Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Michael Stanton Supplied a Drinking Man’s Town

For almost 40 years Michael Stanton was a successful liquor merchant in a drinking man’s town -- Portsmouth, Ohio. Liquor had aided Portmouth’s growth along the Ohio River, whether it was the ration given to its workers on the Cleveland and Erie Canal or the hundreds of barrels of whiskey that reached the town via the canal. Most of the alcohol was loaded on boats but a significant amount was consumed in the dozens of saloons that lined Portsmouth streets. 

Shown above in maturity, Stanton was born in Ireland in 1842 and came to the United States with his mother in 1846. His father had come the previous year. They settled in Junior Furnace, Ohio, a small town in Scioto County not far from Portsmouth. There Michael received his education.  Coming of age just as the Civil War was starting, in 1862 he joined the Union Army as a messenger and was part of a cohort headed by Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock that fought up and down the Shenandoah Valley. At the war’s end he joined the largely ceremonial Veteran’s Corp headed by Hancock, later a Democratic Party candidate for President.

Returning to Ohio, Stanton’s early working years were spent toiling in local ore and coal mines and crewing on Ohio River boats. In 1870 he went to work in the liquor trade in Portsmouth, employed by G. W. Brown & Co. By the following year he had formed a partnership with James T. Bagby. They bought an established wholesale liquor house and operated it under their names. Eighteen months later Bagby departed and the firm became Stanton’s.

He became recognized as a leading citizen and businessman of Portmouth. He was a principal stockholder in the Portsmouth Wagon Stock Company. With partners he also was involved in land development in Southern Ohio. Moreover, in 1875 Stanton was elected to the Portsmouth City Council and served there with distinction. About the same time he married Mary Livingston, a native of Pennsylvania. They would have seven children, two of whom died in infancy.

Stanton would be remembered for his civic work, including being the chairman of the Finance Committee of the Council when street paving was accomplished. In 1893, according to his obituary, he played a major role in the community that was reeling from a recession, including darkened industries and major unemployment. Stanton, in effort to spur recovery, used his own credit among other resources to raise the money for municipal works projects. This and other efforts by Stanton, the Portsmouth Times asserted, assisted hundreds of the "needy and unfortunate."

His company name changed again when Michael found a new partner in S.P. 
(Simon) Balmert, a German immigrant. Together they created Stanton & Balmert, a wholesale liquor distribution business located at 161 and 163 West Front Street. With some 55 saloons in the vicinity of Portsmouth, a town of about 5,000, they found a ready customer base. Their brands included "Spring Lane Rye" and "Stanton’s Pure Rye and Whiskey." A large ceramic jug with the partners' names indicates whiskey for wholesale purchase

The partners quickly grew sales to more than $100,000 annually and became Portmouth’s largest liquor dealers. A clear flask from Stanton & Balmert displays prominently the company’s “S-B” monogram. The firm used the same symbol on shot glasses it issued, one for its 10-year-old sour mash whiskey and a second for its 10-year-old rye. A third, shown here, was an unusual green etched variant.

After operating successfully for 31 years, the company was brought short by Temperance forces. In 1908 legislation was passed in Ohio at the behest of the Anti-Saloon League that proved effective in harassing the drinking public. Called the Rose Law it established the right of “local option,” meaning that individual communities could ban drinking establishments. Portsmouth promptly did. That same year Balmert left to join another liquor establishment. Stanton went on alone as the M. Stanton Company, selling whiskey to nearby communities that remained “wet.”

About the same time Stanton was severely injured in a railroad accident that, according to his Times obituary, left him invalided for some months. After a period of slow decline and final weeks in a hospital he died in May 1909. The newspaper obituary said that Stanton was, "...The staunchest and most masterful advocate Portsmouth ever had...." It added that he was "a man to be admired and loved."

