-old also appeared intent on marriage. It seems as if he had a premonition to move quickly.
Within weeks he had met and married Mary R. Schilmiller, born in Louisville in 1856, the daughter of Tobias and Catherine Schilmiller. The 1880 census found the newlyweds boarding in Frankfort, with Joseph working as a bartender, likely an employee at a local saloon, Over the next 14 years the couple would produce seven children, three boys and four girls. With the impetus of this growing family Schroff by 1884 was listed in Frankfort business directories as proprietor of the Star Saloon. He advertised “choice foreign and domestic liquors, wines, cigars and tobacco.”
The success of a saloon was largely dependent on the personality of the owner. A genial proprietor with a memory for faces and names, quick with a welcoming word, a keen sense of hospitality, perhaps something of a colorful personality, and above all, a generous spirit, could be assured of attracting a clientele. On the last point, Schroff excelled.
His tradition of gifting customers across the bar with small ceramic bottles of whiskey was not unusual for the era. Many publicans were accustomed to handing out mini-jugs and bottles that advertised their drinking establishments, each with several swallows of liquor inside. Although he issued a traditional mini-jug, as shown here, Schroff went a step further by giving away bottles of unusual interest, particularly containers shaped like pigs.
Dating from before the Civil War American whiskey men have used the figure of the pig as a container for alcohol. Pigs long have been associated with wealth and luck. Pigs also have a historic association with whiskey. Distillers raised swine downwind from their still-houses and fattened them on spent grain. Schroff’s hogs are distinctive for their personality. Note the pig bottle above, one that carries Schroff’s name, Star Saloon, and his address. Upon further examination the porker exhibits its individuality by its flattened ears, distinctive nose and circular eyes. Its backside, with curled tail and large drinking hole add to its distinctiveness.
That pig looks quite different from another Schroff giveaway pig, one with the leaner look of an Ozarks hog. This ceramic bottle has well-defined ears, a long snout and wide nostrils, and most distinctive of all two splashes of cobalt for eyes. Rather than just a hole from which to quaff the contents, its tail forms a clear neck for drinking purposes.
In addition to his piggery, Schroff gifted his clientele with flat-sided miniature jugs with “scratch” labels on each side, in shades of tan and brown. One of these jugs sold at auction recently for $400. The first side names ”Jos. Schroff” as proprietor of the Star Saloon. The reverse identifies him as a “Dealer in Liquors,Wines, Cigars, Tobacco,” indicating that he had expanded beyond just selling drinks of whiskey over the bar to becoming a retail dealer in liquor, a more lucrative trade.
Schroff’s growing wealth as a 31-year-old was indicated by his being part of a six-person Frankfort syndicate that in 1884 incorporated a new brewery in Frankfort. Called the Capital Brewing Company, this organization was chartered by the State of Kentucky: “For the business of manufacturing and selling malt liquors, malt and ice, and buying and selling ice, hops, barley and other grain, and conducting a general brewing and malting business in all its branches.” Shown above is the brewery with a wagon leaving the premises. In 1888 when the brewery was reorganized with a new set of officers, Schroff remained among them.
Regrettably, Joseph had not many years left at the Star Saloon. He died in August 1996 in Frankfort, only 43 years old. He left Mary a widow with seven children to raise, the oldest sixteen, the youngest, one. As many in the city mourned his untimely death, the personable immigrant saloonkeeper was buried in the Frankfort Cemetery, Section F, Lot-E. Grave 3, shown here. Mary would join him there 56 years later.
Note: Information about Schroff, particularly his early life, is scanty. A principal source was ancestry.com. Illustrations are derived from a variety of Internet sources.