By 1911, it had become apparent to voters in Scioto County that simply abolishing saloons was not an effective solution to anything. Residents repealed the ban and made the swinging doors legal again. The firm Stanton founded was there to supply the whiskey. This victory was offset in 1913 by the Great Ohio Flood. Portsmouth’s Front Street, where the business was located, was inundated in nine feet of water, as shown here in a contemporary photo. Many people died and whole businesses were destroyed. Stanton’s company was among them and subsequently disappeared forever from city directories.

Despite the flood, Portsmouth continued to be a drinking man’s town. When statewide
 Prohibition was proclaimed in 1916, Portsmouth citizens formally marked the occasion by erecting a tombstone in the city square. Shown above, the monument declared: “In memory of a good town...Portsmouth died Sunday.” Several sprays of flowers were put a the foot of the tombstone, as well as beer bottles on its base and black crepe at its top. My hunch is that, had he lived, Michael Stanton might have been among its sponsors.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Arthur McGinnis and the Great Whiskey Heist

In early January1926, as many as 50 men entered the government-held liquor warehouse of the McGinnis Distillery near Baltimore and hauled away 71 barrels and 32 cases of aged rye whiskey, with a present day value of almost a million dollars.  It was the kind of bold caper that Arthur McGinnis, founder of the distillery and 21 years dead, might well have admired. 

Arthur himself was a bold man. An immigrant from Ireland he began his American career during the 1870s as a wagoner, like the one shown here, working out of the east side of Baltimore.  His intelligence and “go getter” attitude brought him to the attention John B. Brown, the owner of a successful liquor outfit Brown had founded in 1869. The company flagship brand was Brown’s Malt Whiskey which the owner merchandised as a medicinal beverage. An 1891 ad, shown here, asserted: "Brown's Malt Whiskey is a cure for Indigestion, Brown's Malt Whiskey is a Tonic and Invigorant, Brown's Malt Whiskey is a Healthful Beverage, Brown's Malt Whiskey is a Genuine Distillation, Brown's Malt Whiskey is used by all Classes"

Brown hired McGinnis in the mid-1880’s and taught him the liquor business. One of Brown’s sons, J. Badger Brown, was involved with the company but appears to have died early. In any case in 1895 the name of the firm became Brown, McGinnis & Company. McGinnis’s three sons -- John, James and Patrick -- all became involved in the business. This firm appears to have bottled and sold wine as well as whiskey. By 1905, Brown’s name had disappeared entirely and the A. McGinnis Company of Baltimore emerged.

McGinnis reorganized the company and invested $5,000. Other incorporators included sons John and James along with two other Irish compatriots, Martin O’Connor and Patrick McGrath. With the new infusion of funds McGinnis built a distillery adjacent to the Western Maryland Railroad at a place that came to be called McGinnis Siding. It was located four miles from Westminster, Maryland, but Arthur chose to name the site “Carrollton.” This identified the location with John Carroll, the state’s signer of the Declaration of Independence. The place existed only in Arthur’s rich Irish imagination. McGinnis Company offices remained in Baltimore, first at 208 Lexington Av. and then in the American Building downtown, shown here. 

Almost from the beginning, the whiskey business was successful and McGinnis Rye enjoyed strong regional sales. In 1905, the State Tax Commissioner set the taxable value of distilled spirits for the McGinnis Co. at $13,368. By 1907 that figure had grown to $21,496, and by 1909 had jumped to $62,760. Even with this growth the McGinnis distillery was among Maryland’s smaller operations, able to process only a relatively modest 250 barrels of mash per day. 

The whiskey was bottled in a range of readily identified containers. McGinnis labeled square quarts bottles could be found in both clear and amber. All were embossed with the name of the distillery. McGinnis Pure Rye also came in flask sizes and an embossed miniature bottle. The firm issued merchandising items including shot glasses. One attractive example simply has the name etched in script. Another included a more elaborate firm logo.

In November 1905, Arthur was injured in an accident and after lingering for a few weeks, died. His death triggered not only tumult at the A. McGinnis Co. but a legal dispute that fractured his family. The attempt to settle his estate required investigation of the balance sheets of the distillery. Except there weren’t any. As his son James told the court, Arthur “carried a bank book and a little stub. He carrried the bank book in his pocket and the cashbook in his head. That is how he ran the business.”

As a court determination later stated, McGinnis’s business was a success but, “the financial part of the concern was managed in a most loose and careless fashion.” Arthur’s recklessness engendered legal actions that pitted Mary McGinnis  (his widow) and son James against son John and other investors. After the case reached the Maryland Supreme court a settlement was made among the McGinnises.

What happened then is not entirely clear even to their descendants. Apparently James and John mended their differences. Brother Patrick entered the picture as a whiskey executive. A Baltimore company called McGinnis Brothers was created in 1905 and existed along side the A. McGinnis & Company until Prohibition shut both of them down in 1920. At the time the McGinnis distillery was still operating and its warehouses were full of aging whiskey. The facility was put under U.S. Government control and the product was extracted in small amounts to be sold for allowable “medicinal purposes.”

On that fateful winter afternoon, according to witnesses, three men, earlier seen ice skating on a nearby pond, suddenly confronted a government guard. They drew pistols and tied him up. The next to be trundled was an 80-year-old man who had wandered by the scene looking for his lost cat. In time some seven guards and watchmen were shackled and a gang, estimated at from 40 to 50 men, made themselves at home in the distillery for 15 hours.

Taking all night, by dawn they had loaded five trucks with 71 barrels of the oldest whiskey and 32 cases of bottled stock. The total value of the liquor at the time was estimated at $90,000 --- close to a million dollars today. Federal officials later traced the trucks, now accompanied by mobsters in automobiles, south to Mexico. .

In April of that year, seven men were charged with the crime after being caught transporting carloads of beer into Baltimore via railroad. The record does not reveal if they ultimately were found guilty. Nevertheless, taking no more chances, Federal officials moved the remaining whiskey to another location and, in October 1926, brick by brick, tore down the distillery that Arthur McGinnis had built, and sent the building materials to New York. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Henry Clarke and the Hounds of Prohibition

A climactic scene occurs in Uncle Tom’s Cabin where the slave girl, Eliza, baby in arms, hops over ice floes to cross a river to freedom, chased by a pack of bloodhounds. Henry Clarke, a Southern whiskey dealer of considerable imagination, at times must have felt like Eliza. The hounds of Prohibition seemed always to be nipping at his heels. 

Clarke’s business career began in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he established a highly successful liquor distribution company in 1884 and brought his three sons -- Emile, Leon and Sol -- into the firm.  Henry was a enthusiastic resident of his state and in 1905 registered his first whiskey brand -- Tar Heel, the state nickname. Its label proudly bore the state seal that had been adopted 12 years earlier. 


The Clarke family also was active in North Carolina Jewish life. With only a handful of his fellow religionists in Salisbury, Henry and his family regularly traveled 30 miles by horse and buggy to neighboring Statesville, N.C., for Sabbath services in the Fireman’s Hall. Eventually that congregation built an imposing romanesque revival brick synagogue, shown here, which stands today as an historical landmark. The Clarkes were among major contributors to the project. In 1900 the Jewish Yearbook listed Henry as vice president of the synagogue and his son Sol as secretary-treasurer. 

Unfortunately, the Prohibition bloodhounds were on the prowl. Despite its flourishing liquor industry, “Dry” advocates were flooding into North Carolina in an effort to make the state the first in the South to ban alcohol completely. In 1908 North Carolina by a statewide vote of 62% to 38% went totally dry. Within weeks Clarke and his sons were forced to relocate their business to Richmond, Virginia. A 1909 H. Clarke and Sons letterhead from that location lists Henry as president, Emile as 1st vice president, Leon as 2nd vice president, and Sol as secretary/treasurer. 

In Richmond H. Clarke & Sons continued to merchandise their Tar Heel brand, despite the disappointment North Carolina had provided. Their ads emphasized the firm as “the South’s Greatest Mail Order Wine and Whiskey Merchants,” and offered free transport within the express territory of the Adams and Southern Lines, at that time the leading package delivery company south of the Mason-Dixon Line. This suggests that the Clarkes were keeping in touch with their Tar Heel customer base by shipping whiskey into the state in two and three gallon jugs, like the ones shown here.


Tar Heel Whiskey ads emphasized that the liquor came “packed in plain cases.” “The South’s Greatest” also blossomed out in other new brands and creative advertising. "Select Old Stock Corn" and "Clarke’s Monogram" featured the same attractive designs that distinguished most Clarke products. The firm’s flagship brand became "Royal Wreath Whiskey."  It appeared prominently in ads and merchandising items. Clarke also featured giveaway items to saloons, including shot glasses and framed lithographs of winsome ladies (not Eliza), as shown here.


At the same time, the Clarkes were making serious efforts to stave off the forces of Temperance, using tactics similar to many other U.S. liquor distillers and distributors of the time. Some Clarke advertising touted its whiskey as “highly recommended for medicinal and family use,” playing down implications that it also might be fun to drink. Other merchandising items trumpeted that Clarke whiskey was “guaranteed under the National Food and Drug Act, June 30, 1906,” a claim that not only was untrue, but mangled the name of the Federal Food and Drugs Act. Later ads eliminated the guarantee language -- perhaps at government intervention -- but still cited “compliance” with the Act. 

 Remember that Eliza successfully escaped over the ice floes from the pursing canines and found safety. Henry Clarke and his sons were not so lucky. In 1916 Virginia followed North Carolina and went dry. The firm that had survived for 32 years in two states disappeared forever from Richmond directories. Henry Clarke and his sons also fade from view. We have only their legacy of jugs, advertising materials and give-aways. Those items remind us of an enterprising whiskey merchant and his three sons who struggled hard to survive but ultimately could not escape the bloodhounds of Prohibition.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Flemings: Druggists Who Mixed the Drinks

My current collecting area -- glass paperweights advertising liquor -- has brought me in touch with Jos. Fleming & Son, Pittsburgh druggists in business for more than a half century, whose principal products were rye and malt whiskey. While it was not unusual for pharmacies in the 1800’s to sell spirits, druggists with a concocting bent usually put their alcohol into patent medicines. 

The Flemings were different. Part of a prominent Irish family of Pittsburgh druggists, Joseph Fleming started as a clerk in a local drug store in 1840 and 15 years later owned the business. Although Joseph sold medicines under his own label, much of his output appears to have been whiskey. As shown here, bottles from these early days often were embossed with his name. 

Joseph had six children, two sons and four daughters. In 1874 he put one son, George S. Fleming, then 13 years old, to work as an errand boy. George eventually worked his way up to clerk, then manager, and in 1888 at age 27 was made a partner by his father. At that point, the elder Fleming changed the company name to Jos. Fleming & Son. Two years later Joseph died and George became sole owner.

George Fleming, shown above in a 1892 cartoon, wasted no time in putting the pharmacy on the map. A contemporary account called him “undoubtedly the best known druggist west of the Allegheny Mountains.” Doing business from its single location at Market and Diamond Streets, the company advertised "Fleming’s Export Rye Whiskey" and "Fleming’s Malt Whiskey" across America. A square bottle similar to one shown here recently was found in a Sacramento, California, state park. It is embossed on two sides: “Fleming’s Export Pure Rye” and “Bottled Expressly for Family Use.” 

George also featured as gifts to prime customers attractive paperweights and shot glasses, as shown here. They frequently stressed the role of physician endorsements,. as might be common for a druggist. Whiskey sales not only were brisk but apparently extremely profitable. A contemporary satirical poem about George Fleming averred: “For although he’s a druggist his earnings are high...From selling old rye.” 

The same 1892 poem gave some clues to George’s personality. At age 31 he was still a bachelor but accounted handsome, something of a ladies man, but adverse to marriage. Also fun loving: “He’s a joker, you know, and will never let go, a chance to make merry with friend or foe.” In 1893, according to news reports, he had a narrow escape from death when the fishing boat on which he was aboard capsized off Atlantic City in a gale.

The Flemings were rectifiers, not distillers. They bought whiskey in bulk, mixed it with other ingredients to their taste, slapped a label on it and called it their own. Look at the cartoon above: George could be stirring up a cocktail of Fleming’s Export Rye in that giant mortar.

It appears that George Fleming died relatively young, reportedly in 1912 when he was about 51. Shortly thereafter other family members sold the pharmacy to a local druggist who continued to operate it under the Fleming name until Prohibition. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ben Holladay: "King of Wheels" (and Western Whiskey)

During the mid-1800s when Ben Holladay was accounted among the largest  employers in America and one of its wealthiest and most famous citizens, it probably never occurred to him that his name and legacy might live on largely through the distillery he founded as a sideline. But that is how things have turned out for Holladay, shown here.

Holladay was born in 1824 in a log cabin in the Kentucky hills near the town of Blue Lick Springs. Early on he was exposed to the ways of managing a wagon train, accompanying his father in leading settlers westward through the Cumberland Gap. Soon the young hostler relocated to Weston, Missouri, already a “jumping off point” for thousands of pioneer settlers. It was from Weston by dint of hard work and an acute business sense he created a transport empire that eventually included the outfitting of wagon trains, a stagecoach monopoly, steamship lines and eventually the Oregon Central Railroad. By 1864 Ben Holladay was accounted the largest individual employer in the entire United States. 

One of his biographers calls Holladay the “America’s King of Wheels” because his far flung transportation system bound half a world together. To Will Ermine who wrote a novel about him, Ben was the “Boss of the Plains.” To author Erle Stanley Gardner, he was “a truly red-blooded hero.” Yet to many of his contemporaries Holladay was a tough and ruthless businessman who did not hesitate to trample anything or anyone who got in his way. His enemies considered him unscrupulous and devoid of any moral sense. 

Nevertheless, American elites of the day, including President Lincoln during the Civil War, sought his company and advice, and the common folk sang his praises in popular tunes: “You ask me for our leader, I soon inform you then; “It’s Holladay they call him, and often only Ben; If you can read the papers, its easy work to scan; “He beats the world in staging now, or any other man.” 

 Ben Holladay was a man of large appetites, and one of them was for whiskey. In one account, his brother Joe ran a saloon at the corner of Clifford and Burr Streets in Weston. Its window bore a sign announcing that “Monongahela Whiskey” could be found inside. But that liquor was made in Pennsylvania, a thousand miles away, and was expensive to transport all the way to Missouri. Holladay had a better idea. 

At Weston, the explorers Lewis and Clark in 1804 had found some excellent limestone springs that later generations used to full their water barrels on the way West. The young entrepreneur understood that the same tasty limestone-based water would be an ideal ingredient to make very good whiskey. So it was, as a sideline to his transportation empire, that in 1856 he founded a distillery on the outskirts of Weston and put his brother Donald in charge.  It is shown below.

Whiskey proved to be a highly lucrative product. As the liquor began to flow from his stills, it found a ready market in frontier America. Ben’s whiskey sold for five dollars a gallon but he charged his Indian customers a beaver pelt for just two swigs. Legend has it that he personally measured his drinks in half-pint cups coated inside with tallow and stuck his fingers in to aid his measure. Biographer Ellis Lucia says that “between tallow and fingers, the whiskey stretched a long way.” 

As with most of his business enterprises, Holladay’s distillery flourished. Barrels of liquor were stored in cools limestone caves near Weston until Ben’s hostlers could load them on wagons for the thirsty folks out West. As time went by, Holladay himself was developing a taste for more exotic libations, like champagne and scotch. As one of America’s wealthiest men -- and abetted by a social-climbing wife -- he became renowned for his fancy parties. At a time when 25 cents would buy dinner, some of the couple’s extravaganzas reputedly cost $10,000. 

Holladay, a large man with a spreading beard, eventually owned several mansions on each coast, including one in Portland, Oregon, shown here. Another was located in what is now downtown Washington, D.C. The D.C. mansion was used mainly as a place for Holladay to entertain Members of Congress to influence them to increase his subsidies for carrying the mail. At one point his company was being paid $1 million annually by the U.S. Post Office. 

In the 1860s Holladay bought two large bronze lions to grace the spacious entrance to his D.C. home, one shown here. They are not originals but excellent copies of lions cast by the famous Italian sculptor Antonio Canova for the tomb of Pope Clement XIII in Rome. It was common in those days for the American super-rich to covet such statues. They suggested a heritage of culture and classical interest that was otherwise lacking in free-booting multi-millionaires like Ben Holladay. 

Everything seemed to be going right for this self-made man until railroads began to make stagecoaches obsolete. That was followed by the Black Friday stock exchange panic of 1873. Ben Holladay was ruined. He lost his businesses to creditors and was forced to sell off many of his holdings. Perhaps because of strong personal attachments, he held on to his D.C. mansion with its lions and to the Weston distillery. During ensuing years Holladay struggled hard to make a financial recovery but he died in 1887, in Portland, Oregon, without having succeeded in regaining his lost wealth. His gravestone is a relatively simple one.

Despite Ben’s financial reverses the distillery stayed in the Holladay family for a number of years. In 1895, eight years after Ben’s death, the family sold out to another “larger-than-life” character, George W. Shawhan. He dumped the Holladay name and gave the company his own as the Shawhan Distillery Company. (See my post of May 2011.) During his lifetime Ben Holladay was as celebrated a figure as Bill Gates is in our own era. Newspapers and magazines regularly profiled him and reported his escapades. Songs were written about him. Denver named one of its major streets after him in the 1850s. Ironically, Denver’s Holladay Street later became the site of that city’s “red light” district and synonymous with wanton women and debauchery. In the late 1800s Ben’s relatives petitioned the city fathers to change its name. Today the avenue is known as Market Street. 

Nor did ownership of Canova’s famous lions bring Holladay immortality. One year later after his death the K Street mansion and the lions were sold at auction. For $1,900 -- -- a considerable sum in those days -- Washington’s Corcoran Gallery bought the resting felines. In 1897 they were moved to the present museum site where they are identified with Corcoran -- not Holladay. Today Ben Holladay truly is a forgotten giant figure of the Old West. As Biographer Lucia puts it: “...Nowhere in all this broad land is there a monument, a marker, a statue to the King of Wheels.” 

Today the principal reminder of this fabulous American figure may be a whiskey from the McCormick Distillery of Weston, successor to Holladay’s original. The brand is called “B.J. Holladay Private Keep Sour Mash Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” The distinctive black and gold label shows a striking figure with a black beard and a ox-drawn conestoga wagon in the background. It is an image of Ben, idealized and perpetuated. Some celebrities might not be happy with their only memorial being a whiskey bottle, but his history suggests that Ben Holladay might not mind at all. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Life and Loves of S.T. Suit: A Jug-Filler's Story

Friend of Presidents,  “Kentucky Colonel,” founder of a town that still bears his name, titan of industry,  three times a husband,  castle-builder  -- that was Samuel Taylor (better known as S.T.)  Suit.  And he owed much of his power and influence to filling the proverbial “little brown jug.”

Suit was born in Bladensburg, Maryland, in 1832. Apparently because his father refused to pay for his education beyond primary school, he headed West at an early age. He lived in Keokuk, Iowa,for a time before beginning his whiskey-making career at a distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Somewhere along the line he picked up the title of Kentucky “Colonel,” but later would join the Union Army.

The young go-getter apparently had an aptitude for making and selling whiskey because by 1869 he had established his own distillery in Louisville. He stayed in that city for a decade and is reported eventually to have owned the largest whiskey warehouse there. He returned East, first to New York and then back to Maryland. There he bought 300 acres of land just outside the borders of Washington, D.C., and called it "Suitland."

In Maryland Suit resumed distillery operations. His company grew and prospered, eventually gaining nationwide sales. He sold his whiskey almost exclusively in brown stoneware jugs, of varying size and labels. To the contemporary eye some Suit labels seem deceptive For years the wording read: “Whiskey in this jug was distilled in 1869,” indicating an aged product. Later he would revise the message to: “Little Brown Jug...whiskey in this jug was made in 1869 and jugged by me, 1880.” His merchandising strategy included gifting saloon with fancy back of the bar decanters, shown below.


The school drop-out turned distiller was gaining notice for his wealth and power. In time Suit owned and operated his own hotel and was acting president of the Anacostia Wharf & Docking Co., the Washington & Chesapeake Railroad, and the Washington City & Point Lookout Railroad. He built an English-style mansion in Suitland that often was a meeting place for dignitaries, including Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes. Suit himself became interested in politics and served a term in the Maryland legislature. 

Using his political clout in Washington in Congress and other centers of power,, Suit was the driving force behind the creation of a road that connected Anacostia in the District of Columbia with Suitland, Maryland. It became Suitland Road and undoubtedly helped spur development of his town. Even so, at the end of the 1800s, Suitland had only a general store, several churches and six or seven houses, including Suit’s mansion. The town did, however, boast a post office -- more evidence of Suit’s clout with Federal officials.

“Love” was Suit’s Achilles heel. Said to be “tenderhearted and kind,” he had a definite weakness for the ladies. In Louisville, he found his first love, Sarah, and married her when he was about 25 and she was still a teenager. She bore him one child and then at the age of 20, after only a few months of marriage, she died.

Sarah’s death affected Suit deeply and it was shortly after that event that he moved back East, initially to New York City. There his business acumen brought him to the attention of important people, including the president of a major New York insurance company, Arthur Wilmarth. Though him, Suit met his daughter Aurelia, a woman 11 years his junior, known more for her needlework than her looks. Their marriage officially lasted 20 years and produced one son but was contentious from the beginning with long periods of separation. Eventually they divorced.

In 1878, when Suit was in his mid-40s, he met and fell in love with 17-year-old Rosa Pelham, the daughter of a congressman. Because of the age difference, she initially rejected him. But five years later they encountered each other again near what is now Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. At this time the Colonel was being drawn away from Suitland and his distillery by prospects for developing business at Berkeley Springs. Suit is said to have envisioned the place as a Mid-Atlantic spa to rival Martha’s Vineyard.

When Rosa mentioned that she always had wanted to live in a castle, Suit pledged to build her one if she would marry him. She accepted and three days later, they were wed in Washington, D.C. Not long after Suit began construction of Rosa’s 13-room castle on a ridge overlooking the Berkeley Springs baths. Built to a one-half scale of Berkeley Castle in England, the project took almost five years. Not long before it was completed Suit, age 56, died, leaving Rosa a very wealthy 28-year-old widow with three children, living in a castle. 

Although Rosa had many suitors, she never married again, reputedly because of a stipulation in Suit’s will that if she did she would lose everything he had bestowed on her. That did not prevent her from spending many nights with her suitors in the castle. One night, following an argument, one of them fell or was pushed from the roof to his death. He is said to have cursed the heiress and haunted the castle ever since. Rosa eventually lost both her money and her mind. In the 1920s she was evicted from the castle, went West with a son, and died there.

Meanwhile, with no one to tend the whiskey business, S. T. Suit Distillery went out of business well before Prohibition; one date given for its demise is 1888. Samuel Taylor Suit himself is buried in St. Barnabas Church cemetery, Oxen Hill, Maryland. The little brown jugs that brought him fame and fortune are found in collections nationwide. And the castle, highly visible from U.S. 522 as one enters Berkeley Springs, remains a tourist attraction -- albeit presumably a haunted one -- to this day.